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On Thursday, March 30, University of California President Janet Napolitano, along with  Mexican Secretary of Energy, Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, announced new funding of $10 million to be distributed by the National Council of Science and Technology to be used toward energy efficiency research projects in Mexico. The funding will span a length of four years and the projects will be led by Mexican universities as well as other private research institutions in Mexico. Eligibility and access to this funding requires Mexican researchers to include active participation with UC researchers and other California research institutions.

The UC-Mexico Initiative, launched by Napolitano in January 2014, has been the main coordinator of strategic partnerships between UC and Mexican universities, starting with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) prior to the recent $10 million funding. The MOU, signed in November of 2014, focused on promoting academic collaborations and exchanges in the fields of shared interests and expertise between UC and Mexico.

Veronique Rorive, assistant director of the Mexico Initiative, provided insight about such shared fields of interest and how this new energy focused collaboration came about. “A binational faculty identified topic areas for collaboration and provided a mandate of five areas: Energy, education, environment, health and arts and culture. Since energy usage is a common interest and an area of concern for the future, it was an important issue at our workshops and discussions,” said Rorive.

Stephanie Beechem, who works as media relations in the UC Office of the President, also  clarified the purpose of Napolitano’s energy initiatives, such as the Carbon Neutrality Initiative and this recent energy research collaboration with Mexico. She emphasized that, “As a public research university, UC is dedicated to finding solutions to the related pressing global problems of climate change, air pollution and access to clean water. Each of these challenges is connected to having access to clean, affordable energy.”

Influenced by the research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and their Flex building in Berkeley, California that utilizes smart technology to lower energy consumption, Mexico’s research proposals will focus on the energy efficiency of urban systems. The Mexican Ministry of Energy’s funding will be utilized in project proposals that will increase energy efficiency in buildings and cities through lighting technology, energy and water efficiency, smart buildings and future electric grids. “The idea of working more with less can be applied to energy consumption. When these projects have a heavy emphasis on buildings, their focus can be on a variety of concepts from the generation aspect, transmission, distribution, storage to management,” said Dr. Alfredo Martinez-Morales, who is a member of the research faculty of the Center for Environmental Research and Technology.

Morales further discussed energy opportunities that the research proposals could focus on, such as, “opportunities to have an intelligent building that gets to determine usage patterns, number of people, type of activity. All of which will help simultaneously manage power energy and translate to huge savings on a global scale.”

Director for the UC Institute for Mexico and the United States and UCR Professor of Ecology Exequiel Ezcurra, also commented on the call for proposals. “This research focus in applied directed research for urban sustainability brings attention to Mexico and the fact that it is an intellectual powerhouse in both the arts and the science. There is a lot to be gained by maintaining an intellectual community in North America as opposed to creating an isolationist attitude,” said Ezcurra. He gave examples of previous successful collaborative research with Mexican researchers that led to many new findings on topics such as earthquakes and the chlorofluorocarbons in the ozone layer. He noted that without such examples of collaborative research with Mexico, the scientific community “could never have figured it out alone.”

“This will act as a catalyst. It will provide some much needed funding, allow for the opportunity to have teams of Mexican researchers to work with teams from the UC and develop and obtain the results or the data that is needed to continue the relationship beyond the four years into many decades. This funding could also grow into larger programs,” concluded Morales.