Energy Research Organization Testing New Waters

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pecan Street Inc.

Published on March 28, 2017 at 9:53 pm by The Daily Texan

BY Sarah Bloodworth, The Daily Texan

Some Austinites are testing new tech to monitor their water use through Pecan Street, a clean energy research organization headquartered at UT.

Pecan Street uses a smart-grid system, an electricity supply network that uses newly developed technologies, to detect and communicate changes in the use of electricity, gas and, most recently, water. Pecan Street provides researchers and organizations energy use data to manage electricity demand and encourage sustainable practices.

The city of Austin pays the most for electricity during July and August due to increased demand, but as a result of Pecan Street, some people receive negative electricity bills because they add more energy to the electricity supply than is expended.

At the heart of Pecan Street is the Mueller community, a neighborhood located two miles from UT that uses smart grid technologies to analyze energy use. The community features solar panels and electric cars, and residents can check energy use through smart phone applications. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the solar panels at Mueller are responsible for residents receiving negative energy bills.

Scott Vitter, a UT graduate research assistant at Pecan Street, said the group recently developed a new water meter that will link energy use between water and electricity.

“Instead of customers finding out how much water they use on a monthly basis, they receive information daily and hourly,” he said. “They have developed mobile apps that provide a two-way connection with the customer…the houses in the Mueller neighborhood have created a unique opportunity to find out how water use is affecting electricity use.”

Colin Rowan, Pecan Street communications manager, said the new water meters can save customers a lot of money by providing additional information.

“Water meters are very rudimentary and low tech,” Rowan said. “There’s almost no way to know what you use water for. We developed technology that sits on top of your water meter and measures the flow to such a level that it can detect a leaky toilet. Water leaks are undetectable … until it destroys something and the new water meters can prevent that damage.”

Pecan Street collaborates with the nation’s longest-running clean energy incubator, The Austin Energy Incubator (ATI), an entrepreneurial organization at UT that helps institutions with technology startups.

Mitchell Jacobson, co-director of the ATI, said that the incubator utilizes Pecan Street’s lab, the Pike Powers Lab, for technology companies to test their products.

“The country now considers Austin as one of largest clean tech hubs in the U.S.,” Jacobson said.

Pecan Street’s energy database has grown exponentially, Rowan said, and their new water technology is developing readily.

“Things are changing in Austin, people are becoming much more conservation minded,” he said. “The reason we wanted this in Austin is because the population cares about these issues … the partnership with the university has been invaluable and the energy technology industry is just now getting started. It’s coming. The future of homes is coming.”