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

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. 
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Wastewater treatment plant of the future utilizing membrane bioreactors

Nearly 60% of Los Angeles County’s water demand is fulfilled by imported water from hundreds of miles away. Securing a sustainable local water supply via recycled wastewater can help save the enormous amounts of energy required to transport water and make the region more resilient to climatic change. Over the years, the use of bioreactors (a type of membrane filtration) combined with wastewater treatment has significantly contributed to ensuring local water supplies.   However, it has also raised concern for biofouling, which is a phenomenon that occurs when microorganisms in the wastewater adhere to the surface of the membranes and restrict water flow. Membrane surfaces must be cleaned periodically by discontinuing the bioreactor operation, which limits the economic advantages of using this approach. Thus, for the use of bioreactors in wastewater treatment to become widely adopted as a fully sustainable and economical technology across Los Angeles County – the membrane biofouling issue must first be resolved. 
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Impacts and Implications of the 2012-2016 Drought for Los Angeles County Habitats and Energy Infrastructure 

Southern California experienced a significant drought from 2012 to 2016, which was exacerbated by warming due to climate change. Defined by unprecedented high temperatures and low annual precipitation, it was the driest four-year span in the last 1,200 years.  As a result, overall vegetation health and cover has most likely been affected (e.g. decline in greenness, high vegetation mortality in chaparral-dominated communities). Changes in vegetation health and cover create favorable conditions for wildfires and landslides. These changes threaten both the stability of the natural environment and the structures that depend on it, such as built electricity generation plants, power lines and pipelines. Because these types of infrastructure are often located on or run through wildland areas, changes in vegetation, wildfires and landslides can impact the region’s energy supplies. To better understand these impacts and assess Los Angeles County’s energy supply vulnerabilities, researchers analyzed the impacts of the 2012-2016 drought on vegetation health and cover using satellite and geospatial environmental data. 
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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

Assessing Water Conservation in City of Los Angeles

For Los Angeles County to achieve 100% local water, increasing local water supply and reducing local demand for water must occur simultaneously. Numerous water conservation efforts exist and have been proposed to serve this purpose, but there is a lack of quantitative data on how each of these water conservation efforts functions in the county. Thus, there is a need to evaluate the full portfolio of potential conservation options to identify practices that would maximize benefits. The UCLA research team carried out this evaluation, taking into consideration Los Angeles-specific conditions such as the local climate and the inability to reduce customers’ water demand (often termed, “demand hardening”) due to previously implemented programs. 

Strategies for 2050 Sustainability in Los Angeles

Los Angeles County is the largest county in the nation with a population of approximately 10 million people. By 2050, the county is projected to have a 15% increase in population, adding 1.5 million more residents. With projected urban population growth alongside the effects of climate change, providing Angelenos with reliable energy, water and an environment that will enhance their health will be a challenge. The UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge (SLA GC) was developed to address these problems and ultimately transition Los Angeles County to 100% renewable energy, 100% locally sourced water, and enhanced ecosystem and human health by 2050. In response to SLA GC’s original goals, The NOW Institute research team undertook a first-round assessment of where the county stands today and what can be done to achieve those targets by 2050.
Award Year

Greening the L.A. Power Grid: The Role of Utility Regulatory Models in Promoting Grid Modernization

A power grid is a network for delivering electricity to consumers. Because utility structure is widely understudied, a critical component to “greening” the power grid is fully understanding the current system. In the Los Angeles region, two separate entities provide power to residents and are subject to very different regulatory structures:   Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is the country’s largest municipally owned utility that serves the City of Los Angeles.   Southern California Edison (SCE) is an investor-owned utility that serves all of Los Angeles County outside the City of Los Angeles borders.   Having dual models of electricity service and regulation provides researchers with a unique opportunity to evaluate and compare the two. Researchers examined whether these two models under different forms of governance and ownership have necessary structures in place in order to achieve sustainability in the energy sector.
Award Year

The Future of Stormwater Runoff Events in California

California’s water infrastructure is set up for flood control, with conveying streamflow to the ocean as efficiently as possible as its primary aim. Capturing and using more stormwater is one key way that Los Angeles County can decrease its dependency on water supplies sourced from hundreds of miles away. In adapting the state’s infrastructure for stormwater capture, storage and use, it is essential to plan carefully for the precipitation extremes of the future, which will become more intense and frequent due to climate change.  Atmospheric rivers—long corridors of water vapor traveling from the Pacific Ocean to California—are responsible for producing heavy precipitation and determining the state’s flood risk. Given this context, it is critical to understand how atmospheric river events will change in a warming world. In this project, researchers quantify projected changes in future precipitation driven by extreme atmospheric rivers in California by combining global climate model (GCM) with regional modeling.  

Predicting Electricity, Water and Natural Gas Consumption in Municipal Buildings in the City of Los Angeles 

The City of Los Angeles is undertaking various initiatives to track and reduce energy and water consumption in existing buildings. Currently, there are significant barriers such as unreliable data and non-standardized tracking mechanisms in obtaining consumption data from the City’s building stock. Recognizing this challenge, the objective of Howe’s project is to create energy and water prediction tools that will determine the future needs based on the historical record of municipal buildings using regression models. 
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