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Research Highlights

Better Power Interfaces for Computers and Consumer Electronics

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A new standard, IEEE 1621, that addresses power control in PCs, other office equipment, and consumer electronics has just been approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Board. The standard should lead to greater use of low-power "sleep" modes, which will save large amounts of electricity.

Standard 1621 defines principles and design elements-mainly terms, symbols, and indicator lights-that should be consistent among all affected products. The effect of the standard could be compared to the effect of standardizing the placement of gas and brake pedals on cars so that drivers always know which pedal to press to accelerate or stop no matter which car they are driving.

Bruce Nordman, a Principal Research Associate at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Environmental Energy Technologies Division, worked with industry to draft the standard and shepherd it through the approval process.

IEEE logo

"IEEE 1621 will be an important tool for the computer and consumer electronics industries because the days when everything was just 'on' or 'off' are gone," says Nordman.

Computers and other office equipment have multiple power modes, and many consumer electronics will soon have multiple modes as well. In each mode, devices behave differently. Because modes are marked inconsistently from product to product (e.g., "standby," "sleep," etc.) many users are confused and just leave devices on all the time. "The looming potential for great confusion can be averted by IEEE 1621," says Nordman, "which manufacturers can use in any electronic product."

Recognizing that this problem reduces consumers' effective use of electronic products and wastes energy, Nordman has worked since early 2000 with equipment manufacturers and other stakeholders to fashion a solution acceptable to industry that will ultimately change PCs, printers, copiers, TVs, CD and DVD players, and stereos, to name a few product classes, for the better.

For more information, contact:

  • Bruce Nordman
  • (510) 486-7089, Fax (510) 486-4673

IEEE 1621 Power Management Tools

Also, see: "Simple Symbols that Save Energy." 2003. Science Beat. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, June.

Fuzzy Logic and Public Health

A man standing in the Ganges River in India near a boat.

Thomas E. McKone is a senior scientist in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division, and adjunct professor in the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley, who has published, with a colleague at the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in India, a paper examining the use of fuzzy logic in risk assessment and environmental modeling. The article, which appeared on the cover of the January 15 issue of Environmental Science and Policy, applies fuzzy logic to the problem of assessing the water quality of the Ganges River in India and judging whether two locations are "safe" for bathing. Bathing in the Ganges plays a significant role in Indian religious ritual but pollution in the river raises concerns for health participants in bathing rituals.

The Insurance Industry and Climate Change

At the 2005 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, EETD researcher Evan Mills outlined new findings on the vulnerability of the world's insurance industry to the impacts of climate change. The impacts of abrupt headline-catching catastrophes are well known, but Mills' talk focused on relatively small-scale, gradual, and indirect impacts such as increased lightning activity, subsidence-related damage to pipelines and power distribution systems by thawing permafrost or shrinking soils under drought conditions, and elevated political risk from trade or financial market disruptions. Taken collectively, the annual impacts of these types of events are equal in cost to those of mega-catastrophes.

Mills described the historical and financial impacts of extreme weather events on insurers. These include significantly eroded revenues and profitability, increased prices, and, in some cases, bankruptcies. Over the past five decades, insured losses from weather-related events have increased 15-fold, adjusting for inflation. Of key importance to insurers is the expected increase in volatility of losses resulting from climate change, and reduced predictability of the frequency, spatial distribution, and magnitude of losses.

Graph showing the U.S. Lightning-related Insurance Claims that rise with Temperature: 1990-1995

The talk also covered preliminary findings from a major insurance-industry-funded study on the health impacts of climate change. Risk factors expected to be elevated under climate change include infectious diseases such as malaria and Nipah virus, urban heat catastrophes, aeroallergens (e.g. pollen), crop damage from agricultural pests, coral bleaching and consequent vulnerability of human settlements to tidal surges, super-infestations of forest pests, and wildfire. The study is led by the Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, with a major role being played by Berkeley Lab.

A case in point is the European heat wave of summer 2003 in which temperatures were six standard deviations above the norm. Human consequences included 22,000 to 35,000 fatalities and uncounted hospitalizations, nuclear power plant shutdowns (due to elevated river cooling water temperatures), massive crop losses, and wildfires.

Constructive measures that can be taken by insurers to manage climate risks include strategic employment of sustainable energy technologies that have risk-management co-benefits such as reducing risk of heat mortality. Mills' presentation highlighted the particularly significant risks (as well as opportunities) in the developing world-where hazards are often greater and preparedness vastly poorer-described in a recent study completed by Mills for the U.S. Agency for International Development, titled "Insurance as an Adaptation Strategy for Extreme Weather Events in Developing Countries and Economies in Transition" (LBNL-52220).

For more information, contact:

  • Evan Mills
  • (510) 486-6784; Fax (510) 486-6996

Insurance Loss Prevention and Risk Management

An EETD Blog: bleer.lbl.gov

The Berkeley Lab Energy and Environmental Research blog is now public.

The blog covers research in the fields of energy efficiency, the environmental sciences, and related areas conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, primarily in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division. It describes reports, publications, books, software releases, field demonstrations, conferences, and miscellanea that are not necessarily covered by Berkeley Lab's press releases or other web news resources.

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