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Research Highlights

Battery R&D Directions Discussed

Presentation of Advanced Battery Research

Tien Duong, the Department of Energy's BATT Program Manager, discusses the past achievements and future of advanced battery research.

Advanced battery researchers from around the U.S. gathered at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) June 27 to discuss future directions for the Batteries for Advanced Transportation Technologies (BATT) Program. BATT's U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Program Manager, Tien Duong, reviewed successes from two decades of DOE-funded research. He discussed R&D contributions that helped bring to the marketplace technologies like the nickel metal hydride batteries used in today's hybrid vehicles, and he also spoke about the positive funding outlook for advanced batteries research.

Tien Duong

DOE BATT Program Manager Tien Duong

The all-day meeting drew BATT program researchers from Berkeley Lab, Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Case Western Reserve, Deppe Consulting, Drexel, Energy & Environmental Resources Group, Hydro-Quebec, MIT, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, North Carolina State, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Penn State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the SouthWest Research Institute, Stanford University, University of Kentucky, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rhode Island, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Utah.

Piette Elected to Smart Grid Architecture Committee

Mary Ann Piette

Mary Ann Piette, Deputy Head of EETD's Building Technologies Department, and Research Director of the Demand Response Research Center, has been elected to the Smart Grid Architecture Committee (SGAC). The Committee is responsible for creating and refining a conceptual reference model, including lists of the standards and profiles necessary to implement the Smart Grid.

The Committee is part of a collaborative effort called the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, coordinated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to bring together the parties that are developing and implementing the Smart Grid. Its responsibility is to develop a framework that includes protocols and model standards for information management to achieve interoperability of smart grid devices and systems.

For more information, see the NIST Smart Grid Collaboration website.

EETD Researchers and Microsoft Corp. Win R&D 100 for Home Energy Saver/Hohm

Home Energy Saver screenshot

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Microsoft Corporation won an R&D 100 award from R&D Magazine for developing a free online tool that helps consumers identify the best, most cost-effective ways to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their homes.

Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technology Division scientists Evan Mills and Rich Brown developed the tool, called the Home Energy Saver (HES). A powerful building energy simulation program is at its core, providing each user with a customized home energy profile and recommendations for home improvements that can be readily made. The web-based interface enables millions of potential users who have no special knowledge of home energy technologies or retrofits to estimate energy use and savings that are tailored to their home, climate, and lifestyle.

The Berkeley Lab technology was licensed by award co-winner Microsoft in 2009 for its online application, Hohm. Both tools feature an advanced, easy-to-use graphical interface that enables users to customize inputs to match their situation. The Home Energy Saver and Hohm can recommend efficiency measures based on the answers to only 15 questions.

As of January 2010, the Home Energy Saver website had more than 6 million unique visitors. About one-third of users reported making home energy-efficiency improvements based on the recommendations they received. Other web-based energy calculators are available; however, only Home Energy Saver uses actual nationwide electricity tariffs and offers such detailed customization.

Home Energy Saver is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Building Technologies Program in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

For more information:

Berkeley Lab Contributes to DC-Powered Data Center Tests

A consortium of researchers from the public and private sectors, including William Tschudi of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (Berkeley Lab's) Environmental Energy Technologies Division, have embarked on a real-world experiment to gauge whether large computing facilities can operate on less power if they cut alternating current (AC) out of the equation.

At the University of California, San Diego, engineers recently switched a set of servers in a campus data center to operate continuously on 380-volt direct current (DC). This effort is part of a project that allows researchers to track in great detail the energy savings that servers and data centers can achieve through a variety of architectural and procedural efficiencies, including the use of DC power.

DC Power Group

Researchers and technicians in front of the GreenLight Instrument modular datacenter prepare to switch ten servers to continuous direct-current electrical power in an experiment to show the potential real-world rewards of switching datacenters to DC power throughout.
[Photos by Tom DeFanti. PI, Project GreenLight]

The experiment at UC San Diego is part of Project GreenLight, a National Science Foundation-funded initiative that has deployed a modular data center on campus with sensors and other instruments to measure the energy efficiency of information and communication technologies. The project's goal is to help researchers build greener IT systems and software.

"The UC San Diego campus has made substantial investments for energy savings," said Thomas A. DeFanti, principal investigator on Project GreenLight and a senior research scientist in the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). "The switch to DC powering of servers holds great potential on a campus where supercomputers and other high-tech facilities represent a disproportionately large share of energy consumption."

It is estimated that companies could save billions of dollars each year in capital costs and ongoing energy savings by using all-DC distribution in their data centers.

In a traditional server facility, AC power is provided at a high voltage and converted to DC in the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system to charge batteries and condition the power. From there it is converted back to AC to drive the power supplies of computing equipment to run processors, memory, disks, and communications components. Skipping or consolidating the above conversion steps can save considerable electricity usage in the power distribution chain, and in cooling.

"Each conversion loses power and generates additional heat, both of which reduce the overall power and cooling efficiency of the server facility," said Tschudi. "By providing DC power directly to the server facility, many conversion steps are bypassed and less heat is generated, leading to overall higher efficiency." Tschudi has provided technical leadership and represented the California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program in GreenLight's DC power server experiments.

In 2006, a temporary installation using best-in-class equipment was slightly modified. That initial modification demonstrated that further research was merited. In cooperation with Berkeley Lab and others, Direct Power Technologies, Inc. provided equipment and design assistance. The UC San Diego project has now installed first-generation 380-volt DC equipment specifically manufactured to enable this technology to evolve to the next level of commercial availability.

The researchers hope to prove that switching to an all-DC power distribution should increase the "computing work per watt"—a key barometer of energy efficiency in computing environments. In addition to significant energy savings, other potential benefits include improved power quality, reduced cooling needs, higher equipment densities, reduced heat-related failures, improved reliability (from fewer components), and easier use of renewable sources of DC power. The DC power researchers also point out that the industry has the opportunity to make this a worldwide standard through the ongoing collaborative efforts.

For more information, contact:

  • William Tschudi
  • (510) 495-2417

Additional information:

Calit2. "Researchers Flip the Switch to Test Energy Saving in Data Centers Using DC Power Directly." August 24, 2010.

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