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Jamie Santos

Modifying appliances to unlock new energy resources

This summer, Jamie Santos traveled to live outside her home state for the first time. Her love for science, technology, engineering and mathematics led her to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Robotics Internship Program, where she was able to gain valuable experience in engineering and explore Colorado.

Jamie Santos

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.

The Robotics Internship Program is 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. Santos interned at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, in the Residential Buildings Research Group.

Under the mentorship of Dane Christensen, Ph.D., and Bethany Sparn, Santos was tasked with retrofitting a large home appliance, a GE GeoSpring heat pump water heater. The appliance was retrofitted to communicate with other devices in the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) and be controlled via software at the lab.

To do this, Santos ran tests and collected data to understand how the water heater functioned under the manufacturer’s controls. Then, she developed high- and low-voltage control schematics in order to switch between control from the manufacturer and control from the lab using a microcomputer called a BeagleBone. Santos worked with technicians to install necessary hardware to the water heater, and then she coded the software to control it.

Santos’ research aligned with NREL’s goal to improve energy management at the residential level. By retrofitting and studying appliances, NREL engineers learn how to reduce energy consumption and modulate appliances to benefit aging grid infrastructure without sacrificing homeowner comfort or costs. NREL’s research with appliances also helps propel America into a world with smarter and more connected homes.

“When my mentor first explained the project to me, I wondered if I carried the qualifications to get the job done,” Santos reflected. “In the end, I was able to bring my project near completion and leave instructions for future interns on what next steps to take. I now feel much more confident as an electrical engineer.”

The opportunities to live independently and to explore Colorado were additional benefits to completing the NREL internship. She spent free time backpacking, rafting and camping.

“I feel that I have grown not only as an electrical engineer but as a person because of this experience. 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,” said Santos.

Santos returned to the University of Washington to finish her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Following her graduation, she plans to look for employment in the tech industry in Seattle.

The EERE Robotics Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Office’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and administered through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.