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Robotics Intern Retrofits Home Appliance to Operate in New, More-Efficient Ways

November 2, 2017

Woman next to a residential water heater

Jamie Santos stands next to a residential water heater that she retrofitted for research purposes in energy efficiency. Her research was conducted with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Robotics Internship Program. Photo courtesy of Jamie Santos.

Of more than 250 interns that climbed to new heights at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) over the summer of 2017, Jamie Santos—who is now back at the University of Washington finishing her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering—was “one of the stars,” according to her NREL mentor, Senior Engineer Dane Christensen. Her work as part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Robotics Internship Program has helped unlock new doors to residential energy savings through NREL’s research on grid-integrated efficient buildings.

“Jamie led the system design and hardware modification of a residential heat pump water heater,” Christensen said. “She embedded an NREL control board so we can deploy research controls and cybersecurity, allowing researchers to operate the appliance in ways the manufacturer never envisioned.”

Santos’ work on the project ranged from collecting data on the appliance’s standard operation, developing voltage control schematics, installing hardware, and coding the software to control it. Her contributions will help NREL’s buildings and energy systems integration scientists develop technologies to maintain homeowner comfort while using less energy and, ultimately, easing the burden on aging grid infrastructure.

“I feel that I have grown not only as an electrical engineer but as a person because of this experience,” Santos said. “I would definitely recommend any student wanting to expand his or her skill set and to become a better person to apply for this internship.”

The Robotics Internship Program is funded by DOE through EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office. It provides an opportunity for college students and recent graduates to intern with public agencies and private companies for the continued development of the robotics technical and engineering workforce.

Learn more about Internships at NREL, as well as the laboratory’s work in the areas of Buildings Efficiency and Energy Systems Integration.

Another version of this article, written by Annette Hilton, originally appeared on the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) website. ORISE is a U.S. Department of Energy asset that is dedicated to enabling critical scientific, research, and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system by providing world class expertise in STEM workforce development, scientific and technical reviews, and the evaluation of radiation exposure and environmental contamination.