Research Portal

The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Research Portal provides a detailed look at UCLA's cutting-edge research from across campus that is focused on transforming Los Angeles into the world’s most sustainable megacity.

With a generous gift from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker family foundation, the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge has awarded approximately $4 million to dozens of UCLA-led research projects. Spanning the areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency, transportation, water supply and consumption, and ecosystem and public health, these projects were selected for their potential to transform Los Angeles. Much of this research is already informing policy decisions in the L.A. region and beyond.

Data-Driven Sustainable EV Infrastructure for Los Angeles

Traffic and vehicle emissions contribute to Los Angeles’ notorious polluted air. The advent of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) presents a viable solution to this problem by reducing carbon emissions and improving local air quality. However, the widespread adoption of EVs requires the development of reliable and efficient charging infrastructure. Moreover, as EV adoption grows, EV charging will introduce new challenges, such as understanding the interplay between the demands on the electrical grid and EV charging behavior. For example, if many drivers try to charge their vehicles simultaneously, the excessive demand may require utility companies to provide additional power using inefficient power plants, creating unintended consequences for sustainability.  
Award Year

Integrated Spectral Leverage Amplification (iSLA) System for Thermal Solar Energy Harvesting

For Los Angeles County to achieve a 100% renewable energy future, developing highly efficient and innovative systems that take advantage of its abundant natural resource—solar energy—is critical. So far, two well-developed technologies, photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP), have advanced solar energy conversion in different directions. While PV is cheaper and relatively more efficient, CSP is dispatchable (can be turned on or off by operators) and can be used on-demand. Thus, efforts have been made to develop hybrid solar and thermal systems to increase PV "dispatchability." However, these hybrid systems suffer from the elevated temperature of the PV cell, which decreases overall efficiency. Realizing such a technology gap, the UCLA research team aims to develop a novel technology that is both a highly efficient and dispatchable form of solar energy conversion and storage to help the county achieve its sustainable goals.
Award Year

Evaluating Impacts of Changing Land Cover on Surface Water Hydrology

Reducing water consumption in Los Angeles County so that the region can achieve 100% local water, as well as enhancing ecosystem health, are two key targets of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. However, an apparent contradiction exists between increasing urban vegetation and reducing water use in the Los Angeles Basin. Therefore, the interconnections between the L.A. region’s water use and urban ecosystems need to be better understood. In this project, researchers reconstruct historical urban ecosystem changes in the region over the past several decades to inform future landscape and water management practices. 
Award Year

Agent-Based Modeling of Solar Power Adoption by Los Angeles County Residents

There are a variety of local, state and federal policies in place designed to promote the adoption of photovoltaic or solar power systems in the United States. Examples include the federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit, the California Solar Initiative rebates and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Net Metering program. These policies operate by reducing the economic barriers to solar power adoption, while other potential strategies like public outreach focus on educating the general public on the economic and social benefits of solar adoption. like public outreach focus on educating the general public on the economic and social benefits of solar adoption.   Ultimately, the adoption of solar power in residential settings depends on many factors, including finance and homeowners’ perceptions and social influences, as well as regulatory and technological factors. These confounding factors influencing residential solar power adoption rates are far too complex to be fully analyzed using traditional economic models. Thus, a new method is needed to better understand what policies are most effective at increasing solar power adoption in residential areas. 
Award Year

Terahertz Laser Leaf Scanner to Reduce Urban Ecosystem Water Expenditure

Plant water use accounts for a major portion of the total water use in Los Angeles. Reducing water use in irrigation systems from lawns and gardens to parks is essential to achieving significant reductions in water expenditure across the urban landscape, while still maintaining critical urban greenery for public health and wellness. However, current technologies that monitor the water status of plants are time-consuming and destructive to the plants themselves. Thus, a new technology that efficiently estimates leaf water status in plants using noninvasive remote sensing technology will aide in managers’ ability to maximize water use efficiency in parks and open space.
Award Year

Automated Vehicles for Sustainable Cities: Field Experiments and Future Outlooks in Los Angeles

In 2018, the transportation sector represented over 28%, the largest share, of the total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Automated vehicles, a rapidly evolving technology, have been modeled to reduce GHG emissions up to 94% and bring accident prevention, smoother traffic and better service to people facing driving difficulties other projected benefits of automated vehicles include reduced infrastructure needs but serving the same demand and potentially more efficient public transportation systems that eliminate transit stops. However, as of 2016 there had not been a field experiment study conducted locally to test and verify the impacts of automated vehicles within Los Angeles County. In this project, researchers ran an automated vehicle prototype on various routes in the county to document the effects on GHG emissions and sustainable transportation.
Award Year

Environmental and Public Health Benefits from Achieving Sustainable Energy in California

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions helps mitigate climate change and improves air quality, which protects public health. California has the worst air pollution than any other state in the country. As the world’s fifth-largest economy, the most populous state in the nation, and a coastal state vulnerable to climate catastrophes, we have ample reasons to be a leader in the race to net-zero GHG emissions. While achieving net-zero emissions is critical in limiting global temperature rise, the resulting long-term air quality and health impacts in the state remained unclear. Quantifying these impacts can help demonstrate the benefits of climate change action to local communities and policymakers.
Award Year

Urban Ecology of Los Angeles Mammals 

Los Angeles County is known for its rich wildlife biodiversity in our natural areas such as the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains. Mammalian biodiversity has been declining for decades in the Los Angeles urban area due to human activity. As an important indicator of ecosystem health, mammals play essential roles in the food webs of every ecosystem. Since they feed at various levels of food chains, mammals help regulate populations of diverse plant and animal species and also take part in seed dispersal and plant pollination.  Such a decline in population sizes and dynamics of mammals is also relevant since it can potentially alter pathogen load and diversity, which in turn poses health risks to humans, pets and other wildlife species.  To this day, the abundance of biodiversity and the population dynamics of mammals within the built urban environment of Los Angeles are both not well known. Additionally, public perceptions and their interactions with urban mammals such as raccoons, rats and opossums have not been previously characterized in the area. To address this knowledge gap, UCLA researchers take on a cross-scale research project to elucidate the biodiversity—urban ecology of mammals, their pathogen carriage and public perceptions of mammalian wildlife—within the urban Los Angeles County ecosystem. 
Award Year

Management Tools to Promote the Coexistence of L.A.'s Nesting Raptors

Raptors (e.g. hawks, owls, falcons) are large, charismatic bird species at the top of the food chain. They experienced human-driven population crashes during the 19th and 20th centuries. While a subset of these species has recovered in the Los Angeles region, others have not — and are intolerant of urbanization and other human activities. To help these species survive, it is critical to identify various factors, such as how well they can tolerate urbanization, as well as their historical and current habitats and nesting areas for future conservation practices. Nesting areas of raptors are also important indicators of ecosystem health in urban areas like the Los Angeles region.   Several government agencies, developers and nonprofit organizations collect data on urban-nesting raptors around the Los Angeles Basin, but these efforts are not well-coordinated. If this information can be consolidated, it will be useful to creating management tools like maps and databases that can help guide local policy and land-use decisions. 
Award Year

Community Renewables

The shared Community Renewables program is a novel concept being implemented across the country, which enables customers to access clean power by joining a renewable energy project in their community. Thus far, including in California, the program is limited to a handful of solar energy projects and customers have very limited access. Customers who participate in community solar share solar output among themselves, as opposed to homeowners individually implementing the solar system to offset the electricity usage.  Given the potential to significantly expand renewable energy generation and use in the long run, this project explores the current status of the community renewables solar market both in Los Angeles County and the United States. The overall objective is to carry out in-depth research combining policy review, interviews and case studies to develop policy recommendations for expanding renewable energy production projects. 
Award Year

Greening the Mix through Community Choice 

Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) is an energy supply model whereby local governments combine their energy loads and make the choice to purchase energy independently instead of from a utility. Therefore, CCA allows local governments to set their own renewable energy targets and potentially deliver a greater range of renewable energy to their customers. As of 2017, CCAs were projected to account for as much as 60% of California’s electricity load by 2020.   The objective of this project is to assess the potential of the CCA model in California to contribute to meeting 100% local, renewable energy by 2050 in Los Angeles County. Through analysis of policy and planning documents, media coverage and interviews, the project explored opportunities and benefits of this innovation in energy governance and service delivery. It also identified future challenges with the CCA model. 
Award Year

Gender and Everyday Water Use in Los Angeles Households

Women are disproportionately responsible for the management of water and its use in households. Despite the fact that household work and decision-making remain highly gendered in the United States, there is limited scholarship on gender and residential water use here. The Gender and Water Project aims to better understand how gender shapes the way people use, value, and save water on an everyday basis in Los Angeles neighborhoods. The project hopes to reduce water consumption and encourage sustainable residential practices countywide in the long run. 
Award Year

The Regional Benefits of Water Trading in L.A. County as Recycled Water Production Increases

Los Angeles County contains 215 community water systems that are disconnected and fragmented. These water systems vary greatly in their local water resources including access to groundwater storage, stormwater capture, water re-use, infrastructure and potential for conservation. For instance, some systems contain more water resources than they need to meet their local demand. Other systems have limited resources and depend on a single source of imported water or groundwater aquifer. As a result, households face unequal access to affordable drinking water that is mainly determined by their geographical location. A feasible strategy to integrate these fragmented water systems is needed to address the inequities in pricing and ensure Los Angeles County can achieve 100% local water. 
Award Year

Flexible Tandem Photovoltaic-Battery Device for Next Generation Concomitant Energy Harvesting and Storage 

Solar energy is the world's most abundant clean source of energy. The research objective of this project is to develop a tandem device capable of providing both energy generation and storage by combining the functions of a photovoltaic and rechargeable battery. Although both systems individually have been studied in-depth and developed, a tandem device that both generates and stores electricity had yet to be explored. The Sustainable LA Grand Challenge provided a unique opportunity to create an interdisciplinary research and design team to exploit this resource and significantly enhance energy self-sufficiency in Los Angeles and beyond. 
Award Year

Biodiversity Atlas of LA

Los Angeles County is a biodiversity hotspot that harbors over 4,000 species of plants and animals. The most populous county in the nation, L.A. County offers a unique environment where more than 10 million people coexist with wildlife. The biodiversity of L.A. County provides many benefits to people, including air and water purification, food security and mental/physical well-being. But land development and climate change threaten the county’s species, their habitats, and the region's ecosystem. With 1 million animal and plant species globally facing extinction due to human activity, efforts to better understand the factors that shape biodiversity in Los Angeles could help shape global conservation efforts. 
Award Year