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Thursday, February 22, 2007


Award Presentation to Alan Meier

It’s a pleasure to present this award to Dr. Alan Meier as one of the Alliance’s “unsung heroes” of energy efficiency.  If there is one characteristics that qualifies Alan as an unsung hero, according to his colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, it is his unerring ability to identify important energy-saving opportunities that are so far ahead of their time that they are typically unfundable for the first few years, while Alan manages to get the rest of us to pay attention. But his ideas have been great for the country – and the world.  Let me give you three short examples.

Years ago Alan recognized that architects, contractors, and HVAC service providers – people who could actually apply the results of research on energy efficiency in buildings –  typically did not have access to the latest and best technical information.  So Alan went out and created a non-profit organization to publish a new magazine, Home Energy  Magazine, totranslates technical research into language that energy efficiency practitioners could understand.  This is Technology Transfer at its most basic—and successful—level.  Home Energy explores topics that get ignored elsewhere.  This month’s issue, for example, addresses the sensitive issue of compliance with efficiency regulations.  Did you know, for example, that some appliance controls are now smart enough to recognize when they are being tested, and to adjust their performance during the test so that their test results are not typical of actual use?  This is the kind of nitty-gritty detail that, once brought to light, can help drive important changes in test methods that are the foundation for efficiency labels and standards in the US and other countries.

More recently, Alan has branched out to the transportation sector, targeting the 20+% of automobile fuel use not measured in fuel economy tests. He estimates that half of that energy can be saved relatively easily, from better design of air conditioners, luggage racks and auto body streamlining in general, slippery engine oil, and improving the efficiency of replacement-market tires to at least match that of original-equipment tires.  Better tires alone could cut on-road auto fuel use up to 5% at virtually no added cost.

Over the past few years Alan has become the global prophet warning us about growth in standby power use.  This is the electricity used by appliances, cell phone chargers, and remote-controlled TVs and other equipment while most of us think they are switched off.   First, Alan measured the size of this problem, by enlisting colleagues  around the world – at least 5% of residential electricity use and about 1% of global CO2 emissions. Then he proposed technical solutions and policies to reduce standby power.  The public responded immediately – who wants a lot of “leaky” electrical appliances around the house – especially when they can cost a typical homeowner $75-$100/year of pure waste?  President Bush also picked up on the idea, issuing an Executive Order devoted solely to reducing standby power in federal facilities, based on Alan’s work.  Alan took advantage of his recent assignment at the International Energy Agency to take his proposals global:  at both of the past two G8 Summits (in Gleneagles and St. Petersburg) there was an explicit reference to standby power and to Alan’s proposal for a global commitment to reducing each standby device to 1 watt.

Last, since he began his career as an energy efficiency scientist at Berkeley Lab, Alan has been almost fixated on the actual measurement of energy use and savings.  He collected some of the earliest data on measured energy use of buildings and equipment, some of which are still cited.  His PhD dissertation on “Supply Curves of Conserved Energy,” explained how individual energy-saving measures could be aggregated so that “saved energy” could be considered as an economic resource comparable to new energy supplies.  This was ground-breaking stuff when Alan applied it to California’s energy challenges in 1980, but by now his energy conservation supply curves have become widely accepted at the national, state, utility, and international levels.

So if Alan helped write the book on energy conservation in California, it was a surprise to his Berkeley colleagues when during the latest California electricity crisis, he admitted that even he didn’t understand if the problem was excess demand or insufficient supply.  So of course he decided to measure the problem – by creating a web site to display both the demand and supply of electricity in real time.  This would allow Californians to see for themselves if there was a real crisis.

Utility experts said this was either impossible, had already been done, or wouldn’t be useful, but of course Alan persisted.  He pulled together data on electricity demand and generation that were available but that no one had figured out how to combine in the right way. The created a website that attracted millions of hits, was closely monitored by the governor of California, the Secretary of DOE, and even allowed many utility staff to get more reliable information on what was happening day to day and hour by hour.

You can observe Alan’s impact – the people he has influenced – by traveling around the world and talking to leading policy-makers and those many more who work in the trenches.  Hundreds have had their lives changed as a result of his courses at UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Waseda University in Japan.  Alan is famous for taking a chance with unknown graduate students and visiting researchers, and helping them discover entirely new interests and new career directions.

Not only is Alan an unsung hero of energy efficiency but he is one of those people who keeps the field exciting and challenges the rest of us to think and then to act.



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