UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation Wins Sustainable Impact Award

The UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Center for Innovation was awarded the Sustainable Impact Award by the Los Angeles Business Council on April 19, 2018, at the organization’s 12th annual Sustainability Summit. Attending a VIP and awards reception at the summit were Meyer and Renee Luskin and JR DeShazo, director of the Center for Innovation. “The award recognizes the impact that Meyer and Renee’s generous gift has had on Los Angeles through UCLA. I felt grateful to be able to receive it with them,” said DeShazo, who also serves as the chair of Public Policy at UCLA Luskin. The award cited the Center for Innovation for its “leadership in developing cutting-edge strategies to spur renewable energy and energy efficiency in California.” The award further recognized the Center for “supporting the creation and implementation of state and local policies, investments and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” This year’s summit featured regional leaders such as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for a discussion on West Coast climate leadership. The two-day summit also included expert panels about clean energy and climate change, as well as water management, resources and security. — Stan Paul

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Sustainable Impact Award

A Showcase for Research by Urban Planning Students The annual Careers, Capstones & Conversations networking event highlights activities that welcome newly admitted students to UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and give them a preview of what the future holds. Public Policy and Social Welfare host their own Welcome Day events.

By Stan Paul

Britta McOmber wants to know “What’s the Dam Problem?” in terms of flood risk in California. Shine Ling wants to know “How Fair is Fair-Share” when it comes to housing law in California. Sabrina Kim asks, “Still No to Transit?” looking at areas in Los Angeles County that do not meet their full transit commuting potential.

Questions like these launched 36 research projects that brought together Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students with clients to produce research projects that address a specific planning issue. The second-year students, completing their required capstones, showcased their work at the annual Careers, Capstones & Conversations (CCC) networking event held April 5, 2018, at UCLA’s Covel Commons.

The event followed a day of welcoming activities for newly admitted UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students, who had the opportunity to view the projects and interact with current students, as well as faculty and staff.

Newly admitted student Bradley Bounds II said his interest in urban planning is local.

“I want to work on building up my community,” said the Compton resident. “I’m looking more toward open space projects; I’m looking for transportation projects and economic development,” said Bounds, who enthusiastically affirmed his intent to join the new Urban Planning class in fall 2018.

Project clients include governmental organizations, local agencies and cities, as well as private planning and design firms and nonprofit organizations concerned with regional, state and national urban issues.

Video highlights of the students practicing for CCC. [full size]

In addition to engaging titles, the projects — produced individually or in teams — include solid research and data that has been analyzed and put into context by the students. Topics included transportation, housing and social justice issues, including foster care in the region and environmental, resource conservation and energy challenges. At CCC, the students pitch and support their approaches via posters that frame the issues and their proposed solutions.

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty, alumni and Luskin Senior Fellows were on hand to evaluate the projects displayed in Covel’s Grand Horizon Room.

McOmber, who has studied coastal cities and flood risk resulting from rising sea levels, as well as designated flood plains, said her project was inspired by last year’s Oroville Dam overflow incident in Northern California.

“There are quite a number of dams and large reservoirs in L.A. County,” said McOmber, explaining that, from the perspective of Oroville’s near disaster,  the state faces a broader problem of dam and water storage infrastructure that is aging, underfinanced and sometimes not well-maintained.

“I noticed that there really wasn’t any information on dam flood zones, so I thought that was an area that’s lacking in the academic field and also very relevant, not only for California, but I think more broadly for the country,” she said.

Her project also looked at who may be impacted based on factors such as income and education. For example, McOmber asked whether socially vulnerable households are more likely to live within dam flood zones in California. She found that almost 50 percent of households in these areas are Hispanic or Latino.

Presentation is an important aspect of the projects. Commenting on the eye-catching displays, Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and sociology, looked at how effectively information was conveyed, noting those that “made a very dramatic and legible point.”

In Public Policy and Social Welfare, newly accepted graduate students were welcomed at daylong events designed to introduce them to the School and provide information about topics such as program content and financial aid. They got a day-in-the-life experience at UCLA Luskin through lectures, breakout sessions, tours and informal social gatherings.

UCLA was the top choice for many of the students attending the April 3, 2018, Welcome Day for newly accepted students in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare who learned about topics such as public child welfare stipend programs and social welfare field education.

“I’ve already decided on UCLA,” said Nancy Salazar, who joined other admitted students for roundtable discussions with UCLA Luskin faculty. Salazar, who also has a master’s degree in public administration, said that in addition to a focus on social justice, she was attracted by the leadership aspect of the program.

For Guillermo Armenta Sanchez, UCLA was the only choice. “That’s the only one; that’s where I’m coming,” said the Long Beach resident who is interested in focusing on mental health.

At the Master of Public Policy (MPP) Welcome Day on April 9, 2018, J.R. DeShazo, department chair and professor of public policy, provided introductory comments and introduced faculty and staff to incoming students.

“At Luskin, you are making a commitment to mastering a very challenging set of policy tools,” said DeShazo, who also serves as director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, the state’s premier environmental policy research center.

DeShazo highlighted the outstanding faculty and research institutes across all three departments, then continued, “There are a tremendous number of extracurricular activities that we present to you. The challenge is a scheduling challenge: How do you take advantage of everything that we offer?”

The new cohort of policy students gathered at the School to participate in a number of informative activities that included an ice-breaking exercise and an inside look at student life and the strengths of the UCLA Luskin program as presented by a students-only panel.

An invitation to Professor Michael Stoll’s Methods of Policy Analysis course was included, as were a variety of student-led breakout sessions on policy areas such as education, criminal justice, the environment, international issues and transportation. The conversations continued into a lunch with members of the faculty.

DeShazo advised that the two-year graduate program goes quickly and that students are soon thinking about what’s next.

“One of the things we’re very committed to — alums are committed to, our office of career services is committed to — is providing you with the internship opportunities and the alumni connections that will help you get a great job coming out of our program,” DeShazo said. “You are invited to start to develop your CV, practice in your interviewing skills, your public speaking skills, honing and refining your networking skills.

DeShazo summed it up. “When it’s time to engage with prospective employers, you’re ready.”

 

Reimagining CO2: UCLA Team Advances to Carbon XPRIZE Finals Carbon Upcycling team, which developed eco-friendly concrete, is sharing in the $5 million prize

Working to upend one of the most stalwart of construction materials, a team of UCLA engineers, scientists and policy experts has advanced to the finals of the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE by successfully creating a version of concrete that is nearly carbon-dioxide-neutral.

The international competition, which began in 2015 and is scheduled to conclude in 2020, challenged teams to develop carbon technologies that convert carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities into viable products. The eco-friendly building material, called CO2NCRETE, was developed by the UCLA Carbon Upcycling team and offers similar strengths and functionality as traditional concrete.

Ten finalists have been selected from a field of 27 semifinalists by an independent judging panel of eight international energy, sustainability and carbon dioxide experts. The teams have been awarded an equal share of a $5 million milestone prize.

“As the son and grandson of civil engineers, I have always been fascinated by construction, and reaching the XPRIZE finals by doing what I am most passionate about is perfectly aligned with what I value,” said Gaurav Sant, professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “The concrete and construction industries are ripe for disruption and the ability to make a positive impact in these sectors, while lessening our carbon dioxide footprint, is a worthy cause for the entire UCLA team.”

Sant is the head of the team, whose leadership also includes J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Richard Kaner, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College and of materials science; and Mathieu Bauchy, professor of civil engineering. Additional team members include Gabriel Falzone, a doctoral student in materials science; Iman Mehdipour and Hyukmin Kweon, post-doctoral scholars in civil and environmental engineering; and Bu Wang, a project scientist in civil and environmental engineering, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

To secure a place in the finals, the UCLA team had to demonstrate that their technology consumed 200 kg of carbon dioxide in 24 hours. During a 10-month period, they were challenged to meet minimum technical requirements and were audited by independent verification partner Southern Research. The team was then evaluated by the judges based on the amount of carbon dioxide converted into CO2NCRETE, as well as the economic value, market size and carbon dioxide uptake potential of the construction material.

“The competition provides an opportunity for UCLA’s cutting-edge academic research to be applied in the real world,” Sant said. “The performance-based measures of CO2NCRETE have been useful in showing that this effort is not only viable, but scalable. And, of course, the support provided by the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Foundation has been foundational to our success.”

Traditional forms of cement are formed from anhydrous calcium silicate, while CO2NCRETE is composed from hydrated lime that is able to absorb carbon dioxide quickly into its composition. As a result, producing CO2NCRETE generates between 50 to 70 percent less carbon dioxide than its traditional counterpart.

The unique “lime mortar-like” composition also helps reduce the nearly 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emitted from the production of ordinary portland cement, the binding agent used in traditional concrete.

The most compelling advantage CO2NCRETE offers when compared to other carbon capture and utilization technologies, Sant said, is that the carbon dioxide stream used in its production does not have to be processed before use. The manufacturing process allows for carbon dioxide borne in the flue gas of power and industrial plants to be captured and converted at its source. This advantage creates a cost-competitive business model that avoids the expense of a carbon dioxide enrichment or treatment facility.

“These teams are showing us amazing examples of carbon conversion and literally reimagining carbon. The diversity of technologies on display is an inspiring vision of a new carbon economy,” said Marcius Extavour, XPRIZE senior director of energy and resources and prize lead. “We are trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by converting them into useful materials, and do so in an economically sustainable way.”

In the final and most ambitious stage of the competition, teams must demonstrate carbon dioxide utilization at a scale of two tons per day — a scale that is 10 times greater than the semifinals requirements — at an industrial test site. The UCLA team will compete at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, a carbon research facility in Gillette, Wyoming, co-located with the Dry Fork Station coal power plant. This final stage of the competition will start in June 2019 and conclude in early 2020.

Sant is also the director of the Institute for Carbon Management at UCLA, which draws on UCLA’s campus-wide expertise to create innovative solutions to the climate change challenge. Launched this spring, the institute is developing advanced technology and market-driven strategies for mitigating the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

 

 

 

A UCLA Homecoming for Noted Princeton Professor Scholar Martin Gilens will join the UCLA Luskin Public Policy faculty in fall 2018

By Stan Paul

When Martin Gilens joins the Public Policy faculty of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs this fall, he will be coming home.

“Returning to UCLA is returning to my roots,” the longtime Princeton professor of politics said.

The addition of Gilens to UCLA Luskin was announced Jan. 31, 2018, by Dean Gary Segura. Gilens, who previously taught in the Departments of Political Science at UCLA and at Yale, joined the faculty of Princeton University in 2003, where he is professor of politics and public affairs.

“Martin Gilens is an outstanding scholar whose work on race, class, social inequality and their representational effects in the political system has earned him an international reputation and enormous impact in the literature,” said Segura, who noted Gilens’ award-winning books, including 2012’s “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.” In November 2017, Gilens released his latest book, “Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It,” with co-author Benjamin Page.

A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Gilens will be teaching graduate and undergraduate students at the Luskin School, as well as students from across the UCLA campus. His instruction will focus on the politics of inequality, the promise and shortfalls of American democracy, and American public opinion.

“Dr. Gilens’ insights into the dynamic causes of racial, economic and political inequality will strengthen the Luskin School’s ability to design policy solutions to these societal problems,” said J.R. DeShazo, chair and professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. “His study of the political behavior of people and interest groups complements the many Luskin faculty who seek to reduce social disparities in health, education, criminal justice and social policy.”

In addition to his previous post at UCLA, Gilens, who grew up in Los Angeles, has other strong ties to the university. Both of his parents were UCLA Bruins. And “even my grandfather, Nathan, was a UCLA alum, back in the 1920s, before the campus moved to Westwood.”

Much may have changed at UCLA since his grandfather’s time, but “UCLA’s commitment to the highest quality research and teaching has not,” Gilens said. “I’m thrilled to be returning to UCLA.

“As the country’s leading public university, UCLA is providing an exceptional education to tens of thousands of students every year,” he said. “I am extremely fortunate to again be a part of this critically important mission.”

Gilens earned his doctorate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and has held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and the Russell Sage Foundation.

At Town Hall, Students Hear About Developments at UCLA Luskin

Leaders of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs gathered with students during an informal Town Hall on Feb. 6, 2018, to answer questions posed by students in the School’s master’s and PhD programs. Joining Dean Gary Segura and his support staff were Public Policy chair J.R. DeShazo, Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams and Urban Planning chair Vinit Mukhija. A wide range of topics were covered, including questions that led Segura to offer personal reflections about his first year at UCLA. Among the other topics discussed by the four leaders were recent and pending changes to the School’s academic offerings, a current hiring effort that will add a large number of new faculty members by fall 2018, and what is being done by UCLA Luskin to further promote diversity and inclusiveness.

View a Flickr album of images from the Town Hall:

2018 Town Hall

Alternative Utility Providers Offer Options for Energy Customers New report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation assesses the options available to Santa Monica and other cities in Los Angeles County

By Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10

Los Angeles County is set to launch its own electricity provider in 2018, giving customers another option besides longtime power company Southern California Edison. Called Los Angeles Community Choice Energy, the county’s venture is part of a wave across California of new community choice aggregators.

Community choice aggregators (CCAs) enable cities or counties to make decisions about what kinds of energy resources and local clean energy programs in which to invest, such as local renewable energy. Since 2010, California communities have established nine CCAs, with over a dozen municipalities actively exploring forming a CCA and many others considering joining one. Multiple CCA models have arisen out of this rapid growth. Now cities such as Santa Monica have multiple CCA options.

A new study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation analyzed three CCA options to inform Santa Monica’s decision whether to form or join a CCA.

“This study commissioned by the City of Santa Monica is garnering wide attention from cities across the region that are faced with a similar set of options, because it is an important decision,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The decision could affect electricity rates for local customers, the amount of renewable energy procured and how much money could be available for local energy programs, among other consequences.

The study assessed the strengths and potential challenges of Santa Monica’s three CCA options:

  • Los Angeles Community Choice Energy (LACCE), a large, soon-to-launch CCA with member cities across Los Angeles County. This regional option may dilute influence for Santa Monica, in terms of its direct vote on the governing board. However, it could also provide Santa Monica with the greatest economies of scale, which would well position the city to meet its ambitious renewable energy and other environmental goals while avoiding long-term risks.
  • South Bay Clean Power (SBCP), a CCA designed for a group of cities in the South Bay and Westside subregion. SBCP is more a set of recommendations than an operationally ready option at this time. SBCP’s business plan includes innovative, sophisticated strategies for a next generation CCA, which others outside of SBCP could adopt. With no other currently committed members, Santa Monica would likely have to take the lead in its development and it would likely benefit from fewer economies of scale than LACCE.
  • A single-city CCA through the services of California Choice Energy Authority (CCEA), which pools services for multiple single-city CCAs. The business model for CCEA allows for member cities to have a significant amount of autonomy to pursue and meet renewable energy and other goals. However, it would also involve an initial financial and staff commitment.

Relying in part on UCLA’s research findings, the Santa Monica City Council recently voted unanimously to join LACCE as the first step in a two-step approval process.

The associated Santa Monica staff report states, “The UCLA study helped to inform staff’s recommendations. … LACCE is operationally ready and could provide the City with a variety of economies of scale and a stronger voice for the legislative and regulatory discussions that lay ahead.” By collaborating with other cities through this new regional energy partnership, Santa Monica hopes to be a powerful voice pushing for clean energy strategies that advance the City’s progressive environmental goals, according to the report.

A New Tool to Help Plan for Expected Growth in Electric Vehicles Luskin Center’s Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Atlas informs investments, policies and plans to meet consumer demand

More than 82,000 electric vehicles were registered in Southern California between 2011 and 2015. The number of new plug-in electric vehicles registered there during 2015 increased a whopping 992 percent from 2011.

Now, a report produced by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation forecasts continued exponential growth in the electric vehicle market, with more than 700,000 plug-in electric vehicles expected to hit Southern California roads by the end of 2025.

This forecast assumes that over time more residents of apartments and other multi-unit dwellings will be able to charge at home. The report, the Southern California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness Atlas, can help make that happen, according to J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation.

“We wanted to provide a tool that decision-makers can use to accommodate forecasted consumer demand for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure,” DeShazo said. For example, the atlas provides planners with critical spatial information for meeting charging demand in multi-unit residences and other places. It can also help utilities identify where utility upgrades may be needed to accommodate additional electricity loads.

The atlas documents the concentration of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in a given neighborhood, visualizes how that concentration varies over the course of a day, and projects PEV growth over the next 10 years for each of the 15 sub-regional councils of government within Southern California.

With support from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and the California Energy Commission, the 2017 atlas is an update to the first Southern California PEV Readiness Plan and Atlas created by the Luskin Center for Innovation in 2013. Recognizing that the plug-in electric vehicle market has changed considerably in the last five years, the updated atlas helps decision-makers plan for future changes.

“Like the region’s first PEV plan and atlas, the 2017 update can help open people’s eyes to the promises and challenges posed by electric charging stations,” said Marco Anderson, a senior regional planner with SCAG. As a liaison to cities in the region, he has seen how many cities used the first atlas to find local partners for charging station sites.

The new maps include the following spatial information:

  • the locations and sizes of workplaces, multiunit residences and retail establishments that could potentially host PEV charging
  • the locations of existing charging infrastructure, including the number of charging units/cords and level of service
  • and the locations of publicly accessible parking facilities to fill in gaps in PEV charging, particularly in older urban cores.

 

Unlocking Millions of Dollars in State Incentives for Solar Power New research by GRID Alternatives and UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation quantifies the opportunities and potential benefits of solar power on affordable housing units in L.A. County

By Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10

Karina Guzman is both property manager and resident of a low-income housing complex for working families in Southern California. Even with the job and relatively affordable rent, Guzman worries about paying her electricity bills. But relief is coming from what she found to be a surprising source: solar panels recently installed on 17 of the 27 buildings in her complex.

The solar panel system will offset the cost of powering lights and other needs in common areas as well as help residents lower their electricity bills. “I can’t wait for the solar panel to help me pay a credit card bill, and maybe even save for a vacation,” Guzman said.

Low-income households typically spend higher percentages of their incomes on energy costs and thus stand to benefit most from utility bill savings due to solar power generated on their homes. Yet, while Los Angeles County is a national leader in the adoption of residential solar, the homes of low-income households account for less than 1 percent of residential solar capacity across the county, according to new research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and the nonprofit organization GRID Alternatives. This may change.

The study found that cities in Los Angeles County could soon unlock millions of dollars annually in state incentives for residential solar on affordable housing.

Starting in 2018, California will offer a solar rebate program targeted at putting solar panels on the roofs of affordable housing developments. With an annual budget of up to $100 million, the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing program “could make a big difference toward reversing the current inequity in the distribution of residential solar systems,” said Michael Kadish, executive director of GRID Alternatives Los Angeles, which makes renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities.

The program, along with smaller existing state solar rebate programs such as the Low-Income Weatherization Program available for large multifamily residences located in disadvantaged communities across the state, will encourage the installation of solar systems that help affordable housing residents’ reduce their utility bills.

But there is a catch.

Residents of affordable housing and other multifamily dwellings can only take advantage of state solar incentive programs if their utility offers a virtual net metering policy allowing residents to receive credits from the system. Virtual net metering is a common billing mechanism that allows multiple parties to share the financial benefits of a single solar power system.

Southern California Edison offers virtual net metering, but that’s not the case with municipally owned utilities in cities such as Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale and others in the county. Without virtual net metering, there is no real mechanism for residents of multifamily dwellings, including affordable housing, to access the financial benefits of solar.

Now is a good time for the City of Los Angeles ― which we identified as having the largest share of rooftop solar potential (62 megawatts) and rebate-eligible rooftop solar potential in the region ― to consider removing the policy barrier that is currently preventing myriad residents of multifamily dwellings from realizing the benefits of residential solar,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and chair of UCLA Public Policy.

Researchers calculated the potential of 115 MW of rooftop solar power throughout Los Angeles County on the more than 1,100 affordable housing properties that would qualify for a solar rebate. Researchers quantified the potential benefits if this physical capacity for solar on affordable housing was realized in Los Angeles County:

  • $11.6 million annually in utility bill savings for affordable housing residents
  • $4.9 million annually in savings for affordable housing property owners
  • $220.6 million in funding from state programs to spur local economic development
  • 1,800 job years (one year of full-time work or the equivalent) created
  • More than 3,800 job training opportunities and nearly 31,000 job training hours that can be strategically targeted to encourage an equitable clean energy workforce

The report includes recommendations for designing a virtual net metering tariff in Los Angeles to help maximize these types of benefits. Findings also highlight the opportunity to target solar workforce development benefits to residents of affordable housing who are more likely to live in communities with higher unemployment rates than the county at large.

The report can be found online.

 

Inside Look at State Politics

Cristina Garcia’s day at UCLA began with a meeting with Ramona Cortés Garza, executive director of UCLA State Relations, and LPPI’s leadership — Political Science and Chicana/o Studies Professor Matt A. Barreto, Luskin Dean Gary M. Segura and LPPI Director Sonja Diaz. They discussed how to leverage research to inform evidence-based policy solutions that are tailored to meet the needs of diverse Californians. Photo by Bryce Carrington

Cristina Garcia of the California State Assembly spoke about her efforts to make government more transparent during an Oct. 16, 2017, gathering at UCLA hosted by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. Garcia talked about the grassroots battle against political corruption in the 58th Assembly District in Southeast Los Angeles that eventually led her to seek office. “I’m an idealist at heart, and I do believe that we can have a democracy that works for us all.” Garcia talked about her three policy pillars: government transparency, women’s issues and environmental justice. She believes in standing up for the majority-Latino district she was elected to represent, but she envisions California as a place where every group of voters has equal input and access to the political system. She advocates for a more diverse and representative political system in which all Californians have an equal seat at the table. “For me, when I talk about where I want to see my society, we can’t shy away from race,” she said during a Q&A with students, staff and faculty from UCLA Luskin, the Division of Social Science, Grad Division, UCLA’s Early Academic Outreach Program, the Institute of Environmental Studies, and UCLA’s Government and Community Relations. “We can’t shy away from things that are real systemic barriers.” Although she faces hurdles when pushing many issues of importance to her constituents, she said that time and changing demographics are on her side. “Latino power is growing. We have had some losses and some steps back, but sooner or later we are going to be a majority,” Garcia said of California’s evolving population. “And we are also going to be a majority in those demographics in the State Legislature.”

Hover over the image below to access a Flickr gallery of photos.

Assembly member Cristina Garcia

UCLA Study Helps Californians Save Electricity — and Money — this Summer Participants in UCLA Luskin research effort receive smartphone notifications that help them make smart decisions about electricity usage and avoid peak pricing

Electricity demand fluctuates each day, and consumers who want to unplug during peak times to save money and help the environment now have a new tool at their disposal. Chai Energy, a partner of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, is making real-time energy information a reality for electricity consumers who want to reduce or shift their electricity usage during peak periods when electricity is the most expensive.

In a pilot study funded by a California Energy Commission grant of more than $2 million, UCLA is seeking to understand and identify the most effective demand response program designs for different types of households across the state, depending on social characteristics.

“We want to provide a comprehensive tool that will help customers save money while improving grid reliability, reducing pollution during peak hours, and maybe even preventing blackouts” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

How does the study work? 

The UCLA researchers have partnered with a clean technology company named Chai Energy. “Chai developed a free smartphone application that displays your home daily electricity consumption and provides you with tips on how to better manage your electricity bill,” DeShazo said. This could include knowing when it makes financial sense to replace an old appliance, or simply what time to use it based on electricity prices. Chai has also developed a gateway device that establishes communication between a participant’s smartphone and the smart-meter already installed in his house, allowing users to see real-time energy consumption by individual household appliances.

The UCLA Luskin Center is delivering and testing messages designed to inform Californians about their electricity consumption and provide tips for reducing it. About 10,000 Californians are expected to download the app and participate in the study.

“This large sample will enable researchers to identify the most effective format, timing and content of messages,” said Julien Gattaciecca, project manager and one of the researchers.

How can Californians participate?

The free Chai Energy application can be found by searching for Chai Energy in android or IOS app stores or by visiting chaienergy.com. Those who install the app are automatically enrolled in the study. A free Chai gateway device with a market value of $75 is being randomly distributed to 5,000 participants.

The study is currently available only for customers of Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electricity (SDG&E).

 

Luskin Center and the Chai Energy App from UCLA Luskin on Vimeo.

The video is also available on YouTube.