By Leah Singer
From a very early age, Jan Kleissl dreamed of a more sustainable planet.
Growing up in Germany where few buildings had central heating, it meant the winter months were especially challenging, Kleissl recalls. Yet those experiences instilled in him the desire to leave a smaller carbon footprint on the world. He eventually gave away his vehicle in order to live a greener life.
But Kleissl’s contributions to sustainability go far beyond forgoing California’s car culture. As an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC San Diego, he leads research efforts to assess how best to forecast the need and use of solar power — a critical component in efforts to increase the use of alternative energy and reduce greenhouse gasses. Kleissl’s work is especially important at a time when more federal and state governments are mandating sustainable business practices as part of building code requirements.
Kleissl, who began studying solar energy when there were still few researchers in the field, says he is pleased that there is now a widespread effort for companies to become more sustainable and incorporate “greener” business practices.
While this increased interest is good for the environment, it is not without its challenges.
As green building booms, there simply aren’t enough engineers and architects to design and construct buildings that produce their own power to reduce heat transfer and energy consumption.
This is a key reason Kleissl serves as an advisor to the Sustainable Business Practices Certificate program through UC San Diego Extension. The program provides an overview of environmental sustainability concepts and how to apply them in a business context. It also teaches strategies for monitoring sustainable practices.
“The certificate program helps the candidates who want to do this work make a stronger case for themselves and their credentials in the field,” said Kleissl.
Kleissl’s Pioneering Work in Solar Energy and Weather Forecasting
Kleissl, who also serves as the co-director of the California Solar Energy Collaborative, has been at the forefront of solar resource assessment and forecasting since he joined UC San Diego in 2006. One of his key projects is running the Kleissl Solar Resource Assessment and Forecasting Lab, a collaboration between Kleissl and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). The California Energy Commission and California Solar Initiative use Kleissl’s work to forecast solar power usage. It is a critical component to understanding how large amounts of solar power fit within the electric grid.
The work within the lab is centered on measuring how much solar radiation can be expected and forecasted. This is done through the installation and monitoring of panels on solar trees on the UC San Diego campus. The panels are essentially imaging systems that take a digital picture of the sky every thirty seconds. Those photos are fed into a computer that analyzes where the clouds appear in the sky, and then predicts where the clouds will travel. The process connects the cloud field with time, thus predicting weather patterns for up to seventy-two hours.
Kleissl also runs the Kleissl Urban Energy Efficiency Lab, which focuses on energy efficiency, independence and sustainability. According to Kleissl, buildings consume 40 percent of the total amount of primary energy being used in the United States, and 72 percent of its electricity. A large portion of that is used for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Understanding this is crucial, as engineers must take into account heat transfer between buildings in order to create green buildings and reduce energy usage.
He enjoys the fact that his field of research has grown considerably over the years, and how so many more students share his passion for making a difference with respect to sustainable living. “When I joined the faculty eight years ago, there were only fifty students in this major; today there are 300 students,” said Kleissl. “It’s an exciting time for the future.”