Monday, March 29, 2010

New Energy Economy

On Wednesday this week we met with some people from the organization New Energy Economy. These people have a very noteworthy goal. Their organization is dedicated to not only buying the electrical infrastructure, but to also genuinely increasing the sustainability of the city and surrounding areas. When we met with them we discussed all of our goals and found they were very similar, in fact they actually have a proposal for buying the infrastructure already. When we looked it over we found that the first three sections of their proposal basically summarized ours. We discussed both their goals and our own and they gave us a large amount of useful advise such as some more people to talk to about our projects, more case studies, and some other places that would be really great to look at that may give us some more ideas. Overall the meeting was very useful and the information they gave us was very valuable.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


In the past week, Santa Fe has not disappointed maintaining the odd, indeed one might say crazy, weather patterns we have come to expect. It has tended to be a bit more sunny and this has let me notice another peculairity of Santa Fe: Prius. It seems that every third car on the road is a Prius and at the Complex that is even more true. Just walking to the Complex we see 3 parked on the road and in drive ways. Granted this is seems to be a logical outgrowth of Santa Fe's clear "green" awareness, which seems to be prevalent throughout the entire population and is at least part of the rationale for our project.

On a separate note, we visited Albuquerque this weekend and I must say that if you are trying to get there on the weekend don't take the train; it leaves Santa Fe at 11:20am, mind this is the earliest train on a Saturday, and puts you in at Albuquerque at 1. Unfortunately, the last train from Albuquerque to Santa Fe leaves at 4:40pm leaving you with a very narrow window to do anything. My suggestion would be to plan a visit on a weekday instead when the train runs much more often.

Agent-Based Modeling

While we have been at the Santa Fe Complex we have seen various examples of the practical uses of agent-based modeling. Basically, you can think of agent-based modeling as basically representing something in the real world, for example, and agent can represent an ant or person. The different agents that are created will then interact with each other in a manner that represents what they would be doing in real life. By using the ant example again, the ants can search for food, and then carry the food back to their hole, and then begin that the task over. For more information about agent-based modeling, you can go check out the wikipedia article about it.

The program "NetLogo" allows someone to create an agent-based model by using a graphical user interface to handle some of the complexities of making models.

We have been thinking of various ways that it might be possible to use NetLogo to model the electrical infrastructure of Santa Fe.

One of these idea's is to make it so that the existing electric grid is shown in the model, and then the user can place different types of renewable power plants or give different homes or business's solar panels on their roofs, and to then show how the grid is affected by those changes. By adding Solar power to one part of the grid, it could inadvertently cause the grid in that area to fail because the power might be to great for the power lines to handle.

In a very simple form (as seen in the screen shot below), I have made it so that it displays the current distribution of where Santa Fe gets its electricity through PNM (Coal/Nuclear plants).

The user can then add more power plants to the system to see how that effects the total ammount of power produced, and what the various percentages of energy sources are.

This is very basic right now, but in the near future I will try to include the impacts on consumer cost, CO2 emissions, and perhaps some other factors that might be interesting to know. I also have not figured out how to go about having the entire grid laid out based off of GIS-layers because I can display them, but not really interact with them very well yet.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Get into your project."

To oblige one of the professor’s platitudes, I have taken it upon myself to perform an informal energy audit of our casa in Santa Fe after drinking a bunch of coffee.

Charming, quaint, and ornate are all adjectives one could bestow upon our residence in Santa Fe, but modernity is one quality it lacks. The house still features a refrigerator and dryer-washer combo from the late 80’s or early 90’s, old windows, and an insulation-scheme that serves it poorly in this elevated desert climate. There are two-pronged outlets aplenty, but finding a three-pronged outlet for high-power devices (XBOX, Andrew’s space heater of a laptop) requires an Easter-egg hunt.

Heat runs through the house like water through a sieve. Both exterior doors feature gaps through which sunlight can be seen and none of the windows shut with solidarity. We have a cute fireplace, but when it’s not containing a fire, it scavenges heat through convection. Like all the local buildings, our historically aesthetic abode is constructed entirely of adobe, which has low thermal resistivity. Adobe is slightly redeemed by its high specific heat capacity during the summer months (ECE’s, think capacitance), but sleeping next to a wall in the sub-freezing temperatures we’ve experienced here is like sleeping with half of your back resting over a pit of punji sticks.

The whole house is heated by a natural gas furnace, which is hard to criticize (for convention's sake), but one of the purposes of our project is to explore renewable alternatives. Would a pellet furnace be convenient enough? What about solar panels? Might as well do something with that antiquated roof.

The water heater is worthy of complaint, for it truly embodies a mentality of compromise. It performs adequately when one person is showering, but falters when both showers are being used. So, it compromises. Instead of relaxation, what the showers provide is merely lukewarm disappointment to two people with cold reminders to hurry up thrown in.

Of course, all the physical constraints to energy efficiency can be improved upon. The question is, “To whom would it be worthwhile to perform the necessary actions?”

Monday, March 22, 2010

And I Thought New England Weather was Crazy!?

So we arrived in Santa Fe last Saturday and I was ready to get out of MA and the torrential downpours we had been having. I've lived there my whole life and gotten used to the whole New England weather thing, I was totally ready for some nice, sunny, warm New Mexican weather, however it soon became quite apparent that I was not prepared for what Santa Fe had to offer me. The night that I arrived was nice and warm, and I enjoyed that, but when I woke up the next morning I was shocked to find that the temperature was somewhere near 40, and soon later it was snowing! I couldn't believe it was snowing in New Mexico, I knew it snowed in Santa Fe every so often but that Sunday we got 7 inches of snow, which is more than I had seen fall in MA in at least a month. After that was over it warmed up for a while and then near the end of the week Andy came up to me and told me this weekend was going to be cold again. At this point I really started to regret the decision of bringing 3 pairs of pants. On Friday something happened that i didn't think was possible, it was snowing, which didn't surprise me too much at this point, but when I heard thunder and saw lightning while it was snowing I was very confused. To make it even more confusing, I walked outside and it wasn't cold. New England weather may change every few minuets, but at least it doesn't deny the laws of physics!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Travelling to Santa Fe

Last Friday evening, I started out from home in Rochester, NY and drove with my parents to Logan Airport in Boston (~6.5 hour drive). We got to our hotel in Boston at about 2am, and I was flying out of Logan at 6am, so I didn't get a chance to sleep or rest at all before taking the shuttle over to the airport at 4am. Check-in took only about 10 minutes, and my bag was 7 pounds over-weight, so American Airlines charged me an extra $50 for it. I then preceded to go to security, and at first I walked by it because I didn't notice the line that everyone was in (and I've never gone through security at Logan before). I ended up being very lucky, because when I turned around I finally saw security, but there was no line on the side I was on, so I just walked up to the officers and gave them my tickets/id. After giving them my tickets/id, the officer says "so you are driving to Dallas, and then flying to Albuquerque". I reply, 'yup, sounds right to me'. Then he laughs, and says, "oh, you had the tickets out of order, Logan -> Dallas -> ABQ". To which I said "oh, sorry, I'm really tired, my bad". And he was just like "that's why they invented caffeine", and then he told me I was all set to go through security. Once again, there was no line for security where I went through it, so I was able to go through it in about 2 minutes. After getting out of security, I started to try and figure out where my Gate was. I was confused because the signs said "gate's 30 thru 36 to the right, and gates 20-27 to the left", and the gate I was looking for was gate 28. After a couple of seconds, I realized I was already at my gate, and I took a seat in the seating area for the gate. All-in-all, I was very impressed with the speed by which I was able to get to my gate. I was seated and ready to board the plane by 4:20am, after leaving my hotel at only 4:00am. Me and Joel were meeting up in Dallas because we both had the same flight from Dallas to Albuquerque, so I texted Joel to let him know that I was waiting to board my flight. He replied telling me that he had just got to the airport (LaGuardia in NYC), and was stuck waiting in line behind a ton of people. His flight was also leaving at 6am, so he didn't have very long to get through everything. My flight finally boarded around 5:30, and Joel told me he was still not through security. I turned my phone off when the plane left the gate at 6, and never found out if Joel had actually gotten on his flight to Dallas or not. Upon arriving in Dallas I was able to turn my phone on, and discovered that Joel had in fact boarded, and was already at the gate for our flight to Albuquerque. We met up, got some food, then boarded the next flight. We got to Albuquerque at around 11:20am Mountain Time.

In Albuquerque we successfully got all of our luggage, and then set out to figure out exactly how to get to Santa Fe. After talking with a nice lady at the information desk, we found out that we needed to take the bus to the train station, and then take the RailRunner train to Santa Fe.

When the bus arrived, the driver got out, and told us that we were going to need to wait for a while because he was feeling sick. This turned into an hour and a half wait, while his supervisor came and took him to the hospital, and then another driver showed up to drive us around. Fortunately, the train wasn't leaving until 3:35, so having to wait from about noon until 2pm to get to the train station wasn't an issue.

On the bus, we met some interesting people, whom we introduced ourselves to as students from WPI and learned a lot about Albuquerque from them. The bus fare was $1 for a single ride, and $2 for a day-pass, but we didn't need to ride it any more, so we just paid $1. We finally arrived at the train station, and the new bus driver told us that we could just go wait for the RailRunner at the station and pay for a ticket once we boarded.

We went up to where the RailRunner was going to load, and there was this crazy woman that kept yelling at us to get away and to go in the direction she pointed. Me and  Joel ended up going back down to the main station, where I talked to some police officers to find out if we were waiting in the correct place for the RailRunner, because the woman had been telling us we were in the wrong place. I told him about the woman, and he just told us "Welcome to Albuquerque" and laughed.

We waited for the RailRunner, and had some more interactions with the crazy woman and some other people while we were up there. The train came, and for students to get from that station to the Santa Fe Depot one-way was only $3 (or $7 if you weren't a student).

After about an hour long train ride through some scenic settings we got had finally arrived in Santa Fe, very tired because of travelling and lack of sleep. We walked to our vacation home at 628 Don Felix Street (about 0.3 miles from the Santa Fe Depot), and moved into our rooms.

That concludes travelling to Santa Fe.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Personally, this project has begun somewhat inauspiciously. At Logan Airport, my ignorance of luggage rules penalized me with a $50 surcharge. Following that, my layover at Baltimore was extended by half an hour. Those two things I can tolerate, but the loss of my luggage when I arrived in Albuquerque was especially unnecessary after spending the whole day in stressful situations. I knew I should have followed suit when all other Santa Fe D10 students used American Airlines.

The first week of living in Santa Fe was not without obstacles to survival. The prominent sunshine on which solar power proposals are based has not been conducive to warm weather. A couple chilly naps later, and one's throat becomes sore and a veil of fatigue inhibits every physical and mental effort. Food is also a challenge. Whereas I could support myself on $40 a week in Worcester, I've spent over twice that in my first two days because of the local affinity for organic foods.

Beyond the "breaking-in" of living conditions, the scope of this project has been revealed to be something greater than what I ascertained from the other side of the country. Talking with the local authorities on pertinent issues has given us a better understanding of our project, but it has enlightened us of the obselete nature of expectations and first drafts. The lesson here is not to be prideful in original beliefs and to expect and mitigate the nervousness that comes when the professor picks apart your work.

In the time I have spent at the Complex, I believe that I have discovered the essence of the IQP. More than ever, I have noticed the disconnect between engineers and non-engineers. At Trader Joes, I spoke with a woman who showed in interest in our living conditions after observing the inordinate amount of groceries we would have to lug back to our Don Felix St. residence. I told her the gist of our project, although it was in terms that the initiated would understand. To the layman, "electrical infrastructure" has less meaning than "transformers and power lines". The sessions at the complex have been largely devoted to graphical presentations of findings. The importance of these sessions has been their emphasis on presenting data in a way that anyone can understand. It makes understanding engineering easier through macroscopic presentation of data.

References From a While Ago

The above links provide information on Boulder, Colorado's municipal utility as well as the Xcel Energy-owned smartgridcity, the world's first implementation of a smart grid.

First Impressions

So we've been in Santa Fe for almost a week now, and there have been two separate snow storms including one as I write this post, a little bit different from the sunny Santa Fe that we had envisioned. However, the people at the Santa Fe Complex have been very welcoming and made us feel at home, we're allowed to come and stay whenever we want at the complex and they've shown us some very cool things such as the sand table. The sand table has a camera and projector hooked up to it to allow for modeling events such as fires. The table is interactive such that you can use a laser pointer to position the start of fires and the position of aerial water drops. They have also given us a background in ambient computing, which essentially is an interactive room where one can drag, make, or modify things like data points, graphs or pictures.