In a non-descript room in a non- descript building, I connected with one of the more innovative institutions on the planet, the Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE) at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). With ‘energy efficiency’ as their north star, IEE inspires hope for the future in the era of climate change.
Over the past hundred years, the efficiency of humanity’s ability to generate, transmit and store energy has not matched our voracious consumption of this same resource. This trend has proved incredibly damaging to almost all aspects of the ecological and societal systems on planet Earth.
“The Department of Energy estimates that 30% of the energy used in this country is unnecessarily wasted,” said Mr. Dave Auston, IEE’s Executive Director. “This energy could be captured and usefully deployed through better and more efficient engineering, science and technology.”
With so much energy wasted before ever reaching its intended recipient, IEE found a clear and present problem and assigned some of their brightest minds to create solutions. IEE assembled an all-star team of re- searchers across multiple disciplines in and around the UCSB campus. Though they aren’t household names, you’ll find the products of their innovations in your household.
Organized into six ‘solutions groups,’ IEE covers areas such as lighting, production & storage, building and design, computing, electronics and photonics, and economics and policy. Their work touches the deepest part of our societal infrastructure including our energy grid, our transportation systems and consumer products. But how exactly does their work translate into a real world application?
Well, you know that laptop cord with the heavy brick that heats up on your lap? IEE is in the process of shrinking it while doubling its energy efficiency. IEE is also examining how to bring efficiency to energy hogging data centers that fuel our cloud computing, how to make batteries less toxic and longer lasting, and how to store the precious energy generated by solar and wind.
While tackling the issue of climate change demands a full spectrum approach, IEE steers clear of the politics and emotion by design. IEE focuses on scientifically sound solutions to real time problems and inefficiencies that work financially, technologically, environmentally and practically. The cascading benefits of their solutions makes their impact felt across the globe.
Mr. Auston emphasized the special nature of this group of researchers. Their culture of collaboration and dogged pursuit of solutions are key ingredients to their success. Their work is spawning new businesses, new technology and an army of students soaked in a culture of innovation and solution-oriented research. IEE is positioned to make an international impact as our need to understand, address and adapt to climate change intensifies around the world.
By David Fortson, LoaTree. Photographs by Sarah Fretwell.
This story first appeared in LoaLiving Magazine, vol. 2, winter 2013.