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Friday, March 22, 2013

Pecan Street Project: A Research Lab in Austin

As part of our #ChevySXSW tour, we visited the Pecan Street Project located in the Mueller neighborhood.  For a geek and researcher, this was a playground.  With data coming out of the houses (quite literally) combined with human behavior, I could spend all day testing scenarios. 
Most people don't know what the Pecan Street Project is all about, and neither did I.  Essentially, it is a research site called the Pikes Powers Lab (currently undergoing construction shown above) with real subjects.  It was stressed that the residents of Mueller (subjects), where not typical or representative of the normal population.  Residents were typically early adopters of technology.  They are also the perfect people to have test out new products before investing more and to work out the bugs.  The idea is that if early adopters won't use it, then normal people probably won't!
Each of the participating homes in Mueller sends 11 data points on energy usages to a central server.  Residents can log in and monitor exactly what is eating up all their energy. 
Other interesting points:
  • Non-profit research consortium headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin.  Approximately a dozen staff.
  • Squarely focused on customer benefit of smart grid and new energy technology.
  • Incorporated in 2009, since then has contributed more than $6 million to research funding to the University of Texas. 
  • Conducting real-world consumer energy research in Austin's Mueller community and surrounding neighborhoods.
  •  500 homes participating (250 in the Mueller community), all are volunteers.
  • Currently building a $1.5 million commercialization lab in the Mueller community to provide testing facilities to UT researchers, member companies, and technology start-ups.
  • Research has spurred installation of solar on more than 200 homes in Mueller (out of a total of approx 600 homes)
  • Research has spurred the purchase/lease of 60 EVs in the Mueller community -- less than one square mile -- making it the most densely installed EV market in the US (perhaps the world).
  • Consortium includes more than a dozen member companies, including: Freescale, Green Mountain Energy, Intel, Landis+Gyr, LG Electronics, Lockheed Martin, Oncor, Onstar, Oracle, Sony, SunEdison, Texas Gas Service, and Whirlpool.
  • Participating homes have access to energy monitoring systems such as eGauge, which allows real-time web access to energy use, smart thermostats and remote access.
Nick tells us about the future plans for the Pecan Street Project

Tiny trees are kind of cute.

Homes with solar.  Yep, that's popular in this hood. 

And a quick view of the Pikes Lab, still under construction. 

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