Energy Efficiency to the Max

September 19, 2014

Cal Poly fielded two electrical engineering student teams at the Max Tech and Beyond Competition where students were invited to come up with prototypes to take energy consumption to new lows.

The annual competition, which is run by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with funding from the Department of Energy, challenges college students to design ultra-low-energy-use appliances. Eleven teams were chosen from U.S. colleges and universities across the country, each receiving up to $25,000 to implement their proposals over the course of the 2013-14 academic year. 

The students’ work culminated in a national webinar in May, in which the student teams demonstrated their prototypes. Each prototype was judged based on its ability to reduce energy use by at least 10 percent compared to best-in-market products, or its ability to reduce production costs at least 20 percent compared with already-existing high-efficiency products.

“Both of Cal Poly’s teams were in the top five this year,” said Dale Dolan, electrical engineering professor and faculty co-advisor. “The two projects covered the technology spectrum — from modern high tech electronics to long-established fixtures in our lives, like air conditioners.”

The Cal Poly Smart Strip Team included graduate student Niels Smidth, together with Sukhjinder Singh and Andrew Tramposch who completed their undergraduate degrees in June. The team’s design addressed the problem of so-called phantom energy — the electricity that is drawn from outlets when equipment is off but still plugged in.

“Phantom energy is like a leaky faucet,” said Vladimir Prodanov, electrical engineering professor and faculty co-advisor. “The average house has 40 electronic devices — computers, laptops, phone, TV, game consoles. Multiply that by millions of households and workplaces, and it really adds up.”

Explained Tramposch in his webinar presentation: “The strip we developed automatically manages standby devices for you, while still providing power to devices you want on, such as lights or fans. In the process, we achieved 40 percent power savings — twice that of our goal,”

Noting the prototype’s “exciting possibilities” for widespread use in residential and commercial sectors, judges awarded the team a sponsorship to attend an entrepreneurial workshop at UC Irvine this fall.

The Cal Poly High-Efficiency Air Conditioning Team included Tattiana Davenport, a graduate student and team leader; Hannah Homer, a graduate student; and Johnathan Marroquin, who graduated magna cum laude, in June.

Their goal was to develop a design to gain energy efficiency in a portable window air conditioner.
“It was a great opportunity to take something that already existed and make it better in a way that maybe hadn't been done before,” said Davenport. “By replacing a single-phase motor with a three-phase motor and incorporating a single- to three-phase power converter, we improved the unit’s efficiency by 15.7 percent."

Homer dates her interest in ultra-low energy appliances “to when I started paying my own electric bills. I soon saw how much electricity is used by ‘necessities’— like refrigeration – despite my energy-conservation efforts in other areas. It brought home the importance of making appliances more efficient.”


Related links:

About Cal Poly Smart Strip Team

About Cal Poly High Efficiency Portable Air Conditioning Team

Webinar presentation (requires free registration)

Max Tech and Beyond