News

February 10, 2012

Sandia one of the ‘greatest research institutions in the world,’ visiting Energy Secretary Steven Chu says

SECRETARY OF ENERGY Steven Chu, right, and Labs Director Paul Hommert share a light moment at the Steve Schiff Auditorium during a town hall meeting with members of the workforce. During his late-January visit to Sandia, Chu also toured Sandia’s solar facility, conducted a roundtable discussion with Sandia business partners, and conducted a news conference with members of the local media. View large image. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Sue Major Holmes

Energy Secretary Steven Chu says it's no accident President Obama in his State of the Union urged the nation to look to the federal laboratories and research universities to create the foundation for future prosperity.

Chu visited Sandia and the University of New Mexico on Jan. 26, touring Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility, and learning about solar glitter, Sunshine to Petrol, and similar projects. At an industrial partnership roundtable Chu heard about the Stingray project, Sandia’s partnership with Emcore and other local businesses, and the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program.

The United States has the greatest research organizations in the world, and Sandia is a critical part of that in nuclear security, environmental innovation, research and development, “and broadly for bringing high-technology manufacturing back to the United States,” Chu told a town hall at Sandia’s Steve Schiff Auditorium, where every seat was taken. Many who could not be seated stayed to watch a video feed of the event in the lobby, and thousands more watched from their desktops.

The race for the future

Chu’s brief visit came two days after the State of the Union, in which the president urged Americans not to let other countries win the race for the future, but rather to “support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.”

Several questions at the town hall echoed those concerns. One questioner told Chu he worried about how national laboratories could recruit talented people when budgets are tight and they’re competing against Google and similar innovative companies.

Chu acknowledged Google employees make a lot of money, and that people would not get rich working on nuclear security or solutions to climate change. But he said people at the Labs work on things they really believe in, that are “cool and neat and really important to the United States and the world.”

“Think about what you guys are doing,” he said. “This is a good thing.”

What will keep people at Sandia, or anywhere, is the quality of the teams they work on and “is the problem they’re working on exciting, is the work interesting, does the manager shield them from some of the things the DOE tries to make them do?” Chu said.

Reinvest savings in research

The Energy Department, he said, wants to create an atmosphere where people are not “hassled” and where money saved on overhead can be reinvested into science.

“If they’re working alone in a basement and all they have is a red stapler, that’s not good,” he said. After a slight pause, Chu laughed, and suggested the audience see the movie “Office Space.”

The secretary said the labs, which he referred to as “intellectual powerhouses,” give people freedom to explore, ability to work in cross-disciplinary teams, and time to develop an idea to the point private industry becomes interested.

“Some great achievements come from gradually pecking at it, pecking at it, pecking at it, and improving it,” Chu said.

But he warned that a country that invents something does not have a claim on it forever. In the few years between the Wright brothers’ flight and World War I, the United States lost its advantage in aviation, and today it’s fighting to regain supremacy in the automotive and photovoltaic industries, he said.

He also said national laboratory innovations must get to market. A questioner followed up on that, asking how to move more technology to the commercialization stage.

Get IP to the private sector

While it’s important not to give away patents, Chu said, it’s also important to get intellectual property to the private sector by streamlining the process and making it more flexible. He also said each tech transfer must be judged on its merits, and that exclusive licenses should not be forbidden because, in many cases without one, no one picks up the patent.

If national laboratories can make tech transfer less of a hassle, “it enables me to go to Congress, and say, ‘Hey, we are your financial future; fund us,’” he said.

Responding to a question about how to keep policies from changing with every federal administration, Chu said the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has begun addressing the need for long-term planning through the first quadrennial review of energy technology and how to fund it. The plan is to be reviewed every four years, he said.

“It’s going to be the basis going forward,” said Chu, who pointed out the timescale to move from one form of energy to another typically runs a couple of decades to half a century.

“You want to have a long-term view,” he said. “It’s not clear what’s actually going to win when it’s in a research program.”

The secretary urged Sandians to be proud of what they do. “Our country’s counting on you guys to pull through on this one,” he said, and drew laughter when he added, “And we hope that Congress will also count on you guys to pull through.” -- Sue Major Holmes

Back to top of page

Sandia tool determines value of solar photovoltaic power systems

Sandia researcher Geoff Klise worked with Solar Power Electric™ to develop a tool that can be used to appraise photovoltaic installations on homes and businesses. View large image. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Stephanie Hobby

Consistent appraisals of homes and businesses outfitted with photovoltaic (PV) installations are a real challenge for the nation’s real estate industry, but a new tool developed by Sandia and Solar Power Electric™ and licensed by Sandia addresses that issue. Sandia scientists, in partnership with Jamie Johnson of Solar Power Electric, have developed PV Value™, an electronic form to standardize appraisals. Funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the tool will provide appraisers, real estate agents, and mortgage underwriters with more accurate values for PV systems.

 “Previous methods for appraising PV installations on new or existing construction have been challenging because they were not using standard appraisal practices,” says Geoff Klise (6926), the Sandia researcher who co-developed the tool. “Typically, appraisers develop the value of a property improvement based on comparable properties with similar improvements as well as prevailing market conditions. If there aren’t PV systems nearby, there is no way to make an improvement comparison.”

Before developing the PV Value tool, Geoff went through an appraising class focused on valuing energy-efficient features to better understand how to address the industry’s needs. “When a PV system is undervalued or not valued at all, it essentially ignores the value of the electricity being produced and the potential savings over the lifetime of the system,” Geoff says. “By developing a standard methodology for appraisers when comparables are not available, homeowners will have more incentive to install PV systems, even if they consider moving a few years after system installation.”

The tool uses an Excel spreadsheet, tied to real-time lending information and market fluctuations, to determine the worth of a PV system. An appraiser enters such variables as the ZIP code where the system is located, the system size in watts, the derate factor — which takes into account shading and other factors that affect a system’s output — tracking, tilt and azimuth, along with a few other factors, and the spreadsheet returns the value of the system as a function of a predetermined risk spread. The solar resource calculation in the spreadsheet is based on the PVWatts simulator developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which allows the spreadsheet to value a PV system anywhere in the US.

“With PV Value, appraisers can quickly calculate the present value of energy that a PV system can be estimated to produce during its remaining useful lifetime, similar to the appraisal industry’s income approach,” says Johnson. “Additionally, a property owner thinking about installing PV can now estimate the remaining present value of energy for their future PV system and what it could be worth to a purchaser of their property at any point in time in the event a sale of the property takes place before the estimated payback date is reached.”

The tool is being embraced by the Appraisal Institute, the nation’s largest professional association of real estate appraisers. “From my perspective as an appraiser, I see that this is a great tool to assist the appraiser in valuations, and it connects to the Appraisal Institute’s recent Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum. It’s an easy, user-friendly spreadsheet that will not bog the appraiser down with a lot of extra time in calculations, and if they fill out the addenda properly, they’ll be able to make the inputs and come up with some numbers fairly quickly,” says Sandy Adomatis,  a real estate appraiser and member of the Appraisal Institute.

Although the tool is licensed for solar PV installations, it could be used for other large green features in a home that generate income, such as wind turbines. The spreadsheet, user manual, and webinar explaining the tool are available for download at http://pv.sandia.gov/pvvalue.

Solar Power Electric, located in Port Charlotte, Fla., is an electrical contracting and solar integration company specializing in the installation of commercial and residential photovoltaic systems.

-- Stephanie Hobby

Back to top of page

Prestigious Asian American event comes to Albuquerque

PLANNING TEAM —Sandians (left to right) Chui Fan Chen Cheng (2661), Eliot Fang (1524), and Tammy Strickland (9512) go over plans for the 2012 Asian American Engineer of the Year Award meeting and banquet to be held March 2-3 at the Albuquerque Marriott Uptown. “This has been a great experience,” says Eliot, chair of the event’s Executive Committee.  View large image. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

by Nancy Salem

A few years ago, Al Romig, then executive VP at Sandia, took note of the annual Asian American Engineer of the Year award ceremony, a major event that draws hundreds of people to cities around the country. He asked a question: Why can’t we bring it to Albuquerque?

Al left Sandia for a VP position at Lockheed Martin’s famed Skunk Works, but his question remained and has now been answered. The 2012 Asian American Engineer of the Year (AAEOY) celebration will be held in Albuquerque March 2-3 at the Marriott Uptown.

“It is a great honor to host this event,” says Eliot Fang (1524), the Sandia engineer who chairs the AAEOY 2012 Executive Committee. “This is a national award ceremony with technical seminars, career information, and a formal banquet. It’s usually held in larger cities.”

Sandia and Lockheed Martin Corp. are Title Sponsors of AAEOY 2012. The program recognizes outstanding Asian American professionals in science and engineering for their technical achievement and public service. It was launched in 2002 and is organized by the Chinese Institute of Engineers-USA (CIE-USA), founded in 1917.

Nine Sandians have been honored

In the past 10 years, 181 people have received the AAEOY Award and 27 the special Distinguished Award. Honorees include eight Nobel laureates, academics, key corporate executives, and an astronaut. Nine Sandians have received the award since 2002.

“We are excited about the opportunity to help host this year’s Asian American Engineer of the Year event,” says Kim Sawyer, Sandia executive VP and deputy Laboratories director. “Sandia’s Asian Leadership and Outreach Committee (ALOC), which represents 288 Asian Americans at the New Mexico lab, is planning an exceptional event that will reach out to a national audience.”

Kimberly Admire, VP of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity Programs at Lockheed Martin Corp., says AAEOY “provides an opportunity to recognize talented Asian American men and women for their contributions in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and leadership.

“Lockheed Martin is honored to support the AAEOY awards organized by the Chinese Institute of Engineers-USA,” she says. “We are delighted this year’s event is being held in Albuquerque, and we look forward to hosting some of the activities for AAEOY 2012.”

CIE-USA has seven chapters — Dallas, New York, New Mexico, Overseas Chinese Environmental Engineers and Scientists Association, San Francisco, Seattle, and Southern California — and is governed by a national council made up of rotating delegates. The current chair is Yung Sung Cheng of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque.

Seventeen people from across the US will be recognized at this year’s awards banquet. About 450 attendees are expected. Three Sandians are on the list of honorees: Hongyou Fan (1815), Ming Lau (8230), and Rekha Rao (1514). There will also be a Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award and a Distinguished Science & Technology Award. Nominations come from corporations, academics, government, and scientific institutions. A review committee from the CIE-USA New Mexico Chapter selected the winners based on specific criteria.

Small chapter, big ambitions

The New Mexico chapter put in its application to host the AAEOY several years ago. The request came up at the 2010 CIE-USA National Council meeting in New York. Council members had to decide whether Albuquerque had the resources to be the host city.

“There was some debate,” says Chui Fan Chen Cheng (2661), who had been asked by Al to explore the possibility of Albuquerque being a host. “We are a small chapter. We had never hosted a major event. Some people questioned whether we could do it.”

 When Albuquerque got the nod, the local chapter formed the 2012 AAEOY Executive Committee headed by Eliot, an AAEOY honoree in 2006.

Chui had polled chapter members on their interest, and knew there was enough manpower. Eight subcommittees worked on tasks ranging from fundraising and publicity to logistics and information technology. In all, about 75 people have been involved in planning the event, which has numerous industry partners and sponsors.

The subcommittees are staffed by Sandians as well as engineers from Intel, the Lovelace institute, the University of New Mexico, and other organizations.

Shows Sandia’s diversity, inclusion

“This has been a great experience,” Eliot says of heading up the planning. “We have two DOE national labs in New Mexico. We have an Air Force Research Lab. We have Intel. We have Emcore. We have research parks. We have universities. People don’t realize New Mexico plays a critical role in advancing the future of science and technology due to the institutions we have here and the work we do.”

Tammy Strickland (9512), Sandia executive liaison for AAEOY 2012, chair of the event’s hospitality subcommittee, and head of the ALOC, says Asian Americans are not numerous in Albuquerque, so an event of this stature brings visibility to that community. “And it shows that Sandia has diversity and inclusion, and that the executives support that,” she says.

Chui, who chairs the fundraising subcommittee, says the planning and hard work have paid off. She says the two-day event will feature a technical tour of Sandia for the award event participants; a pre-award dinner at the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum; a cultural tour of Old Town, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, and the Atomic Museum; a seminar; a VIP reception sponsored by Sandia and Lockheed Martin; and the award ceremony and banquet at the Marriott Uptown. Sandia President and Labs Director Paul Hommert is the keynote speaker.

“The technical tour of Sandia, hosted by Sandia and Lockheed Martin Corp., will showcase some of Sandia’s exciting national security work,” Kim says.
Eliot says hosting AAEOY helps promote Sandia’s image in science and technology leadership.

“It’s a big deal, and we feel we have a lot to offer in this event,” Chui says. “We can introduce people to the Southwest. And it’s a showcase opportunity for Sandia. We have a lot of technology to showcase.”


-- Nancy Salem

Back to top of page

Download Lab News February 10, 2012 (PDF, 1MB)