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Meet California's Climate Heroes

Here are scientists and policy makers in the Sacramento region who play vital roles in the global effort to fix a warming planet.

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With striking looks and angular features, the director of the UC Davis California Lighting Technology Center wears all black and presents more like a British rock star than an industrial-design geek. In fact, Siminovitch has become one of the state’s most influential leaders when it comes to lighting design and energy efficiency.

As he tours a reporter through the corridors of the CLTC, the place’s smart lights fire up overhead one by one, illuminating the way as the sightseeing proceeds. Formed in 2000 in partnership with the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy, the CLTC is another of UC Davis’ applied-research institutions, formed with the idea of moving university research and innovations into the real world. “We take a round-table approach,” said Siminovitch, founder of the center. “Our goal is to create critical mass.”

When the California Public Utilities Commission called in 2010 for a 60 to 80 percent statewide reduction in electrical-lighting consumption by 2020, UC Davis was the first major institution to step up to the plate with its CLTC-inspired Smart Lighting Initiative. In fact, Siminovitch said the UC Davis campus in its totality has become the largest lighting demonstration laboratory in the country. Its plan is to reduce energy use for campus lighting 60 percent by the end of 2015, and meeting that number is already well in hand.

On campus, thousands of outside smart lights with predictive motion sensors that use the LED lights have already been installed. Just like at his center, the LED lighting on campus “sense” when pedestrians or bicycles are approaching, “talk” to one another (via a wireless connection on an antennae) and help efficiently and safely guide people to where they are going—all while saving vast amounts of energy.

Siminovitch, on the development team for what is called California’s Strategic Lighting Plan (another integrative partnership effort), also helped lead the push to update the new Title 20 and Title 24 recalculations for exterior light. Among other things, the new standards mean that buildings and parking garages won’t have lights blazing 24-seven and will be required to have occupancy controls and sensors.

Taken together, California is on a path to literally transform how buildings and urban spaces are designed, built and operated with a goal of reducing energy usage “and making our lives better,” said Siminovitch. The state’s leadership “has been phenomenal,” he said.

But he doesn’t feel the same about what’s happening at the national level. With his 2012 appointment as the first Arthur H. Rosenfeld Chair in Energy Efficiency at UC Davis, the lighting guru sees it as part of his new challenge to figure out “how to make things happen faster.”

“Lots of this technology existed years ago,” he said. With a flourish, he holds up a small electric device with a sensor attached. “Every light switch should have this!”

Does Siminovitch ever despair about the enormity of the climate challenge?

“I know climate change is a real deal,” he said. “On an intellectual level, I know we have a daunting task ahead. But I just want to get really focused. Let’s fix the pipes. Let’s get after this.”

Daniel Sperling, director, UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies

From his smallish office in the drabbest engineering building on the UC Davis campus, the unassuming professor Daniel Sperling seems like an unlikely point man in the global challenge to create a low-carbon future transportation system—and fast—so as to allay the worst impacts of global warming.

But make no mistake: Sperling is the man.

An international leader in the field of alternative transportation fuels, Sperling co-wrote the 2006 low-carbon fuel standard for the Global Warming Solutions Act and shared a portion of Vice President Al Gore’s 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for writing the transportation sections of reports by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has authored or edited a total of 11 books, including his most recent, Two Billion Cars, which even scored him points with students, since it landed him a guest appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

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