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University researchers Essay

(Austin – April 11, 2013) For decades, university researchers pursuing energy innovations and solutions have been hindered by lack of research data on how people use electricity in their homes during the course of the day. But for the past two years, one U.S. university has attacked the problem directly.

Students and faculty conducting energy and smart grid research at the University of Texas have had access to a treasure trove of knowledge found nowhere else on earth: billions of time-stamped data records from the Pecan Street Research Institute’s original field research that measure minute-to-minute consumer energy use down the appliance level, solar panel generation, electric vehicle charging, transformer impacts and even natural gas and water use for hundreds of households.

Beginning today, the Pecan Street Research Institute is opening membership in its research consortium to university students, faculty and researchers from around the world. Upon sign-up, new members receive a free sample data set of home electricity use that appears to be the largest ever made available to university researchers.

“Our mission is to accelerate innovation in energy,” said Pecan Street Inc. CEO Brewster McCracken. “And innovation happens faster when smart people have access to the kind of original research data we are developing. Today’s university students are tomorrow’s energy executives, engineers and entrepreneurs. We are excited about the great things they can achieve through access to this unique and valuable resource.”

Membership in the Pecan Street Research Consortium is free for students, faculty and researchers working on university-sponsored research, classroom instruction or curriculum development. They will join corporate members of Pecan Street’s Industry Advisory Council, who have been guiding and participating in the organization’s research since 2011.

In addition to receiving the free data sample, new members receive lists of suggested research topics developed by utilities, technology companies and current research consortium members. Members are eligible to propose research that, if selected by the consortium’s Industry Advisory Council, provides free data for that research and receive exposure through presentations at technical conferences. Members are also eligible to compete for research stipends. Alternatively, members can receive heavily-discounted academic rates for data in areas such as residential transformer loads and temperatures for transformers with and without solar PV and electric vehicles, disaggregated electricity use for homes with home energy audits, electric vehicle charging patterns and minute-to-minute voltage levels in homes with rooftop solar panels. All data is time-stamped, and is anonymized to ensure the privacy of the volunteer participants.

The free data set available to research consortium members includes seven days of disaggregated, time-stamped, one-minute interval electricity use data for 10 homes participating in Pecan Street’s research in Austin. The data set includes electricity use, voltage and apparent power readings for the whole home, and disaggregated electricity and apparent power readings for 12 circuits within the home. Data for three homes with solar panels and two homes with a Level 2 electric car charger is also included. The data set is also provided in 15-minute intervals.

“This is the largest free set of disaggregated consumer energy use data on the planet, and we think it will spark a whole new level of research on energy use, energy efficiency and consumer electronics,” said Matthew Crosby, Pecan Street’s research division manager and former California PUC energy advisor.

Those interested in joining the Pecan Street Research Consortium can visit the organization’s membership application webpage.

Pecan Street formed its customer research network in 2011 and quickly developed the nation’s deepest customer energy use database. More than 540 homes in Austin, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Corpus Christi are currently online, and the consumer energy measurement systems in their homes are reporting more than 89 million unique electricity use records per day. Equipment in each home transmits energy use measurements for the whole-home and up to 23 circuits every minute to Pecan Street’s secure database (a subset of these homes have systems that report use in one second intervals).

In Austin’s Mueller community, where the research began, more than 200 participating homes have installed south and/or west facing rooftop solar. Additionally, 50 of the 69 participants in the Institute’s electric vehicle research trial live in that one-half square mile neighborhood, making it the highest concentration of electric vehicles in the U.S.

This summer, Pecan Street will expand its customer research network into other states.

“I have seen how valuable Pecan Street’s research data has been for the IGERT students at The University of Texas at Austin,” said Dr. Thomas Edgar, the George T. and Gladys H. Abell chair in chemical engineering, Pecan Street board member and director of the Energy Institute at UT-Austin. ”By opening availability of this research data to university faculty and students from around the world, we will certainly accelerate energy scholarship and better prepare students interested in careers with energy technology companies and utilities.”

The National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program comprises approximately 125 award sites at U.S. universities in all areas of science and engineering. The UT IGERT program, titled “Sustainable Grid Integration of Distributed and Renewable Resources,” is a collaboration of UT and Pecan Street. Through this collaboration, Pecan Street interacts in research, education and curriculum development with more than 20 UT graduate students and 20 university faculty.

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