Students Get Hands-on Energy Efficiency Experience in Zero Net Energy Initiative Class

Can the UC Davis campus achieve the goal of zero net energy by 2025?

The students enrolled in the class A Path to Zero Net Energy: A Hands-on Approach are doing their part to foster significant energy improvements here at UC Davis. Taught by Program for International Energy Technologies (PIET) and D-Lab Director Kurt Kornbluth, the Zero Net Energy (ZNE) class helps students gain valuable hands-on energy efficiency experience, both in the lab and at various sites on campus. The class is sponsored by the UC Davis Facilities Management Energy Conservation Office, which develops and implements energy projects and initiatives across the campus to help the university reach its energy and climate goals.

Over the duration of the course, student groups work on client-based energy projects, ranging from audits, behavioral studies, energy modeling, and more. These studies aim to inform decisions regarding energy efficiency, consumption, and supply in UC Davis, all building toward campus zero-net energy and carbon neutrality.

A research showcase held in June brought together all of the student groups from Professor Kornbluth’s ZNE class to spotlight the students’ innovative work. Many projects were highlighted: a campus facility and infrastructure audit of thermoelectric heat recovery opportunities, an energy assessment of the Davis Tri-Cooperatives (energy efficient living on campus), a behavioral study on how UC Davis freshmen utilize the thermostat in the dorms, and the feasibility of hydropower on farms, among others.

One group presenting at the showcase provided energy modeling for the UC Davis Solar Decathlon House for migrant farmworkers and other low-income communities. UC Davis was selected for the Department of Energy’s 2015 Solar Decathlon contest, a biannual contest in which universities are challenged to design, build, and operate solar-powered homes that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The ZNE class team digitally modeled the home in order to provide a comprehensive energy analysis of materials, appliances, and climate conditions of the home. This data will help the UC Davis team make better informed decisions about the building design leading up to the competition in October.

Winning recognition as the top project in the spring quarter ZNE class was, “Charging into the Future: An economic and GHG analysis of fleet conversion to electric buses.” For this project, students worked with the UC Davis public transit program Unitrans on the feasibility of transitioning the current compressed natural gas CNG buses to electric buses. Partnering with the Unitrans staff, students Colin Mickle, Jessica Siegel and Katrina Sutton found that by replacing 13 traditional (CNG) buses with EVs, they could reduce emissions by 540 metric tons of C02e per year. The study was comprehensive, analyzing economics (including cost/benefit, GHG emissions, technology review, and route analysis). Although their class obligations are finished, the students are continuing to follow up with Unitrans with the goal of making EV buses at UC Davis a reality.

The Zero Net Energy class is just one of the many ways that students at UC Davis are getting hands-on experience making impactful change in a real world setting. By working together with their colleagues and professors in a multi-disciplinary program, students learn how zero-net energy buildings and communities are constructed—through field trips, lectures, and direct engagement with the transportation and energy programs on campus.