UCF Awarded Department of Energy Grant to Study Method for Reducing Energy Use by 50-75% in Older Homes

UCF, one of seven teams selected by the Department of Energy to demonstrate innovative building energy retrofits, will determine if a pod system with heating and cooling capabilities is effective for retrofitting thousands of homes, including affordable housing.

PV-GEMS prototype pod system comprised of 300W PV modules, a heat pump water heater, minisplit AC, battery and controller.
PV-GEMS prototype systems were designed with energy simulations in Phase 1, while this award for Phase 2 will be demonstration and deployment. Illustration Credit: Nick Waters.

ORLANDO, March 30, 2022 – The University of Central Florida was recently awarded a grant worth $4.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to determine if a pre-packaged pod is an effective method to deploy very efficient heating, cooling and water heating systems to thousands of homes.

The DOE awarded $32 million to seven teams that will manage 30 demonstration projects nationwide. Finding effective ways to retrofit existing and older buildings to be more energy efficient is critical considering there are 130 million buildings in the United States today and about 75% of them are expected to still be standing in 2050, according to the DOE. Upgrading older homes is often expensive and intrusive, which makes homeowners less likely to make the investment. The pod system holds promise because it is expected to reduce energy use by 50-75% and is less disruptive to install, according to researchers.

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EnergyWhiz Virtual Showcases Renewable Energy and Sparks Competition Among Florida Schools

COCOA, Fla., March 2, 2022—How many energy transfers can you demonstrate in 60 seconds? What is the most energy efficient home for raising butterflies? What artistic inspiration can be found in renewable energy and climate change? These are just some of the questions answered with demonstrations at this year’s EnergyWhiz Virtual.

More than 225 students from 79 schools throughout the state of Florida participated in this year’s virtual event from February 14-18. EnergyWhiz is a renewable energy-focused

Excited students from Bay Meadows Elementary School in Orlando cheer on their fellow teammates as the winners were announced during the 2022 EnergyWhiz Virtual awards ceremony. Photo Credit: Mandy Fillenwarth, Bay Meadows STEAM Magnet Coordinator.

event dedicated to giving K-12 students a hands-on approach to project-based learning activities utilizing science, technology, art, and math (STEAM) capabilities. Hosted by the FSEC Energy Rese

arch Center, a research institute of the University of Central Florida, EnergyWhiz is an annual event that began more than 20 years ago and now includes virtual, in-person and regional options.

Teams from all over the state of Florida—as far north as Tallahassee, and as far south as Pinecrest— showcased their STEAM talents at EnergyWhiz Virtual.

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Dynamic and Responsive DER Education Solutions for Building, Fire, and Safety Department Officials

IREC and partners announce the launch of a three-year, $2.1 million project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), to reduce barriers to widespread adoption of distributed energy resources (DERs) by providing education and resources to expand the knowledge of 30,000 professionals. Learn more: https://tinyurl.com/yj5tmp69

“The clean energy industry is rapidly evolving and requires that those responsible for code enforcement and quality control have access to the most recent technical advances. Training is a core mission of FSEC, and we’re excited to contribute our expertise in solar-plus-storage and alternative fuel vehicles as part of this essential team,” said James Fenton, Director of FSEC Energy Research Center at the University of Central Florida.

Training Safety Officials on Distributed Energy Technologies


Virtual EnergyWhiz Award Winners

If you missed the live EnergyWhiz Awards announcement, you can see the recording at: https://vimeo.com/546603874  or download the list of winners.

You still have the opportunity to view all of the student Projects or see the wide range of energy topics in the Exhibit Hall at: https://events.energywhiz.com/.

Check out the Special Topics section where you’ll Explore the Lagoon, Navigate the Food, Energy and Water Nexus, learn how to start an Electrathon program, or see A Hurricane Able House: Solar + Storage + Resiliency, just to name a few.

UCF Leads National Team to Study Floating Solar

Photo courtesy of Orlando Utilities Commission.

The University of Central Florida will lead a nationwide team to study the performance and long-term scalability of floating solar panels thanks to a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.

UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center was selected to study the performance of floating photovoltaics (FPV) solar technology and how it interacts with water quality and biodiversity in Florida, California and Colorado.

The unlikely combination of electricity and water is the foundation of an emerging energy market in the United States. FPV is electricity-generating solar panels, affixed atop buoyant platforms that float on water.

Limited land availability, reduced site-preparation costs, and the opportunity to utilize man-made bodies of water, such as reservoirs, retention ponds and wastewater storage ponds, are among the reasons for FPV popularity. According to an October 2018 World Bank report, floating solar grew 100 percent from 2014 to 2018, although primarily outside of the U.S.

It is speculated that floating solar results in cooler cell temperatures, and subsequently should be more efficient than land-based systems. FPV may also reduce evaporation rates and algae. Research documenting the performance, durability and environmental impacts of floating solar is limited, but that’s about to change. The research project is expected to begin early next year.

“We’ll be taking an in-depth look at the floating photovoltaic systems over the next three years,” says John Sherwin, principal investigator of the project and program director at FSEC. “This project is the first of its kind in the U.S. and we are excited to be part of a world-class research team that will collect critical data on this emerging technology.”

Partners include: University of California Davis, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Orlando Utilities Commission, City of Orlando and Ciel & Terre.

The project will monitor the performance, durability, water-quality impacts and biodiversity interactions of four existing floating solar sites across diverse climatic regions: humid subtropical in Florida; subarctic/boreal climate in Colorado; and two warm summer/Mediterranean-type climate sites, in California. Land-based systems in those same regions will also be monitored for comparison.

UC Davis will lead the environmental analysis part of the project.

“We’re particularly interested in how floating photovoltaics affect water quality and interactions with wildlife, including birds, bats, turtles and other aquatic life,” says  Rebecca R. Hernandez, an assistant professor at UC Davis and co-director of the Wild Energy Initiative. “A better understanding of those impacts can help us make better decisions about siting renewable energy infrastructure and can reduce future costs.”

The Orlando Utilities Commission was an early adopter of floating solar and installed a 31.5-kilowatt system in February 2017. The floating solar array, located on a pond at the Gardenia Operations Facility (near John Young Parkway and I-4) and tied to the electric grid, will be part of the study.

“We continue to work closely with our partners to enhance solar deployment in Central Florida, and to determine how best to implement the latest technologies,” says Justin Kramer, supervisor of Emerging Technologies at OUC. “With so many ponds and lakes already devoid of trees, there is potential to greatly increase our solar output.”

Floating photovoltaic systems covering 27 percent of the identified suitable water bodies could produce almost 10 percent of current national generation, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers.