The Room Was Being Illuminated Via Clear Polymer Rods with circular light-reflecting etchings that caught the sun's rays being ported down from parabolic mirrors tracking the sun. I was bathed in sunlight, but indoors and in a room with no windows. The rods were, in a sense, radiating the fire of the sun into the room.
A sensing system automatically adjusted lighting in the room to compensate when the sun went behind the clouds or over the horizon. This solar lighting system is not at all futuristic as it is a commercially available product provided by Sunlight Direct (San Diego, California, U.S.).
Today, we have some really fantastic tools to help us reduce or shift load that weren't available even five years ago. To keep progress on these customer-side innovations, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) opened this “Living Lab” in Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S. Engineering manager Brian Fortenbery was kind enough to show me around, knowing that putting me in a lab is like putting a kid in a candy store.
The lighting revolution continued as I toured the facility. For instance, EPRI installed three light-emitting-diode streetlights in its parking lot that were commercially available from Lumecon (Farmington Hills, Michigan, U.S.). These lights were under the ultimate test: the critical eyes of a building full of EPRI researchers.
Having just mentioned the fire of the sun, I would now like to describe how we can address a bear of a problem called peak load. We can shave that peak with ice. Engineer Chris Trueblood walked me over to look at an installed “Ice Bear” that was providing chilled air to cool their lab facilities.
This device, commercially available from Ice Energy (Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.), can be placed in line with a traditional air conditioning unit. The air conditioner freezes ice at night when it is most efficient. Then during the day, refrigerant is pumped through copper coils located in the ice block and then through a heat exchanger that chills the air being blown through the building. Because the compressor is bypassed during the heat of the day, a major contributor to the peak load has been sidelined. The device, in effect, is providing virtual electricity.
The Living Lab is also looking at developing automated demand-response gateways. The researchers are trying to balance customer needs against energy costs, taking into account time-of-day rates for all energy-consuming devices.
EPRI is also evaluating the ability of the eBox electric vehicle to store energy and feed that power back into the grid on peak days. So, maybe on those hottest days, we have an excuse to work from home while helping the environment and our pocketbooks. This device is now available from AC Propulsion (San Dimas, California, U.S.).
The name Living Lab is quite appropriate, because this facility is outfitted to test whatever innovations show up in the marketplace. Currently, EPRI has many other devices under test, including high-intensity-discharge lamps with electronic ballasts, high-efficiency motors and drives, and flat-screen televisions.
EPRI is taking energy conservation seriously, having just conducted a study that shows that the United States could realistically reduce energy consumption by 236 billion kWh by 2030, while reducing CO2 emissions by an estimated 88 million metric tons in that year. To make sure our industry gets the most bang out of our “'energy management” bucks, EPRI has agreed to share its technology finds with the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, a consortium of efficiency program administrators.
But, we don't need to wait until we receive a report to help our customers hold down their energy costs. Innovation is available today. Let's put it into play for our customers.