UT Behind Ambitious Smart-Grid Energy Project

An ambitious smart-grid energy project is making major headlines today, bringing 100 electric Chevy Volts to the streets of Austin and helping pilot-program participants test for lower energy bills.

And without The University of Texas, the company behind the project says, Pecan Street Inc. could not have gotten off the ground.

The project is monitoring electric grid use as people test out technology like solar panels, smart appliances, and plug-in cars. Today it announced partnerships with major companies like Whirlpool, Best Buy, Oracle, SunEdison, and Chevrolet for providing this smart technology to participants over the next year.

“This project would not be happening without The University of Texas, period,” Pecan Street spokesman Colin Rowan says. “The vision that started this project was built on bringing the best university technology together with the best private sector talent with government support. It’s now turned into one of the most exciting smart grid projects in the country.”

Project executive director Brewster McCracken, JD ’95, MPAff ’95, is a UT grad, as are employees ranging from engineers to communicators.

Just as critically, faculty in UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering, from chemical engineering professor Tom Edgar to assistant mechanical engineering professor Michael Webber, have thrown their expertise behind the project’s development.

“We’ve got strong UT ties with the staff, and on top of that, when the organization was first being founded, we had a board and a mission and no budget,” Rowan says. “Tom Edgar found our seed funding and has become a board member. And so UT really provided the intial funding for us to move from a group of interested people to an actual organization.”

Beginning in January, Pecan Street began monitoring energy use in 200 participating Austin homes (including 100 in the Mueller development), taking a snapshot of usage every 15 seconds. Next year, the number of participating homes will be increased to 1,000, this time monitoring use with the smart appliances, electric cars, and other technologies employed.

Some 100 participating homes in Pecan Street Inc.’s demonstration project in Austin’s Mueller development will avail themselves of 100 Chevy Volts during the next year, creating one of the densest electric-car concentrations of any neighborhood in the country. Photo courtesy Pecan Street Inc.


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