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CEERE Gets $2 Million as Part of Energy Extension Initiative

Dragoljub Beka Kosanovic

According to an article on the UMass Research Next website, Dragoljub Beka Kosanovic, the director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (CEERE) in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, is one of the co-principal investigators for the new state-wide Energy Extension Initiative, funded by a $6-million grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. The initiative is designed to mobilize information on the latest clean energy technologies as well as the necessary resources to put them into practice. David Damery, environmental conservationist and extension professor at UMass Amherst, is leading the initiative, while big data expert Prashant Shenoy is the other co-principal investigator with Kosanovic. Link to Research Next article: http://www.umass.edu/researchnext/feature/bright-future.

As part of the initiative, $2 million will fund services at CEERE targeted at combined heat and power initiatives. The support will help CEERE director Kosanovic and his team provide technical assistance to cities, towns, and businesses looking to adopt combined heat and power solutions.

Read Research Next Article:

A Bright Future for Clean Energy

Patrick Administration designates UMass Amherst Energy Extension Hub

As an original land grant university, UMass Amherst has been applying campus expertise to societal problems for more than 150 years. At first the engagement was focused on agricultural technologies. Now, in our much more diversified economy, the campus’s extension model has broadened to include regional and national support for a spectrum of issues, including advancing emerging clean energy technologies in the Commonwealth and beyond.

To advance this mission, the campus was selected to house the state-wide Energy Extension Initiative, an effort designed to mobilize information on the latest clean energy technologies as well as the necessary resources to put them into practice. Funded by a $6 million grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the money will support community-scale test-bed projects designed to identify and mitigate the financial, social, political, and technical barriers to wider deployment of more energy efficient practices in the Commonwealth.

David Damery, environmental conservationist and extension professor, is leading the initiative, while big data expert Prashant Shenoy and mechanical and industrial engineer Dragoljub Beka Kosanovic are co-principal investigators. About $2 million of the grant will expand services at the U.S. Department of Energy Northeast Clean Energy Application Center through the campus’s existing Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (CEERE) while $4 million will help UMass investigators develop an energy outreach and extension-type program that draws on UMass Amherst experts. Damery and the team are in the process of issuing a request for proposals inviting high-level researchers working on clean energy technologies to join in the mix.

“The opportunities are vast,” Damery says. “We specifically structured this initiative to call for these broad research proposals in order to invite the best ideas.”

The $2M going to services at CEERE will be targeted at combined heat and power initiatives. The support will help CEERE director Kosanovic and the team provide technical assistance to cities, towns, and businesses looking to adopt combined heat and power solutions. Citing the campus’s own power plant as an example, Damery points out that it primarily burns natural gas to produce electricity for campus, but at the same time uses the excess steam to heat and cool campus buildings.  "By producing both electricity and capturing the extra heat produced in the process of burning natural gas, we are able to achieve very high efficiency levels” he explains.

“If you just generated electricity, you’d get a third of the power out of that fuel source, no matter what the fuel source,” Damery says. “The remaining two thirds would be wasted.”

The other $4M of the grant will more broadly support additional adoption of energy efficient technologies across the state. Damery says the Initiative intends to allocate funds for a variety of projects, including wind and solar projects. Because a signification portion of the funding comes from the state’s alternative compliance fund—penalties paid by utilities who did not meet the renewable portfolio standard—the Initiative also supports projects that may help eliminate the hurdles to clean energy implementation. To ensure the initiative yields real change, Damery and the team are asking proposers to put specific metrics on what they expect their projects to achieve in terms of megawatts of renewable energy generated.

Damery’s team is in constant contact with Massachusetts utilities as they are natural partners in the pursuit to solve energy issues. Employing big data analysis and utilizing the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in nearby Holyoke, Shenoy has long been working with local utilities to develop algorithms that enable them to provide power more efficiently. Through this initiative, Shenoy will expand this work to look more specifically at data centers using the MGHPCC as a test-bed. These centers, Damery explains, are known energy hogs—a mid-sized data center uses about as much energy as a small city. With an increasing reliance on IT, the issue is a critical one, especially in areas like Massachusetts with strong information economies but high-energy costs. The MGHPCC offers several thousand points of instrumentation to collect operational data on everything from HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), to fine-grain server power consumption, and energy usage, yet this data currently goes uncollected. Shenoy and his colleagues propose to design an automated system to collect all of this data and store it centrally on one or more servers. The data will support the design of new techniques to optimize the energy use of such facilities. 

Another initial test-bed project takes a closer look at something that hits closer to home for most of us—perceived comfort in the indoor environment. Led by environmental conservationist Simi Hoque, campus researchers will travel throughout the state using low-income housing to conduct studies under controlled lighting, temperature, humidity, and air quality conditions. Damery explains that too often building managers adhere to a very specific set of energy standards despite climate or season, yet such factors play a huge role in perceived comfort—a role the team will be exploring further. Dry heat during a New England winter, for example, leaves one feeling dry and chapped, while too much humidity during the summer leaves one feeling sweaty and uncomfortable. Also, occupants may be more tolerant of a cooler indoor temperature during the winter and a warmer one during the summer than current standards account for. Damery, Hoque, and the team hope this work yields an innovative model of adaptive comfort accounting for environmental, cultural, psychological and physiological parameters. Such an approach will lead to more responsive environmental control algorithms, enhanced comfort, reduced energy consumption and promotion of climate-responsive building designs.

In addition to innovative research projects, a big part of the Energy Extension Initiative is to provide consultation and financial support to cities and towns investigating new technologies. Damery explains that many municipalities may not have sufficient funds for preliminary engineering analysis or the expertise required to deploy new equipment, which is where the initiative will have the most reach.

In addition to their focus on cities, towns and businesses, Damery says he hopes to provide support for projects that help homeowners be more energy efficient as well. Along with the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, with which UMass Amherst is jointly hiring staff for the initiative, Damery is looking into a project that integrates photovoltaic technology into a standard roofing shingle.

With increasing numbers of municipalities, businesses and homeowners considering energy expenditures, Damery says the initiative is gaining the support it needs to have a real impact.

 “The human species did not think seriously about energy use in buildings until 1974, 1975,” Damery says. “We’ve been thinking about it more and more, but we might be at a real tipping point in 2014 when these issues seem to be on almost everyone’s minds.” (January 2015)