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Precourt Energy Efficiency Center makes new research awards at Stanford

Stanford's Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC) has awarded three grants to investigate the reduction of energy used by buildings.

John P. Weyant

John P. Weyant

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that buildings account for more energy consumption and more carbon dioxide emissions than any other global sector. Stanford researchers are investigating ways to reduce the energy used by those buildings and the people inside.

To push that research forward, Stanford's Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC) has awarded three one-year grants totaling nearly $400,000 to faculty members from several departments.

"We asked our researchers to come up with energy-efficiency solutions ranging from new technologies to potential behavioral changes," said PEEC Deputy Director John P. Weyant. "If successful, these new projects could lead to economical reductions in energy use on a very large scale."

Two of the new PEEC efforts involve making new and existing structures more energy efficient. 

Mechanical engineer Gianluca Iaccarino and civil engineer Martin Fischer set out to create a computer model to predict energy use in buildings. They plan to validate their model in part with information from one of the greenest structures on campus, the Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy building (Y2E2), completed in 2008.

"Tapping actual monitoring data from the Y2E2 building will allow us to better predict the airflow and heat transfer processes with our simulation tools," Iaccarino said. "This could lead to advanced computer models to help reduce energy use in buildings."

Civil engineer Raymond Levitt and Erica Plambeck, an expert in operations, information and technology in the Graduate School of Business, are investigating ways to help the construction industry easily adopt energy-efficient innovations.

"Over the past few decades, there has been a surge of energy-saving technologies, but many of these advances have failed to take hold in the building industry," said Levitt. "Our goal is to identify and mitigate the structural barriers to this diffusion."

Economist Matthew Harding plans to study how financial incentives could motivate individuals to be more prudent with their energy use.

"I am evaluating the extent to which behavioral mechanisms such as goal setting and social feedback, coupled with monetary rewards, can be a catalyst for people to adopt energy-efficient actions on an ongoing basis," Harding said. "Should we pay individuals for good deeds?"

The three new awards bring the total number of university efforts supported by PEEC to 27, with $2.8 million in funding to date.

Founded in October 2006 by a gift from Stanford alumnus Jay Precourt, PEEC promotes research on energy-efficient technologies, systems and practices. 

"These exciting new efforts fit nicely within the goals that Jay Precourt set for our organization and could bring us to achieve significant improvements in energy efficiency in economical ways," Weyant said.