Posts

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.

A Final Test for Policy Analysis Projects UCLA Luskin public policy master’s degree culminates in a public forum in which students present Applied Policy Projects on issues of regional, global importance

By Stan Paul

By necessity, the Master of Public Policy (MPP) students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs quickly begin learning skills and tools to complete the program and prepare for problem-solving careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The students, working in groups, must clear one final hurdle to graduate: the Applied Policy Project presentation.  Each group has 20 minutes to impress faculty and peers by showcasing what they have learned during two rigorous years of study.

Each year, a diverse group of clients “hire” the students, usually in teams of two or more, to tackle real-world problems and offer actionable recommendations and feasible solutions.

“I think one of the exciting aspects of the APP is the variety of topics covered,” said Manisha Shah, associate professor of public policy and faculty coordinator of the program. “Because our students have a diverse set of interests and because we encourage them to identify their own clients, the result is an interesting variety of APP projects.”

Among this year’s clients were the Southern California Association of Governments, Covered California, Peterson Institute for International Economics and a member of the California State Assembly. Internal clients included a research center within the Luskin School, a professional program elsewhere on campus and the University of California’s Office of the President.

“The first-year curriculum of the MPP program is tool-driven,” Shah said. “What I mean by that is we try to give students a diverse set of tools — both quantitative and qualitative — that will help guide them through the APP process and ultimately go out into the real world and conduct policy analysis on issues close to their hearts.”

Shah said she was fortunate to advise a diverse set of APP groups this year. One group of students found that behavioral tools such as reciprocity and commitment devices should be implemented in schools to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in an attempt to combat obesity. Another group helped improve the service delivery model of an organization in L.A. that tries to get at-risk youth into better employment opportunities. And another group proposed interventions and policies aimed at reducing displacement and gentrification in South L.A.

In all, 18 presentations were made. Luskin faculty watched and then asked questions that tested the students’ depth and breadth of knowledge and the thoroughness of their projects.

The range of projects is broad, including:

  • Local and regional issues such as investments in electric vehicle charging stations in Los Angeles and a rent stabilization ordinance to prevent displacement of low-income minority communities in South Los Angeles.
  • Statewide issues such as bail reform, insuring Californians, health care, access to water and juvenile justice.
  • National and global issues like mitigating the negative impacts of trade on employment in the U.S. auto industry and improving local-level governance amid decentralization reforms in the Ukraine.

A closer look at some of this year’s APPs follows.

Gender Issues in Engineering

Applying qualitative and quantitative methods to their study for the UC’s Office of the President, Traci Kawaguchi, Yuhan Sun and Eri Suzuki focused on the need for connections in their analysis of system-wide retention by gender in engineering at the undergraduate level. They initially determined that the retention rate of female engineering students was significantly lower than for male engineering classmates across the UC system.

Their faculty adviser, Professor of Public Policy John Villasenor, also holds an appointment in electrical engineering at UCLA. He helped connect them with UCLA engineering students, which led to interviews with aspiring female engineers.

Women and men had similar levels of academic performance in the first year, but the qualitative interview uncovered that “affinity groups play a key role in affirming engineering identity and belonging in the field,” according to the UCLA Luskin students’ written summary.

“I think the big thing that came up was just the idea of fitting in,” Kawaguchi said. “When you go into a classroom that is 80 percent male … it may make you feel that you don’t necessarily belong.”

Team members analyzed policy options based on anticipated effectiveness, cost feasibility and institutional feasibility, and they recommended support for female students based on a sense of community and belonging. Adoption of residential living communities and formal peer mentoring programs for female undergraduate students in engineering were also recommended.

 A Program to Help Plug-In Commuters

Another APP team focused on plug-in vehicles with a limited range on all-electric power that switch to gasoline-based power after batteries are exhausted. Specifically, the group studied how workplace charging stations in Los Angeles could increase the number of miles that vehicles travel without burning gasoline.

MPP students James Di Filippo, Mahito Moriyama, Toru Terai, Kelly Trumbull and Jiahui Zhang completed their project, “Prioritizing Electric Vehicle Charging Station Investments in Los Angeles County,” for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Their model combined commuting data from SCAG’s transportation demand study with plug-in electric vehicle registration data, information on vehicle all-electric range, and point data on existing charging infrastructure locations.

The students found that nearly 6,000 plug-in hybrid commuters could benefit from workplace charging but currently do not have access. Full support of those commuters’ vehicles would yield about 76,000 additional miles driven on electric power each day.

The potential increase is concentrated in just a few zones. Di Filippo said that the group used a tool from the Environmental Protection Agency to identify zones that fall within disadvantaged communities that might require additional support, which were more than a third of all zones identified as having potential for investment across Los Angeles County. SCAG should direct additional funding toward those disadvantaged communities to ensure that the benefits are distributed equitably, the students said.

Di Filippo said that the APP process was challenging but rewarding. “I credit my teammates for pulling together quickly, conceptualizing and delivering a strong report that offers actionable information for SCAG’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure siting decisions in only eight weeks,” he said. “My team was fortunate to have the support of faculty and peers who were invaluable in shaping our thinking on key aspects of the report.”

Healthy Food for Children

Sarah White and teammates Sydney Ganon, Hiroto Iwaoka and Jonathan McIlroy examined behavioral economics for tools in nutrition education curricula. Their goal was to promote long-term healthy food choices and habits in third and fourth grade students in light of a growing recognition of negative health outcomes of childhood obesity.

“While the field of behavioral economics is still fairly new, we read a lot of the existing literature and had reason to believe that really low-cost interventions could potentially have large impacts on getting people to make better choices for themselves,” White said.

One challenge that behavioral economics has “rarely, if at all, studied within the realm of children’s nutrition.” That made evaluating different policy options more difficult. “We had to evaluate each policy option on our own,” White said.

The group’s recommendations bundled three potential behavioral tools that are cost-effective. Giving attractive names such as “power peas” to fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria would frame foods in a way that is appealing to children. Giving students something as simple as a sticker and thanking them for choosing the healthy option would promote reciprocity. Having students set goals for eating better would make them more likely to stay committed.

Ayappa Biddanda

Rocking his Comeback

For one student, Ayappa Biddanda, the final APP presentation was a long time in the making. In the early 2000s he left UCLA Luskin to pursue an opportunity that turned into a career in the music industry. He came back this year to do his final presentation — and thus finish his master’s degree.

Biddanda’s project evaluated the impact of an educational enrichment program called Rock the Classroom that paired local musicians with students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Biddanda’s solo presentation on the final night of the APP program literally rocked the classroom with musical sound bites and his enthusiastic, informative and professionally presented argument that, in education, “art matters.”

A Fond Farewell

Wrapping up two decades of APP presentations, Mark Peterson, chair of the department, thanked the students for their efforts. “I really want you all to applaud yourselves,” he said. “The hard work that went into all of the presentations was obvious to us all, and we really just admire the time you put into all of this and the work that you did to put these presentations on a scale of professionalism that we like to see.”

The 2017 APPs ended on a bittersweet note, with Peterson acknowledging the retirement of a key player. Maciek Kolodziejczak is a longtime UCLA staff member who joined the public policy program when it was founded more than 20 years ago and has long coordinated the APP presentations.

“Sadly, this is the last time that this part of the APP program will be orchestrated, moderated and run by Maciek,” Peterson said.


From the UCLA Luskin Flickr feed:

2017 Applied Policy Project presentations

Community Choice Is Transforming the California Energy Industry Report by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation researchers finds that Community Choice Aggregators provide a competitive alternative for electricity consumers

By George Foulsham

J.R. DeShazo

After decades of dominance by electricity monopolies, California is experiencing the emergence of community choice aggregators, a new type of utility that provides cities and counties the opportunity to choose what kinds of energy to purchase for their needs.

Community choice aggregation allows cities and counties in California (and other states that have enacted it) to group individual customers’ purchasing power within a defined jurisdiction to buy energy. In California, community choice aggregators are legally defined by state law as electric service providers.

These aggregators, or CCAs, have introduced competition into historically protected, investor-owned utility territories. In doing so, they have given eligible California customers a choice of retail energy providers. Since 2010, California communities have established eight CCAs. More than a dozen additional communities are making strides toward switching to CCAs.

“California is headed toward transformation with this rapid development of community choice aggregation programs,” said J.R. DeShazo, principal investigator for a new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “Our report highlights the benefits of CCAs while identifying unresolved policy questions that must be addressed by state regulators.”

According to the report, CCAs in California generally offer a larger share of renewable energy — up to 25 percent more — compared to the investor-owned utility in the same area. “We estimate that these efforts resulted in a total reduction of approximately 600,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016 — the equivalent of $7.5 million in reductions at the 2016 carbon price of $12.73 per metric ton on the statewide carbon market,” DeShazo said.

CCAs offer greener energy at a competitive price, according to Julien Gattaciecca, Luskin Center researcher and lead author of the study.

“CCAs have recently entered the energy market, allowing them to benefit from a long decline of falling wholesale renewable energy costs,” Gattaciecca said. “Some CCAs also offer larger incentives than their local investor-owned utility to households and businesses that self-generate energy through rooftop solar programs, and some have made the commitment to source energy from local renewable facilities, and directly own local solar facilities.”

DeShazo, who is a professor of public policy at the Luskin School, added: “Community choice aggregation is currently the best policy tool available to cities and counties who want to tailor energy procurement to their community’s preferences. The stakes are high. Regulators are grappling with important policy decisions that could affect the future of the energy market as well as the pocketbooks of Californians.”

With investor-owned utilities facing increasing competition, the study concludes that more choices can only benefit consumers, with the right regulations in place.

“Currently, an important part of the load in California is looking at CCAs,” Gattaciecca said. “The three major investor-owned utilities could see between 50 and 80 percent of their load departing for CCAs or direct access providers by 2025 or 2030.”

The eight operational California CCAs are Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power, Lancaster Choice Energy, CleanPower San Francisco, Peninsula Clean Energy in San Mateo County, Apple Valley Choice Energy, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Redwood Coast Energy Authority. Other CCAs expected to launch this year are East Bay Community Energy in Alameda County, Los Angeles Community Choice Energy and Valley Clean Energy Alliance in Yolo County and Davis.

Mayor Villaraigosa Announces L.A. Solar Energy Incentive Plan Based on UCLA Luskin Research

J.R. DeShazo, the director UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, has long studied how governments can promote and help implement environmentally friendly energy policies. Now, his recent research on solar energy incentive programs, conducted with Luskin Center research project manager Ryan Matulka and other colleagues at UCLA, has become the basis for a new energy policy introduced by the city of Los Angeles.

On Monday, March 15, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced an ambitious program to move the city’s energy grid toward renewable energy sources over the next decade. Included in the plan is a provision — based in large part on the Luskin Center research — for a “feed-in tariff,” which would encourage residents to install solar energy systems that are connected to the city’s power grid. The overall plan would require ratepayers to pay 2.7 cents more per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed, with 0.7 cents of that — a so-called carbon surcharge — going to the city’s Renewable Energy and Efficiency Trust, a lockbox that will specifically fund two types of programs: energy efficiency and the solar power feed-in tariff. Under the feed-in tariff system, homeowners, farmers, cooperatives and businesses in Los Angeles that install solar panels on homes or other properties could sell solar energy to public utility suppliers.

The price paid for this renewable energy would be set at an above-market level that covers the cost of the electricity produced, plus a reasonable profit. “A feed-in tariff initiated in this city has the potential to change the landscape of Los Angeles,” said DeShazo, who is also an associate professor of public policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs. “If incentivized appropriately, the program could prompt individual property owners and businesses to install solar panels on unused spaces including commercial and industrial rooftops, parking lots, and residential buildings. Our projections show that the end result would be more jobs and a significant move to renewable energy with no net cost burden to the city.”

Feed-in tariffs for solar energy have been implemented in Germany and several other European countries, as well as domestically in cities in Florida and Vermont. The programs have moved these regions to the forefront of clean energy. And while these programs have necessitated slight increases in ratepayers’ monthly electricity bills, they have also generated thousands of new jobs.

The mayor estimated that under the program announced Monday, 18,000 new jobs would be generated over the next 10 years. “For Los Angeles to be the cleanest, greenest city, we need participation from every Angeleno,” Villaraigosa said. “We know that dirty fossil fuels will only become more scarce and more expensive in the years to come. This helps move us toward renewable energy while at the same time creating new jobs.”

The new program had its genesis last year, when Villaraigosa announced a long-term, comprehensive solar plan intended to help meet the city’s future clean energy needs. The plan included a proposal for a solar feed-in tariff program administered by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In September 2009, the Los Angeles Business Council created a Solar Working Group consisting of leaders in the private, environmental and educational sectors in Los Angeles County to investigate the promise of the feed-in tariff for Los Angeles and commissioned the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation to lead the investigation.

In addition to DeShazo and Matulka, the working group also included Sean Hecht and Cara Horowitz from the UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment. The first phase of their research examined current models operating in Germany, Spain, Canada, Vermont and Florida to propose guidelines for a feed-in tariff design. The second phase looks at the potential participation rates in a large-scale solar feed-in tariff program in Los Angeles and its impact on clean energy in the Los Angeles basin. The Los Angeles Business Council is expected to release the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation’s complete report on solar energy feed-in tariffs next month. The Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA School of Public Affairs unites the intellectual capital of UCLA with forward-looking civic leaders in Los Angeles to address urgent public issues and actively work toward solutions. The center’s current focus in on issues of environmental sustainability.