The California Energy Commission approved over $15 million in technology development and energy research contracts this week. During the commission’s May 27 meeting, it awarded 10 contracts totaling over $12 million from the ratepayer-funded Public Interest Energy Research program. Despite the state’s budget crisis and a slowdown in spending general fund money by some agencies, the research program is a dedicated fund that has been largely unaffected. Receiving the most funding was a $3.2 million contract with the University of California, Davis, for its California Lighting Technology Center. It is a three-year contract to help develop energy efficient lighting via research and development measures in collaboration with utilities and other partners. “This is a slam dunk,” commissioner Jeff Byron said of the project. The vote for approval was unanimous. The second-largest item funded was a $2.26 million contract to help fund the Western Cooling Efficiency Center at UC Davis. The funding will go toward research and development of technology to advance cooling system performance in western climates, according to commission research contract manager Chris Scruton. The next-largest approval was $2 million for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory to develop and demonstrate a new thermoelectric automobile heating and air conditioning system that might replace or downsize current vapor compression air conditioners in cars. Also approved was a $199,000 contract with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to help develop a tool to measure and analyze the chemical composition of aerosols that form water droplets in the atmosphere. “This work is very important because the behavior or aerosols and their interaction with clouds are the biggest source of uncertainty in regional climate--and also in global climate change--science,” said Guido Franco, program director for the Energy Commission’s climate change center. Increased aerosols may have decreased precipitation in the Sierra Nevada by 10-20 percent, possibly impacting the state’s water supply and hydroelectricity generation, according to Franco. He added that determining the chemical composition of the aerosols is important to identifying the potential sources of the particles.