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Research into Mobility: Interns Catch a Glimpse of the Future of Transportation

By Quentin Boose, Office of Process Improvement Intern
December 3rd, 2018

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) interns visited the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) near Golden to learn about new ideas in clean energy and transportation in October. As a part of the ongoing Sustainable Mobility Initiative, a partnership between CDOT and NREL, the excursion showed interns around one of the most advanced and cutting-edge labs in the country, where scientists are currently working to solve energy problems facing Colorado and the nation. NREL is at the forefront of the ever-changing world of green technology and engineering. Just stepping onto the campus, you get a sense for the innovation taking place and the pride employees have for the five research buildings achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certifications for their design. Continuous innovations are helping NREL attain 100% renewable energy sources and independence from the electrical grid.

interns at nrel

Office of Process Improvement and Division of Audit interns visiting the National Renewable Energy Lab. Pictured above (left to right): Shay Reilly, Quentin Boose, Vivi Engen, Niles Koenigsberg, Laiba Saqib, Werner Hagemann, Chavirat Burapadecha

One of the LEED Platinum buildings, The Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), contains the world most efficient supercomputer which is cooled by circulating water and in turn, provides the heating needs for the entire building. The ESIF focuses on the future of energy and reliability when renewables become a significant portion of the energy grid. The fourteen labs conduct experiments to determine how the population will interact with and consume energy.

At the Systems Performance Laboratory in ESIF, researchers conduct research in three different “model homes” with various appliances and simulate how they communicate with each other through the internet of things (IoT). For example, if someone leaves his/her house for the day, but returns at 6:00 pm, the house will know to charge batteries and devices from the rooftop solar so upon return, appliances are fully charged and ready for use. The System Performance Lab takes this data and simulates it on the HP Peregrine Supercomputer to digitally construct a 10 Megawatt energy grid based on the appliance metrics; a grid with the capability to power about 8,000 homes.

In addition to research around the home, Dr. Andrew Duvall, in NREL’s transportation research division, spoke to the interns about the rapid changes taking place in transit. He stated, “The past ten years have seen more changes in transportation than the previous fifty.” In the past decade, new modes of transportation, such as ride sharing and e-bikes, have emerged to open transportation between three and five miles, distances previously dominated by single occupancy vehicles.

In order to use this technology, different applications have been developed by NREL to support commuter access to new forms of transportation. Some ideas include offering points to increase the elasticity of commuters towards public transit, while another combines all the public and shared transit available and allows users to pay the combined fare of using all transportation modes. The aim is to alter the public perception and incentivize commuters to seek the new alternative modes of transportation and make the experience as seamless as possible. At CDOT, we participated in Go-Tober, during the month of October, where employees are encouraged to seek nonsingle occupancy vehicle transportation to work with raffle prizes and awards to those who log their trips. Even with new technology and ways to get around, it takes change management initiatives for new solutions to be utilized.

The ESIF is advancing transportation through multidisciplinary innovations at their state-of-the-art lab complex. The National Lab is developing not just the newest technology but also researching how transit technology is adopted by the public. CDOT is anticipating these changes and working with NREL to bring the most advanced forms of travel to Colorado and set an example to be the best DOT in the country.