A Quick Look at Salt Lake City’s Culture & Energy Market

As Vibrantcy’s newest remote employee, I’d like to use this blog post as an opportunity to introduce myself, my interest in energy efficiency research, and hopefully share some perspective on my current home town of Salt Lake City, Utah -- where I expect to be working on Vibrantcy eQuest models in the coming years.

Introducing Myself

My family moved to Utah from Knoxville, Tennessee in 2007 to allow my father to take a position at the Energy Dynamics Laboratory. As may already be evident, I come from a family of engineers. For over 30 years, my father has performed and facilitated energy-related research for a number of national labs and universities; my mother is a Civil Engineer and storm-water control specialist.

At a young age, I often heard my parents discussing workplace challenges and successes. These formative years sparked an interest in science, technology, business and politics that directly influenced my career and academic choices.

Research Interest in Building Energy Modeling (BEM)

As readers may know from exploring the Vibrantcy website, I am pursuing my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering alongside my work at Vibrantcy. In my coursework, and research, I plan to combine both technical and economic analysis of building management as is commonly done in industry (e.g. cost comparison between different HVAC systems, insulation, renewables etc) via GIS modeling and EnergyPlus.

 In the past 10-15 years, researchers have been improving methods of modeling cost-dependent factors across the entire spectrum of energy-efficiency and renewable technologies. As many of this blog’s readers may well know, building energy consumption can be highly variable with respect to time and location.

Attempting to model multiple buildings, entire campuses, or even entire cities has been a growing field of research in the recent past -- the motivation for this due to increasing urbanization in nearly every country around the world. Some predictions estimate that 75% of the United States will live in urban areas by the year 2050. If researchers and city-planners can accurately perform large-scale modeling of building consumption, generation potential, and even predict consumer behavior inside buildings, the economic benefit to the electricity grid will be tremendous.

There are currently two methods of modeling buildings, and the method you choose depends on what factors you’re trying to look at. For single buildings, modeling is commonly done via open source energy modeling software such as EnergyPlus or eQuest. This type of modeling is referred to as “bottom-up” modeling in the research world, because several archetypes are developed to represent similar buildings, and are altered to match building data of similar buildings.

The second type of energy modeling I’d like to discuss is Geographic Information Systems (GIS) modeling. Many large-scale energy consumption models use GIS technology to model energy consumption or production-potential that is location-dependent. This approach to multi-scale building modeling is known as “top-down” modeling because it does not look at individual buildings, but rather, uses statistics to calculate location-dependent parameters. GIS is used in many other fields of study such as geology, cartography, civil engineering, and was even used by the makers of Google Earth.

The accuracy and usefulness of this type of building modeling is very dependent on the data available for the area in question. One of the biggest issues with this approach currently seems to be in the acquisition of building usage data. Currently lots of researchers are exploring consumer behavior prediction using a method called “Machine Learning”. I see the field of energy data acquisition and behavior predictions becoming a much more relevant field in the next 5-10 years.

An Introduction to Salt Lake City

 Of my 10 years in Utah, I’ve lived in Salt Lake for about six -- 4 years of college, followed by about two years as a solar CAD & technical support engineer. Despite some of the negative perceptions that my non-native friends and extended family seem to have about Salt Lake, I believe that it is a thriving and quickly growing city. I’d like introduce readers to a few of my opinions about Salt Lake City’s infrastructure and recent policy that may be pertinent to readers of this blog.

First, let’s take a look at the advancements that are being made in city infrastructure: specifically, public transportation, access to rideshare services, and alternative modes of transportation. In my opinion, the Salt Lake Valley is way ahead of other Western US cities in this area. For about $2.50, one can board “Trax” and travel to their choice of downtown markets, to the University of Utah, the hospital, and the airport. Places of employment for thousands in the “Silicon Slopes” are all connected by this incredibly affordable train system. For students, the Trax system is included in tuition. For many other demographics (primarily socioeconomic status and age) reduced-fare is available.

I’ve put Salt Lake City’s public transit system to a test recently after a nighttime collision with a moose on the highway. Having fixed up my bike primarily for exercise, I began to also use it for commuting and personal transportation. I fell in love with the ease of hopping on my bike, and getting around town. Biking, walking, other alternative modes of transportation seem to work just fine in day-to-day dealings in Salt Lake City for those who choose to use them.

Similar to these other societal benefits, I’ve read up on Salt Lake City’s efforts for energy efficiency and CO2 reduction. Our primary goals are as follows:

●        Transition the Salt Lake City community to 100% renewable energy sources by 2032,

●       Reduce 80% of Salt Lake City’s carbon emissions by 2040

●       To achieve these goals through energy efficiency as an important cost-effective measure

An ordinance was recently passed that requires municipal facilities and certain large private buildings to be benchmarked annually and for the energy performance rating to be made transparent in the market. Similar policies have been implemented in Denver, Colorado, Minneapolis, MN, Kansas City, MO, and Atlanta, GA.

Summary

 I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit more about Vibrantcy’s newest remote employee. I have just begun to get my feet wet with this company, and am excited to work in a field closely related with my current academic interests. Please reach out at john@vibrantcy.org for any follow-up questions or comments.

- John Muhs