By BreAnda Northcutt

A unique partnership between UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and Denmark’s Aalborg and Technical universities is helping find common ways to solve today’s energy challenges ­– despite the 5,259 miles that separate the two universities.

Having recently returned from a week in Denmark teaching international students, Josh Morejohn, Energy Manager in UC Davis’s Energy Conservation Office, was struck by the similarities rather than the differences.

“It was pretty surprising to see that they’re focusing on the same things,” said Josh Morejohn, who formed UC Davis’s Energy Feedback Team, which is currently crowdsourcing feedback on thermal comfort as a way to collect data for better energy management.

Morejohn was invited to teach at the US-Denmark Renewable Energy Program’s summer workshop – a program funded with a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for International Research and Education.

“Denmark has an extremely advanced energy infrastructure at the country level, but at the university level they still feel they have a lot to learn from UC Davis,” explained Morejohn.

Morejohn met with counterparts at Aalborg University and shared experiences working with data management systems that collect energy data with the goal of greater efficiency.

“You’ve got to have an objective measurement of energy use before you can really manage it,” said Morejohn.

Back at UC Davis, his Energy Feedback Team, which is nestled in Facilities Management, is working on a crowdsourcing app that collects thermal feedback in real time from around campus, looking for trends in buildings and specific classrooms where energy could be used more efficiently.

The month-long workshop is heavily focused on hands-on experiences. The students are required to team up on practical projects. While there, Morejohn helped with mentoring the project groups – one of which is looking at the impacts of carbon pricing on UC Davis energy planning.

“It’s really relevant to us as we’re contemplating decisions about the campus central heating system,” said Morejohn. “We’re anxious to see the analysis as we wrestle with issues related to the economics of a major energy infrastructure improvement.”

Morejohn’s office is working with the university’s Utilities, Design and Construction Management, and Sustainability offices – all part of the Office of the Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer ­– to prepare an analysis for campus leadership considering switching the Davis campus central heating system from steam to hot water. The effort is part of the university’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

The report produced by students in the US-Denmark Renewable Energy summer workshop will help inform UC Davis leaders in the decision-making process.

Morejohn said this type of hands-on learning is critical to putting students’ fresh, innovative ideas to work to solve real world problems. It’s one of the challenges he faced as a mechanical engineering student at UC Davis.

“When I was a student there weren’t many opportunities to get practical experience.”

But that’s improving with programs like the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center’s Program for International Energy Technologies. Along with the Denmark program, PIET sponsors a course focused on mapping pathways to net zero energy, and offers students the opportunity to develop and execute practical projects around campus and the community.

Adjunct Professor Kurt Kornbluth, Associate Director of the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center and mastermind behind the energy course where he has been collaborating with Morejohn for several years, is a key reason for UC Davis’s collaboration with Denmark.

Morejohn remarked at how much the Danes care about energy ­– something he says is different from the way Americans often view energy conservation.

“Their functional design reinforces their lifestyle of sustainability,” explained Morejohn. “While some Americans value individuality and their big trucks, Danes value community and are conscious of their impact on the shared environment.”

BreAnda Northcutt is Communications Director for the Office of the Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer.

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