House built on green tech opens

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When Southern California Edison, an electricity provider, wanted to spread the word about it's new energy-saving technologies it decided the best way to provide knowledge to architects, contractors, builders and government officials was to create an immersive environment that showed how the products worked. So it turned to the Customer Technology Application Center (CTAC)—a large central event and education space the company built in 1990 to highlight its innovations and educate consumers and business partners. “We have two energy centers where we provide training and education primarily targeted to our business customers,” said Doug Campbell, manager of CTAC. And because the center reaches almost 11,000 customers each year through its exhibits and about 300 annual seminars, any new program has to have a broad appeal. To create the new Smart Energy Experience inside CTAC, an exhibit that features energy monitoring and reduction technologies for the home, the company turned to Bowman Design Group, an event design and production company in Signal Hill, Calif. “The common denominator is that we needed to find ways to explain what all the tech is about and focus on what it will enable businesses to do that they've never been able to do before in a way that untangles all the complexities,” said Tom Bowman, president of Bowman Design Group. “All this is stuff that people don't know much about. We had to make it simple, make it clear and show how people will be empowered by the technologies.” The resulting exhibit, which opened in August, is a 2,260 square-foot house built inside the facility. The fully functioning home is outfitted with all Southern California Edison's energy-saving products as well as products from its business partners that utilize Edison technologies. CTAC visitors are taken on a 40-minute tour of the house while the tour leader controls the technology using an iPad and the house cycles through each part of a normal day. “When you walk in, it's predawn. As you enter the home—in the kitchen when you press the button to enter the home—you start a lighting sequence that goes through breakfast hours into early morning,” Bowman said. “The lights come on in the kitchen, you can demonstrate the appliances and we have real-time feedback on the video screens; when you turn on a dryer or a dishwasher, you can see how it changes [things] on the energy scale on TV screens.” The tour then moves into the living room, where the lights change to mimic the heat of midday. At this point the air conditioning system kicks on and attendees can see the energy usage increase on monitors in the room. The tour leader can then push a button to lower the shades, turn off the air conditioning and turn on ceiling fans to illustrate differences in energy use that accompany each change. Next the tour moves to the garage, where Edison has installed an electric car and charging station. From there attendees can see solar panels and a miniature wind turbine installed on the roof. As visitors move to the front lawn, the lighting scheme changes to mimic evening where a simulated lightning strike knocks out the power. “It's an immersive experience,” Bowman said. “Electricity isn't really very sexy to most people. So people don't know about how the system works and what the advantage of smart meters would be; so we decided to walk them through.” Response to the installation has been positive, CTAC's Campbell said. “It's been a little bit overwhelming. We had to hire a person dedicated to scheduling tours just for the SEE experience. It now has its own website and its own phone number.” In addition to architects, engineers and builders, SEE has been drawing attention from governments around the world. Campbell said that, since opening, the exhibit has hosted delegations from Australia and Qatar as well as the president of Mitsubishi Motors. “We don't like it when people refer to it as the "house of the future' because everything in it is available today,” Campbell said. “We tie our exhibits to seminars we provide and incentive and rebate programs. Our customers can see the technology and then achieve money savings they need for their businesses.” Campbell said that since CTAC has begun implementing them, there has been a sea change in adoption of Edison's products. “One of the things that we've employed is adult learning principles, which gets at experiential, hands-on learning. There was a study done on our 2004-05 exhibits that found 47% of people who came to our center took action to reduce their energy usage. In 2008, we started using adult learning principles and now 70% take action to reduce their energy,” he said.
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