LightWorks Blog

International Year of Light 2015: Celebrating illuminating solutions

published June 26, 2015, 8:54 am

When you think about light, what comes to mind? Do you think of a campfire in a dark forest, stars from a galaxy far away, or the neon sign across your street?

However you choose to envision it, light is all around us. Humans have had a long history of experimenting with different ways to utilize light. Some of the greatest minds have dedicated their lives to understand how to make light, and how to use it. Light is an integral part of how we communicate, navigate, learn and explore.

Light-inspired art seen at Emerge 2012 event. Photo taken by the ASU Art Museum.

This year, Arizona State University LightWorks in partnership with other departments throughout ASU celebrate innovators from the past and present who have contributed to light science and its applications through the United Nations’ International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). To participate in the university’s light-oriented events, continue to visit the LightWorks website,

“Light doesn’t just provide us the ability to see, it is a power source, a source of inspiration for writers and artists, and a mechanism through which we can communicate and discover,” said Gary Dirks, director of ASU LightWorks and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of  Sustainability. “At ASU LightWorks and across the university, we embrace the entire spectrum of light-oriented research, expression and discovery. By celebrating the International Year of Light with the United Nations, we can illuminate all that our students and researchers are doing with light and how their work impacts the globe.”

Inaugurated by the United Nations General Assembly, the IYL 2015 is a global initiative that highlights the importance of light and optical technologies in our lives, for our futures, and for the development of society. Below is a statement about IYL 2015 from the UN.

Light plays a central role in human activities. On the most fundamental level through photosynthesis, light is necessary to the existence of life itself, and the many applications of light have revolutionized society through medicine, communications, entertainment and culture. Industries based on light are major economic drivers, and light-based technologies directly respond to the needs of humankind by providing access to information, promoting sustainable development, and increasing societal health and well-being. -- IYL 2015

ASU LightWorks recognizes the potential for light as a cross-cutting discipline that promotes sustainable development and provides solutions to global challenges in energy, education, technology, and policy.

“Light is a powerful unifying theme because it’s both a scientific construct, in fields ranging from theoretical physics to experimental biofuels and also a metaphor with deep resonances for religion, literature and visual art,” said Joey Eschrich, editor and program manager for the Center for Science and the Imagination. “Focusing on light allows us to create spaces where people from diverse backgrounds can share their insights and discover unexpected points of connection. People from every walk of life and every intellectual background have something valuable to contribute to a dialogue about light.”

By striving to bring together different stakeholders that promote advancements in light and light-based technologies, LightWorks proudly joins the IYL 2015 initiative to emphasize the importance of light in our communities. Our objective is to raise awareness about the multi-faceted nature of light in light-inspired sciences, technology, and art at ASU and beyond.

For a list of upcoming light-oriented events at ASU, or if you know of an ASU event you would like to share, please click here.

Written by Gabrielle Olson and Sarah Mason, ASU LightWorks

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NRG Renew and ASU partnership yields student opportunity

published May 20, 2015, 8:54 am

NRG Energy, Inc. and Arizona State University are working together to develop a working prototype of a containerized solar and batterystorage solution designed to be deployed for disaster relief or other off-grid applications, primarily in developing countries and emerging markets. Dr. Naz Al-Khayat, chief micro-grid engineer at NRG Renew, and Dr. Nathan Johnson, assistant professor at ASU Polytechnic, are leading a team of student researchers to design and test a containerized micro-grid solution. The purpose of the team’s project is to offer a fast-response to energy demands that emerge from environmental disasters as well as to bring power to areas in the world that do not have access to reliable energy.

ASU student team for the ASU and NRG containerized solar storage project. From left to right: Samantha Janko, Daniel Cotter, Shaun Atkinson, Kevin Lawson.

The team is currently completing the first phase of the project, which has included initial design, fabrication, and testing of actual components. The container currently sits outside at ASU’s Polytechnic campus and includes 20 KW of solar panels, a diesel generator, lithium ion batteries, and an inverter that can operate on or off-grid. The first phase is expected to be completed during the summer of 2015.

At a recent NRG event at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, the team highlighted initial successes from the first phase that have led to internal funding for the second phase. The second phase of the project will be focused on commercial demonstration and largely improving manufacturing and speeding up production.

The four Ira. A. Fulton Schools of Engineering students (pictured above) are working with Dr. Johnson for their senior year design project called an eProject. The purpose of an eProject is to bring students and industry together to find innovative solutions to real-world problems.

“The university working with industry has several benefits,” Dr. Johnson says. “The first being transition of academic research into the hands of the public through partnership and workforce development through bidirectional learning. The other is by giving context and industry experience for our students who will join the workforce upon graduation.”

In a world with growing global energy challenges, ASU believes in educating the next generation of engineers through hands-on projects made possible by partnerships with forward-thinking companies like NRG. The training of these young engineers will not only provide the experience and knowledge needed for their future career paths but also provides NRG a way to further facilitate their ability to benefit society and the environment through integrated energy solutions. If that’s not a win-win, we don’t know what is.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks


Re-imagine transportation fuels with LightWorks during May 29 webinar

published May 7, 2015, 2:59 pm

As the fuel industry continues to see peaks and valleys in market prices and availability, researchers, consumers and leaders are being called together to examine the future of transportation fuels. Research and policy in this energy stream remains vitally important to national security and the economy because of price volatility, security of supply, geopolitical ramifications and environmental and climate impacts

The Future of Sustainable Transportation Fuels Forum will serve as an open platform for conversations between all stakeholders in the transportation fuels industry. The forum includes a free four-session webinars hosted by LightWorks and LightSpeed Solutions at Arizona State University with the Security and Sustainability Forum.

“Although it is difficult to predict what transportation energy will look like in 2050, research, development and policy investments made now will frame that future,” said Ellen Stechel, ASU LightWorks deputy director. “This forum aims to engage stakeholders in conversations about investments and technology advances that can accelerate a transition toward sustainable mobility, increase economic efficiency and minimize barriers that either impede or make that transition more costly.”

The Future of Sustainable Transportation Fuels Forum begins May 29. Registration is free and participants may sign up at or click here.

The first webinar from 10:15-11:45 a.m. PST May 29 will focus on major themes relevant to the future of sustainable transportation fuels and set the stage for subsequent webinars. Learn what some of the leading experts in transportation research, policy and commercialization think about the future of sustainable transportation fuels.

Webinar panelists include:

  • Gary Dirks, director of the Arizona State University Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and LightWorks, will moderate the panel. Before joining ASU, Dirks was the President of BP Asia Pacific and the President of BP China.
  • Paul Bryan, consultant in conventional and renewable fuels & chemicals technology and a chemical engineering lecturer at UC-Berkeley. Bryan was Chevron’s VP for biofuels technologies and then director of what is now the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office.
  • Sharon Burke, senior advisor at the New America Foundation where she focuses on international security and the security implications of energy, climate change and other natural resource challenges.  Previously, Burke served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense of Operational Energy.
  • Kathryn Clay, Vice President for Policy Strategy at the American Gas Association where she provides thought-leadership on natural gas utility demand growth. Clay previously served as Vice President of research and technology policy for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and before that as a member of the professional staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
  • Michael Tamor, Henry Ford Technical Fellow for Energy Systems and Sustainability, Ford Research at Ford Motor Company. Tamor has served in a number or senior research leadership positions including global electrification, renewable fuels, hybrid vehicle and fuel cell research.

Subsequent webinars will examine opportunities for expanding system boundaries and trends that encapsulate arbitrage opportunities, economic deficiencies and turning liabilities into assets and lower value feedstocks to higher value fuels. 

This webinar series, alongside ongoing conversations on the forum’s LinkedIn page aims to move toward more common ground for an affordable and timely transition to a low-carbon future.

How ‘Cli-Fi’ Promotes Sustainable Awareness

published April 28, 2015, 2:27 pm

Can a story trigger social movement? What is the role of imagination in society’s’ response to climate change? On April 2, ASU‘s Manjana Milkoreit moderated a panel event sponsored by ASU’s Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative (ICF) titled “Climate Fiction: Science, Stories, or Seeds of Transformation”. The panelists included LightWorks affiliates Joni Adamson, Sydney Lines, and Clark Miller, who examined the roots of the emerging “cli-fi” literary genre and its impact beyond simply telling stories.

(Left to right) Manjana Milkoreit, Joni Adamson, Sydney Lines and Clark Miller discussed climate fiction at a panel event organized by ASU's Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative on April 2. Photo retrieved from ASU Magazine.

With acclaimed works like Margret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy, and harsh images of the environment depicted in popular television shows like Game of Thrones, it is not hard to see that climate fiction has become a hot trend that is promoting a discussion about how climate change affects our future societies. However, whether or not the genre’s impact shifts real-world behavior or the way people think about climate change is still an issue to discuss.

Milkoreit kicked off the discussion by examining the first question related to climate fiction, which was to examine the origins of environmental storytelling. If we were to go back in time, would we see any instances of written work that warned of society’s impact on the environment? Or is cli-fi a relatively new genre of literature? Sydney Lines, communications program coordinator at LightWorks, and Joni Adamson, ASU professor of environmental humanities, both argued that cli-fi is not a new genre, but it is in fact, a topic discussed in many landmark works of fiction and a subject brought up in oral traditions dating back centuries.

Lines offered insights from early literary responses to extreme weather events from the past and short-term climatic changes which dated back 200 years ago. One particular event was “The Year Without a Summer,” a time of climate abnormalities which caused a major food shortage in the Northern Hemisphere caused by the eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in 1815. Lines connected this climatic event as inspiration to famous works of fiction such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Adamson drew from an even older example of environmental storytelling explaining that some of the world’s oldest known societies had produced commentaries on issues regarding to the climate seen in their oral traditions. Adamson used examples from Greek mythology and Native American history to explain how humans have always used poetry and stories to reflect or make sense of their relationship with nature and the planet. Climate-focused storytelling is as important now as it was then, especially in helping societies contemplate important questions about what it means to be human and where our responsibilities to the natural environment lie.

Milkoriet then changed focus to bring up the second question which was to discuss the role of climate fiction and in shaping society’s responses to climate change. Clark Miller, Associate Director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at ASU, believes that the recent interest in climate fiction does not necessarily mean that anybody reading the genre will change their mind about climate science or climate change, but that it does signal a welcoming trend that societies are beginning to embrace thinking about climate change as it relates to our culture. Miller explained that cli-fi ultimately gives our society an opportunity to explore social and political meanings related to climate change. It does not necessarily give us an answer, but it examines climate futures and its effect on people.

The panelists then explored other questions brought up by Milkoreit such as “What are the obligations in climate fiction to get the facts right?” and “What are the implications of the heavy dystopian trend of most modern climate fiction?” These questions along with others were also directed to the audience and a microphone was passed along to have an open discussion with the panelists. One of the audience members noted that perhaps the dystopian trend present in most works of climate fiction is fueled from a sense of melancholy we feel when we contemplate our climate reality and our seeming incapability to reverse the effects of this complex problem. However, the panelists were optimistic about the diversity of stories, and multiple options that can be discussed to respond to climate challenges in the genre of climate fiction. With this perspective, audience members were left with the idea that cli-fi is a growing genre that will bring forth a multitude of ideas and perspectives in ways to cope with our feelings toward a changing environment and opportunities to proactively adapt.

Attendees of the climate fiction panel event developed short stories about the future as part of a "flash-fiction" exercise. Photo retrieved from ASU Magazine.

The last part of the event was devoted to a flash climate fiction exercise. The audience was invited to experiment with cli-fi storytelling on the spot, challenging them to put their imagination to work. The exercise was framed by climate conditions unique to Phoenix, Arizona and centered on a couple of short story preambles. Small groups of attendees got together to develop their own stories which will soon be featured on the Climate Futures Initiative’s website.

In addition to this event, Milkoreit and Miller were also recently featured in a PBS current affairs show, Arizona Horizon, to further discuss this cli-fi topic and its impact through literature. Watch the video here:

Imagination is not only an important skill to have when writing a work of fiction, but it is also an important skill for the scientific community when considering the impact of climate change. Climate fiction might not solve all our problems concerning climate change, but it brings forth new ideas about the phenomenon and helps us confront our perceptions of climate change and propose solutions. To learn more about ASU’s Climate Futures Initiative please visit their website here:

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

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Redesigning the future through technology + art

published March 27, 2015, 1:45 pm

For the past four years, Arizona State University has dared brilliantly creative and technical minds to answer some of society’s most complex questions through the Emerge event. On March 6, 2015, this year’s event showcased radically new visions of the future with the theme “The Future of Choices and Values.” In a press release for this year’s event, Joel Garreau, founding co-director of Emerge and Professor of Law, Culture and Values at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law said, “Humans today have unprecedented power to harness and reshape matter, energy and even life itself. Emerge asks what kinds of futures we should build together, at a moment in history when what we can do is almost unlimited.”

Emerge 2015 featured visionary Jad Abumrad, creator and host of Radiolab. Retrieved from ASU Emerge website.

By way of performance, technology and storytelling, the Emerge 2015 event gathered artists, designers, scientists, engineers, and audiences to explore the ways we create the future, and how we ensure it as the future we hope for. The event featured dancing robots, story-telling through Legos, an interactive design studio, and much more. The featured visionary this year was Radiolab host and creator Jad Abumrad who discussed innovation and the essential parts of creative process and imagination.

LightWorks assisted Toby Fraley, a contributing artist for ASU Emerge and Scottsdale Public Art, at the 2015 Canal Convergence to promote his futuristic creation—the Artwork Forge. Fraley explored the question: Could a machine put artists out of a job?

The Artwork Forge by Toby Fraley. Photo taken by Gabrielle Olson, LightWorks.

Fraley’s creation of the Artwork Forge provided an interesting perspective on the convergence between technology and art. This clever art installation required you to drop in a couple quarters and feed a rough block of wood into the machine. The whirring of motors signals your attention to the window where you see your piece of wood being shaped by spinning blades. Next, the machine appears to require a moment to scour the internet, seeking what is popular among our generation’s choices and values. It almost appears as if the machine is “thinking” about what it should paint. Then, the next window opens up as you see your block of wood being spray painted and pencils being moved over it as the art is being created. A few minutes later, a 4-inch by 6-inch painting drops down a chute for you to take home and ponder the question—could this be the future of art? Watch the video demo below.

from toby fraley on Vimeo.

The Artwork Forge is a strong example of how art and technology merge by bringing attention to how our choices and values have been affected by a culture reliant on technology and the internet. By compiling data from our personal preferences, social media, news trends, and revered masterpieces of art, the Artwork Forge produces a result that can be argued as an example of a “perfect” piece of artwork. But despite having all of the integral components of what a piece of art should incorporate, does the Artwork Forge accurately portray the unique creativity that human beings bring to works of art? Revealing these complex questions is an important part to how we envision and shape our future, especially as technology will continue to advance and impact our culture.

Not only will technology shape our future choices and values, increasing levels of climate change and population will have an effect as well. Scott A. Cloutier, a Walton Fellow in the Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU, recently wrote a contributing article for Slate Magazine which highlighted the importance of the Emerge 2015 theme. Cloutier asks- How can we give people the greatest opportunity to pursue their own happiness? To answer this question, he challenges readers to think about the types of neighborhoods we would like to see in the future by basing design on sustainability and happiness. Cloutier argues that happiness and sustainability are interchangeable and that the need to intentionally design and redesign our systems in line with these values will create a culture mindful of environmental impacts, which will be even more critical in the future. He writes that ultimately designing our neighborhoods in this way “could result in a more equitable, just, and sustainable world.” Read the full article by clicking here.

LightWorks believes in cultivating broader knowledge of the human component when we make decisions about energy transitions. By connecting with entities like IHR Nexus Lab and the ASU English Department, participating in panel discussions to explore climate fiction, and hosting lectures examining humans’ conception of energy from the past to present, LightWorks plans to continue demonstrating how humanities research can help us with modern questions related to science, technology, and the built environment. For more information about LightWorks’ involvement in the humanities please read our previous blog post by clicking here.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

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Intersecting the digital humanities and energy research

published March 17, 2015, 3:00 pm

In a world where science and technology advance at record-breaking paces, so too must we ensure that studies in the humanities progress and obtain firm grounding. While science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines can answer the “what” and “how” of our society, the humanities offer insights to answering the “why” as well as communicating it well to others. The humanities and sciences must therefore work together in order to offer solutions to the pressing problems of our time to create meaningful change. To answer this need, the Institute for Humanities Research at Arizona State University (IHR) established the Nexus Lab. The Nexus Lab integrates the common interest of computation and data analysis as a means to connect the humanities with STEM disciplines.

The Nexus Lab during its first Research Advancement and Innovation Forum. Photo retrieved from the Nexus Lab website.

Created in November 2013, the Nexus Lab leads digital humanities research projects at ASU by fostering transdisciplinary partnerships between departments, schools, and colleges to explore complex research questions in which the humanities can play a critical role. LightWorks has worked closely with the Nexus Lab to help cultivate skills and interest on the link between humanities and energy research and development. Jacqueline Hettel, assistant director of the Nexus Lab, gave us further insight about the mission and future goals of the lab in an interview which begins below.

Photo of Jacqueline Hettel. Photo retreived from the Nexus Lab website.

Interview with Jacqueline Hettel:

How would you define the digital humanities? How does it differ from traditional humanities?

There is no one definition for it. At the heart of digital humanities, it’s about taking the best parts of the humanities, such as the ability to ask big “why?” type questions, and finding ways to apply it to different disciplines. The digital humanities can be thought of as “humanities applied” that is, a community of practice centered on a circuit exchange between disciplines by combining the use of computational methods to investigate problems and create opportunities for answering large cultural questions. It is not to say that the digital humanities turns the human perspective into numbers, but rather it leverages numerical approaches to make complex humanistic issues a bit more concreate and contractible to modeling. We make these complex questions a bit easier to understand. 

How can the digital humanities help us think through and address complex problems like energy development, policy, efficiency, etc.?

It gives us a bigger tool box to work with. In my own work, I use methods of quantitative and qualitative research to help answer questions about culture within energy organizations to get back to that human element. I am interested in the stories that people tell or discuss within organizations to go about making energy, changing energy policy, or acting on behalf of their community to advocate for what they think regarding to energy issues. The Nexus Lab plans to work closely with LightWorks to continue building this research capacity.

How does your work in the digital humanities connect with energy research and development?

By using publically available documents from the regulated nuclear power industry, I created a corpus of over 9 million words for my dissertation at The University of Georgia. I was interested in what were the most salient and significant things that the nuclear power industry was communicating. I used frequency analysis with statistical analysis to find 20 key terms that were being used. I found that there was an interesting dynamic between how the public, regulation, and corporations communicated these key terms about the nuclear power industry. Even though there was a shared meaning with regard to the key terms, the communication and use of these terms varied greatly between group membership and geography. By investigating energy and digital humanities research together in corpus and social linguistics, I was able to see how language functions when communicating the trends that concern the nuclear power sector.

Currently, I am Assistant Editor of the Linguistic Atlas Projects which holds a linguistic archive of audio recordings since the 1950s. This archive is filled with narratives of people and their interaction with the environment. I am researching recordings that share personal stories relating to energy in terms of policy influence, conservation, and other ideas. For example, I am looking at people from rural areas of the United States and analyzing their narratives of personal experience with energy—like experimenting with biofuel—from a historical perspective.  It’s data that you wouldn’t expect from the energy arena because it’s getting at how people construct their notions, meanings, and interactions with energy. Using digital and computational tools is a way to extend qualitative data found by listening through these archives. In all, intersecting the digital humanities with energy research is a way to critically think about energy and human interaction with the environment.

How can these projects tell us more about the research ASU strives to produce?

Our goal is to extend the research capacity of the humanities and help to make it more impactful than it already is. The Nexus Lab tries to create impactful projects by applying it in situations where they haven’t been applied before. By sticking to our principle of being a thought leader and shared aspirations of the New American University, we are trying to show how the digital humanities can be used to inspire research that has application in a real world setting so we can have a positive impact in our own community.

What is next for the Nexus Lab? What are you looking forward to?

We have had a lot of growth and successes in the last seven months and we plan to continue with that. We are really looking forward to furthering collaboration and opportunities for connecting energy and the humanities research and discovery. We are also going to be more focused on building external partnerships to find opportunities on how we can help answer difficult problems that exist within organizations. We also aim to create more opportunities to get ASU faculty, staff, and students more involved with the digital humanities and the Nexus Lab.

Are there any opportunities for ASU students, staff, or faculty to get involved with the Nexus Lab in the upcoming future?

We will have upcoming workshops which are always open to anyone interested in participating. We want to hear ideas on how the digital humanities and energy can intersect and we want to get more people interested and involved. If ASU students, staff, or faculty want to work on a project integrating the digital humanities or simply hear more about we do, all they have to do is drop by or contact us.

Conclusion of interview.

In the past year, Sydney Lines, LightWorks’ communication program coordinator, has worked with the Nexus Lab on the Developing Wassaja project which aims to empower faculty, staff, and students to develop sustainable web applications for impactful ASU research. LightWorks firmly believes that engaging the full range of social and humanistic sciences is integral to our goal towards an energy system change. By leveraging the tools and expertise available at the Nexus Lab, LightWorks is able to collaborate with researchers who are also interested in “grand challenge” topics by integrating humanities engagement with computation as a common ground. For more information or to schedule a meeting to the Nexus Lab, please visit their website here.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

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Rent renewable devices via ASU’s PowerUp Lending Library

published March 10, 2015, 8:57 am

A phone charger powered by the sun, a lantern with state-of-the-art solar panels, and a kinetic USB or laptop charger that powers up in your pocket while you walk are just a few of the devices you could checkout through the Household Independent Power Project’s (HIPP) Personal Power Lending Library at ASU. HIPP has chosen ASU as one of three US project sites for spring 2015 under the “PowerUp” slogan. The PowerUp Lending Library facilitates access to renewable-energy-powered electronics and communication devices and investigation of the potential for mainstreaming such devices in the US and, ultimately, across the world. 

Students, faculty, and staff that have an ASU ID are all eligible to check out these devices for up to two weeks. As this project is also being used for research, those who check out these devices will be asked to complete a short follow up survey to gauge each participant’s experience using the devices. To see what’s available please follow this link.

LightWorks' Gabrielle Olson (left) and ASU graduate student Alecia Radatz (right) promoting HIPP outside the ASU Bookstore. Photo by Sarah Mason, ASU LightWorks.

Elisa Graffy, project director of the HIPP, seeks out devices with proven market success and high approval ratings to include in the PowerUp Lending Library. In a recent report by Clapway, the Solar JOOS Orange, one of the devices available to rent, was noted as one of the best solar power chargers available. This device is designed to charge all personal electric devices, such as cell phones, smart phones, laptops, iPads, portable game devices, and more. With only one hour of charging yielding two hours of 3G talk time, the Solar JOOS Orange tops the list due to its ability to capture up to 20 times more energy than any other solar charger device on the market today. Graffy carefully selected all of the renewable energy devices available through the PowerUp Lending Library to make sure that users were being presented with only the best options. You can check out the Solar JOOS Orange here.

The purpose of the HIPP is to conduct investigations and engagement around personal and household-scale decisions, innovation, and behavior related to broader questions of sustainable energy system transitions. Because most renewable energy products available are rarely seen outside of niche markets for outdoor recreation enthusiasts, HIPP is interested in how these devices fit into the modern day household. Previous surveys have already indicated consumer preferences for convenient and “green” options to their devices yet have not necessarily been presented these options through the market. The project therefore systematically explores factors associated with availability, uptake and scarcity of these sorts of products to derive hypotheses about policy, market, R&D and educational advances in this arena.

LightWorks is committed to delivering market-ready solutions that integrate renewable energy and technology. By investigating which devices are most useful for modern-day households through the HIPP PowerUp Lending Library, we are able to gain a better understanding of which devices will be the most practical for today and for future markets. To learn more about the HIPP PowerUp Lending Library please visit this website.  

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

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Discussing Building Block 4, energy efficiency, with Mick Dalrymple: Practice Lead, ASU Walton Global Sustainability Solutions Services

published February 25, 2015, 9:58 am

This is our first of several interviews with experts at Arizona State University concerning the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). In this interview, I sat down with Mick Dalrymple to discuss the role of energy efficiency in Arizona’s state plan for the CPP. Energy efficiency is one of the EPA’s four primary emissions reduction measures, or “Building Blocks”, presented in the CPP. For more information on each building block, please see our prior blog posts.


Mick Dalrymple. 


Q&A with Mick Dalrymple


How has Arizona benefited from energy efficiency initiatives in recent years?

Primary and secondary benefits of energy efficiency initiatives are significant and often get overlooked. For example, utility customers in Arizona have benefited from energy efficiency initiatives in four ways.

First, customer participants in utility-operated and other energy efficiency programs save money on their individual utility bills because of energy efficiency upgrades in their homes and buildings.

Second, all utility customers benefit when construction of new generation capacity is postponed or avoided. This is true because utility rates are primarily based on an Arizona Corporation Commission-approved rate of return on the utilities’ capital investment. Rates can then be lower.

Third, residential customers benefit from improved indoor air quality and comfort levels in their homes because many energy efficiency programs appropriately treat the home as a system, diagnosing and treating causes rather than just symptoms.

Fourth, additional benefits include important effects such as local jobs and keeping Arizonans’ dollars circulating in the state rather than exporting them in exchange for more imported fuel.

These benefits are more than speculation. Our research from the Energize Phoenix study projected that the annual energy savings from the 2,600 residential housing units and commercial buildings we monitored will amount to 135 million kWh per year. This equals approximately $12.6 million of direct energy savings for participants per year and an expected CO2 emissions avoidance for Arizona of 95,000 metric tons per year.

This was only for that one program. From a statewide perspective, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) and the major utilities in Arizona put together reports on overall energy savings. These positive trends are under threat as a philosophical discussion is underway at the ACC regarding these programs, but energy efficiency can play a key and vibrant role in Arizona’s state plan for the CPP.


How can Arizona use innovative building code initiatives to help meet its Clean Power Plan (CPP) targets?

Building codes are a key tool for improving construction quality and adopting the latest energy efficiency science, techniques and technologies. In exchange for accepting stimulus funding from The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, former Governor Brewer had to commit to taking actions within her power towards adoption of the most current energy codes. Arizona is a home rule state, however, which means that local jurisdictions have authority over which codes, if any, they adopt.

There are ways the legislature could establish a minimum state energy code, and it should consider doing so, possibly through incentives for local governments rather than by mandate. By having cities and towns adopt the latest versions of energy codes, educating contractors on how they work and why, and educating code officials on how to verify and enforce these codes, huge strides can be made towards preventing the construction of energy inefficient buildings. Building codes are an important component of a solid Arizona strategy for energy efficiency in its state plan for the Clean Power Plan.


What role do you expect energy benchmarking and disclosure ordinances to play in helping contribute energy savings for Arizona’s CPP targets?

Energy benchmarking is a fantastic tool to suit Arizona’s energy and regulatory environment. Benchmarking tools do not necessarily tell users to make specific energy efficiency improvements. Instead, tools such as ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager and the Department of Energy’s Commercial Building Energy Asset Score tool increase owners’ awareness around building energy use and even competition is some cases.

It is hard to improve what you don’t measure. Energy benchmarking tools leverage people’s natural behavioral tendencies to compare themselves to others. If you knew your home used more energy than 75% of comparable homes, wouldn’t that cause you to at least wonder why and perhaps take action?

Disclosing the energy use of buildings is a second important step in unleashing that personal comparative behavior as a competitive market force. For example, a recent study in the District of Columbia showed that privately owned commercial buildings in the District are more energy efficient than national peers. In releasing the data, the District noted that its private commercial buildings have a median ENERGY STAR score of 74 out of 100—meaning that these buildings perform better than 74 percent of similar buildings nationwide. Owners also notably improved the energy performance of those buildings over the previous year’s disclosed performance. If prospective tenants can calculate their energy costs in addition to their lease costs, building owners are going to strive to keep those costs competitive.

Another example of putting the power of disclosure into action in advancing energy efficiency goals is incorporating energy consumption into the information considered during the residential real-estate transaction process. The earlier such information is disclosed, the more powerful it becomes as a consideration in the purchase decision.

Who implements this information is dependent upon which stage in the transaction process you are in. The ideal time to disclose energy use is in a multiple listing service (MLS) so that the buyer can see it while comparing properties. As a policy, this would require coordination and cooperation with multiple listing services. A second option is to require inclusion of energy information in the seller property disclosure statements. Energy information could, as a third option, be required to be included in the appraisal process.

Disclosing energy use information as part of the home buying processing helps to maximize the ability of the customer to use this data in their purchase decision-making process.


What are the implications of Arizona being a home-rule state when implementing energy efficiency initiatives as part of the State’s plan for CPP?

Although a state-wide energy efficiency standard might be perceived as the most efficient way to set new policies, establishing efficiency initiatives in each jurisdiction presents many advantages. In Arizona’s environment, establishing bottom-up energy efficiency policies and programs may be more effective, long-term, compared to a top-down approach. The bottom-up approach promotes buy-in, tailoring of policies and programs to local conditions, and compliance and enforcement. At the same time, it is important for jurisdictions with little or no energy efficiency initiatives to get started on efforts. Likewise, it is essential to allow jurisdictions with established energy efficiency programs to go above and beyond in their energy initiatives.


How can existing resources such as Energize Arizona’s Energy Efficiency Idea Guide be used by State experts to help design its plan in response to EPA’s CPP?

The purpose of the Energy Efficiency Idea Guide is to generate creative thinking around new and existing methods of achieving energy savings. It is meant to get the conversation started. Although most of the ideas presented in the guide are not new, they are ideas reconsidered for Arizona’s specific utility, cultural and regulatory environment. In other words, these are ideas reimagined for the Arizona context. The individual policy briefs that support the ideas presented in the guide are intended to provide more detailed information. Together, these resources can play an important role as Arizona starts to design its own plan for the CPP.   


Biography: Mick Dalrymple

  • Practice Lead, Global Sustainability Solutions Services, Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives
  • Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability
  • Mick Dalrymple, (LEED AP BD+C and Homes) serves as Practice Lead and Senior Sustainability Scientist for the ASU Walton Global Sustainability Solutions Services where he creates and leads projects to apply ASU sustainability research expertise to solve sustainability challenges and opportunities in communities and organizations. He is a seasoned leader, communicator, and educator in multiple fields with direct participation since 2001 in the shaping of national programs, standards, public policy and awareness regarding green building and sustainability. He connects stakeholders to get things done, and done successfully. Dalrymple managed the complex, interdisciplinary research efforts ASU performed for the $25M DOE-funded Energize Phoenix program, including several beyond-scope deliverables. He is currently working on projects in the U.S., Albania and Guatemala related to green buildings, circular economy, sustainable neighborhoods, solar PV and algae biofuels. He served two terms on the national board of the US Green Building Council and is a member of the Rio Salado College President’s Advisory Council. The Business Journal of Phoenix named him Green Pioneer in 2009 for his national and local sustainability contributions.

Written by Jeffrey Swofford, Energy Policy Innovation Council and Ph.D. Student, School of Sustainability

Connecting the Humanities and Sustainability: An Interview with Joni Adamson

published February 17, 2015, 2:03 pm

Joni Adamson likes to call herself a “Jill of all trades.” Adamson, a professor of English and Environmental Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) and a Senior Sustainability Scholar at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU, has developed an impressive repertoire of research interests including but not limited to: environmental humanities, environmental literature and film, Sonoran Desert ecosystems and cultures, global indigenous studies, food sovereignty, and critical plant studies. The research that Adamson contributes uncovers the ways in which sustainability sciences and the humanities work together, which is crucial to solving the complex ecological and urban challenges that we face now and in the future.

At LightWorks we understand that sustainability is fundamentally a human problem that needs the expertise of the humanities, a field that studies, critiques, and lays bare the experience of being human. The humanities, which include studies related to history, philosophy, aesthetics, religious studies, literature, theater, film, and media studies, are becoming increasingly integrated into research focused on the sciences of nature and sustainability in a field of study called the “environmental humanities.” Adamson’s work with the environmental humanities includes utilizing collected archives of oral story cycles and written texts to prove that humans have long been raising questions about a “quality of life” that is equitably shared and sustainable for all species. Adamson believes that analyzing the ways humans muse on the value of sustainability addresses the anthropogenic factors contributing to the increasingly extreme weather-related events we are seeing occur around the world.

We sat down for an interview to discuss exactly how the humanities and sustainability are interconnected as well as her current position working as a Principle Investigator for the North American Observatory and West Cluster of the Andrew W. Mellon funded project, “Humanities for the Environment” (HfE) and the Desert Cities Initiative, a seed grant awarded by the Carnegie Humanities Initiative Fund (CHIF) which was created by President Michael Crow and is administrated through the College of Humanities and Dean George Justice. The interview begins below.

Joni Adamson.

Interview with Joni Adamson:

  1. Why should the humanities and sustainability be studied together?

    Multiple fields must be brought together because our problems with sustainability not only emerge out of nature but out of human cultures and ways of being. There are things human beings can and cannot see physically. Sight has limitations. We don’t always experience our limitations or even see the ways our physical and cultural limitations might be creating sustainability problems. Sustainability scientists and humanists can therefore come together to think about the ways in which our planet is changing and what it is about humans and the ways we live, acculturate, and sometimes clash, to reveal the ideas that we may not have yet imagined. The humanities do this very well because humanists are trained to look at human cultures and philosophies and how they came to be. Humanists seek to ask questions about how the paths we as humans are taking now were shaped by the ones we took in the past.  Through genres such as science fiction, they encourage us to think about the future.  Further, they encourage us to ask, do we necessarily have to continue on this path? Do we need to shift course?  Can we imagine an alternative future?

    In the past, one of the goals of Western cultures has been “progress,” but what if, instead, our goal was to develop “prospect?” “Prospect” requires “vision,” it means the possibility that something auspicious might be on the horizon.  It is what you look for if you are an explorer. What if our goal was not “progress” but to “see more clearly, from a 360 degree prospective, from the past, present and future, a complete circle of vision, a complete vision of not only our our past but what might be possible in the future”?  “Progress” only looks to the future, while “prospect" seeks a complete understanding of past, present and future, in order to make wise decisions about “what is on our horizon.” In other words, how do we understand the possibility of a future event occurring? For the sake of future technology, let’s think about expanding our understanding of where it is we’ve been, and where we’re going.

  2. Can you explain the CHIF: Desert Cities Initiative project you are working on?

     In 2013, ASU President Michael Crow was among one of four recipients to receive a Carnegie Corp. grant to pursue academic initiatives. One of the initiatives that President Crow feels strongly about is funding humanists at ASU who are working to develop interdisciplinary projects. He has also supported desert cities as a major focus of research on well-being at ASU. The CHIF has given generous external funds to support the environmental humanities to date. With this level of support, Sally Kitch, founding director of the Institute for Humanities Research (IHR), and I proposed the project “The Future We Want: Desert Cities as Physical Systems and Cultural Objects.” This project will utilize the expertise in desert ecosystems, indigenous cultures and urban systems at ASU to build bridges between the environmental humanities and sustainability scientists. We specifically aim to work with the Wrigley Institute, LightWorks, and ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) to discuss the ways we should build our future desert cities to be both physical systems and places that encourage rich cultural diversity that promotes a sense of well-being.  We hope to do this by developing collaborative teams of researchers in the context of on-going discussions.  Our aim would be to encourage thinking that promotes quality of life in desert cities that would be equitably shared and environmentally sustainable. Our first brainstorming meeting took place in January at the IHR.

  3. How will your work with the Desert Cities project contribute to a sustainable energy future?

    Part of what the Desert Cities project aims to explore in its focus on cities as both physical systems and cultural objects is the complex, systemic nature of a city as a whole, of which energy consumption, and cultural ideas about energy consumption, are both integral considerations. The project views the city as a kind of living organism.

    In a sense, cities “breathe” just like any living organisms. They either have more trees or less trees, more or less stringent policies on particulate matter in the air. Everything that is alive breathes. If the air is choked up then we all have problems breathing. Scientists can approach these problems by building better technology, but humanists help by providing the context for new technology – who will use it? Why will they use it? What cultural problems are we solving or creating with this new technology? We want to create cities as places that can actually make the environment and the humans that occupy them better. We also want to make cities forces for good where people think about their attachment to place in unique and specific ways. When places become homogenized, there is no attachment to the place or “sense of place,” or for that matter, no “sense of planet.” The Desert Cities project wants to get people to think about the city and the planet as a combination of its physical, cultural and ecological complexities. We need to think about it as an ecological place, but also as a place with its own aesthetics, history, spirituality and other culturally-driven features.

    For example, many people who are living in Phoenix go outside and experience what the Sonoran desert has to offer, but there are others who have lived here for years and have never taken a moment to explore the desert. They simply get into their cars, go to work, and never take the opportunity to see our city as a living organism. If we challenge others to look at cities as living organisms, we can create cities as places that actually make the environment better. That could include planting more trees, or reimagining the ways we generate and use energy. In the Desert Cities Initiative, we will bring in architects as key players in the project, since design is so important to the ways we think about and utilize energy in the city.  My fellow humanists and I will contribute by offering students and our multidisciplinary team members ways to think about place, and the ways humans experience place.  We want people to think, create, and experience in ways that help them understand the places we live and conceptualize the “future we want.”  For example, a short  video clip recorded by Libyan writer Ibrahim Al-Koni illustrates what the humanities offers interdisciplinary teams exploring desert urbanism.  Al-Koni suggests that “In the desert we visit death” and challenges listeners to rethink the idea that the desert is “without soul.”  Instead, al-Koni examines the desert as a transcendental space as well as a symbol of human existence. This raises the question, how could desert cities become spaces that are aware of themselves as places that ensure well-being and equity?

    Excerpt from the video:

    “The desert is still an untouched treasure, because the prevailing view, the general perception in the world is that the desert is desolate, that the desert is dominated by nothingness, that the desert is a void. In reality, that’s not true. The desert has everything. The only difference is that a desert is forbidding, inaccessible, unforgiving. It disguises its true nature. To face it, to discover it, constitutes a harsh challenge for those who aspire to penetrate the world…The desert has been the home of saints and prophets because [it] is an oasis for contemplation, because it is the isthmus between total freedom and existence, between death and life. That is why the desert is a complete system. [It] is a whole knowledge that hasn’t been fully discovered yet.”

    Watch the Ibrahim Al-Koni video “In the desert we visit death” below.

  4. How can the humanities and organizations like LightWorks encourage human empowerment, equality, and well-being?

    I think the LightWorks vision statement encapsulates that goal (see statement below). LightWorks encourages people to work in a day-to-day way to secure not only energy security but also energy justice for communities around the world. It envisions people who are working not just for the development of alternative forms of renewable energy technology, but also for spaces and places where people are able to creatively achieve their full potential as human beings. The humanities analyze history and employ the arts and media in ways that aim to encourage people to imagine, adapt, or transform everyday practices and encounters with other people in ways that open up possibilities for energy transitions that work.

    The LightWorks’ vision statement is listed below:

    “ASU will inspire and develop ways to revolutionize the use of energy and the large scale conversion of sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into useful products. We will support creation of new industries not just to power the world, but to empower it; not just to create wealth for a few, but to enrich people’s lives everywhere; not just to light an energy revolution, but to enlighten communities across the globe; not just to achieve energy security but to secure energy justice.”

Conclusion of interview.

Following the lecture that Joni Adamson presented at LightWorks on March 18, 2014, “How the Humanities Power Efforts to Live Well (Not Better),” the Wrigley Institute and LightWorks have been working more closely with ASU humanists across all four campuses to develop better methods of multi-disciplinary collaboration.

For another look at the way humanists are engaging with issues of sustainability, watch the video below with Sally Kitch, Director of the Institute for Humanities Research (IHR).

Written by Gabrielle Olson and Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks.

Additional Information:

Potential energy efficiency measures for inclusion in Arizona’s state plan for EPA’s proposed carbon standards

published February 16, 2015, 10:25 am

This blog continues our feature series on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. In order to achieve or surpass the EPA’s expectations for Building Block 4 of the plan, energy efficiency, Arizona will need to continue the current trajectory of its energy efficiency savings beyond the 2020 timeframe. However, there is some concern about whether the level of savings we outlined in our previous post can be sustained. As lighting and HVAC processes become more energy efficient over time, for example, future incremental savings opportunities will be become more difficult to identify. Likewise, as certain federal energy efficiency standards come into effect, there is concern whether states can include those savings towards the CPP targets. This post outlines several potential energy efficiency measures that Arizona can include in its CPP state plan to ensure that energy efficiency makes significant contributions to the state’s emissions reduction target. 

Expanded energy efficiency appliance standards

Appliance and equipment standards specify the minimum energy efficiency levels of specific products. These standards are a proven and cost-effective method for achieving significant energy savings. Arizona currently has appliance standards for pool pumps and portable electric spas. Arizona could add new standards for products such as battery chargers, commercial dishwashers, refrigerators and small motors. For example, California’s new battery charger standards, adopted in 2012, result in annual electricity savings equivalent to providing electricity to approximately 350,000 homes. Additionally, Arizona can benefit from new appliance standards set nationally, by the DOE, and their associated electricity savings. Table 1 (below) shows electricity savings, CO2 reductions, and dollar savings from standards finalized since 2009.

Public sector energy efficiency initiatives

Although Arizona has made great strides, making improvements to its public sector represents a significant energy savings opportunity. Expanding existing efficiency measures in Arizona’s public sector through setting energy savings goals, financing programs, use of performance contracting, and other mechanisms can provide additional energy savings in public buildings and public infrastructure. The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) identifies Peoria, AZ as a successful example of a local government achieving a significant reduction in its electricity consumption by using only general fund dollars and revenues from sales of municipal bonds. According to SWEEP, Peoria reduced the city’s total annual electrical usage by 7.7%, saving almost 5.4 GWh per year. This was accomplished with work performed in 2009-2011—some buildings have already achieved over 20% savings. Additionally, the city of Tempe, AZ has established municipal energy efficiency targets that include an energy dashboard tool for real-time monitoring of city buildings' energy consumption and annual savings. This tool allows users to compare the energy performance of city buildings as part of the Sustainable Tempe project. In summary, several municipalities and regions throughout Arizona have established public sector initiatives that can be expanded and strengthen. For Arizona to meet its goals under the CPP, pubic sector initiatives will play a key role.

Improved and expanded energy efficiency building codes

ACEEE estimates that adopting state-of-the-art building energy codes nationwide could provide incremental annual savings of 10,900 GWh per year in 2020 and 12,100 GWh per year in 2030. As a home rule state, Arizona adopts building codes at the local level. A number of Arizona communities have adopted energy codes or building codes that contain energy chapters, such as the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Arizona communities with no existing energy efficiency building codes can adopt existing measures to start contributing to Arizona’s CPP targets. Likewise, parts of Arizona with existing building codes can increase their stringency over the next 5-10 years. Although a home rule environment is difficult for measurement and verification purposes, given that different municipalities and regions have varying accounting metrics for energy savings, home rule states should be allowed to receive energy savings credits for building energy codes that are included in a state’s CPP plan. Energy benchmarking tools—such as DOE’s Building Energy Asset Score tool and EPA ENERGY STAR’s Building Portfolio tool—and methodologies make this process easier for tracking the energy efficiency improvements in buildings. Home rule states like Arizona should track construction levels in local jurisdictions that have adopted these up-to-date codes to ensure they can be accounted for when meeting the CPP target. Through activities such as technical assistance, Arizona utilities supported these codes to meet existing energy efficiency requirements such as the Arizona Corporation Commission’s energy efficiency resource standard (EERS) and Salt River Project’s Sustainable Portfolio Principles. The expertise, relationships, and institutions are already in place to support an expanded effort for energy efficiency building codes.

Table 1. Summary of major federal energy efficiency appliance standards since 2009.

Source: Appliance Standards Awareness Project.


Written by Jeffrey Swofford, Energy Policy Innovation Council and Ph.D. Student, School of Sustainability