SERC and solar power in sub-Saharan Africa

In this week’s New Yorker magazine (issue: June 26, 2017), Bill McKibben reports on solar power development in sub-Saharan Africa, including the role of quality assurance testing offered by SERC and other labs in the Lighting Global network.

Clarification (for the New Yorker piece): SERC Director Dr. Arne Jacobson played a leading role in the creation and implementation of Lighting Global, a program jointly managed by the International Finance Corporation and World Bank. The international testing labs are part of the Lighting Global network, not subsidiaries of the Schatz Energy Research Center (SERC). SERC provides setup and training for Lighting Global affiliated labs in Africa and Asia, as well as off-grid product testing and standards development.

Read more about SERC’s off-grid solar product testing lab…

Report from the annual Waste to Wisdom meeting

SERC presented at the Waste to Wisdom annual meeting in Sacramento on May 17th. This public meeting brought together over one hundred academics, policymakers, project developers, community members, and equipment manufacturers from around the country to discuss the opportunities and challenges to increasing utilization of forest residues.

Arne Jacobson, David Carter, and Mark Severy presented on Biomass Conversion Technologies: System Performance, Case Studies, and Implications for California’s Forest Management. Using examples from our research, SERC engineers described the state of biomass conversion technologies with a focus on biochar, torrefied biomass, and densified briquette production. Our presentation hinged around identifying and discussing methods for overcoming the current challenges of scale, site infrastructure, feedstock quality, environmental safety, and market development that are holding back widespread adoption of these biomass conversion technologies.

SERC’s slide presentation and additional reports and presentations from this meeting are available from Waste to Wisdom.


Briquette display

Briquettes at the Waste to Wisdom meeting, photo by Craig Rawlings of the Forest Business Network

Vacancy Announcement: Student Research Assistant for Biomass Research

The Schatz Energy Research Center (SERC) has an opening for a Student Research Assistant to work on biomass energy research and development projects during the summer of 2017. A seven-week commitment is required from July 1 to August 18, 2017. This is a full-time, temporary, non-benefited, hourly position. The hourly wage is $12.16 to $17.12 per hour; appointments are typically made at the beginning of the range.

SERC is conducting research on the utilization of forest residuals and other local woody biomass resources for the production of bioenergy and bio-based products. The Student Research Assistant is expected to work as part of a team designing, implementing, and testing data acquisition and controls software for a biochar production machine.

Click here to read the full announcement and for application instructions. All application materials must be received by 4:00 p.m., Friday, May 5, 2017.

Vacancy Announcement: Student Research Assistant

The Schatz Energy Research Center (SERC) has a temporary summer opening for a Student Research Assistant to work in our Off-Grid Solar Laboratory. The position will involve 30 to 40 hours of work per week. The hourly wage is $12.16 to $17.12 per hour; appointments are typically made at the beginning of the range. This is a temporary, non-benefited, hourly position.

The Off-Grid Solar Laboratory’s research focuses on technical issues related to the performance and quality of modern off-grid solar products that are used by people living in off-grid areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the wider developing world. SERC is the technical lead for a quality assurance program for off-grid products associated with the Lighting Global initiative.

The Student Research Associate will help administer performance tests for solar powered products for off-grid applications; carry out instrument calibrations and other technical tasks associated with ensuring the accuracy of laboratory test results; analyze data and write and review reports associated with the laboratory’s activities; and perform other laboratory tasks, as necessary.

Click here to read the full announcement and for application instructions. All application materials must be received by 4:00 p.m. Monday, April 3, 2017.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Mallik Angalakudati of PG&E on California’s Energy Future

We are pleased to welcome Mallik Angalakudati of PG&E as the next speaker in the Spring 2017 Sustainable Futures Speaker Series. Mallik will speak on Thursday, March 2 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in Founders Hall 118 (FH118) on the HSU campus. The title of his talk is “Changing Energy Landscape in California.”

Mallik Angalakudati serves as Vice President for Corporate Strategy at PG&E’s Corporation. In this role, Mallik works closely with PG&E senior leadership to develop utility and holding company strategies. Prior to this role, he oversaw investment planning, resource management, strategy, process and quality excellence and contract management functions as Vice President, Gas Business Performance Management. Mallik came to PG&E with more than 15 years’ experience in the energy industry.

Prior to joining PG&E, Mallik worked at National Grid in both operational as well as process leadership positions. His experience also includes management consulting and energy pricing and risk management. He holds an MBA from the University of Michigan, an MS in Environmental Engineering from the University of North Carolina, and a BS in Civil Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology. Mallik also earned an executive education certificate in Leading Change and Organizational Renewal from the Harvard Business School and a Master Blackbelt certification from the Villanova University. Mallik serves on the Operating Committee of MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations program, Utility Analytics Institute Advisory Board and the Advisory Board of the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary’s College.

California is going through a major electricity sector transition that involves a strong shift toward renewable energy, energy efficiency, and demand management. PG&E has one of the cleanest electricity portfolios in the U.S. among major utilities, and it delivers more renewable power to customers than any other utility in the country. Mallik is at the forefront of PG&E strategic planning efforts, and his talk promises to provide key insights about California’s energy future.

Vacancy Announcement: Outreach Coordinator

SERC is looking for an Outreach Coordinator to lead our education, outreach, and marketing efforts. The salary range is $19.00-$32.50/hr. Appointments are normally made at the beginning of the salary range. This is a non-state, non-exempt (hourly) position. The position will be half-time to three-quarter time and becomes benefit eligible at three-quarter time and above.

Click here to read the full announcement and for application instructions.

This position is open until filled. First consideration will be given to applications received by 4:00 PM, Friday, January 20, 2017.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3As we move into autumn, I would like to take time to thank the SERC team and our many excellent project partners. We are in the midst of one of the busiest and most productive years in our history. The successes we have had are a result of the hard and good work of our stellar team and our collaborators.

Over the past year we have worked on over 20 projects involving more than 60 collaborators. This work spans four continents, including efforts in Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Nigeria), Asia (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, and China), Europe (UK, Netherlands, and Germany), and North America (USA). While I cannot thank each of our partners by name, several deserve special mention, including the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, the Blue Lake Rancheria, Siemens, Pacific Gas and Electric, Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Global LEAP, everyone from the BRDI/Waste to Wisdom team, and colleagues from the World Bank Group’s Lighting Global, Lighting Africa, and Lighting Asia programs.

As you can imagine, our team has been very busy. While everyone has pulled their weight and more, special thanks are due in several areas. First, our operations and administrative team, led by Allison Hansberry, has worked tirelessly to keep everything moving forward effectively. I give my sincere gratitude for their efforts and good work. Second, SERC’s project managers have managed substantial responsibility with grace and poise. Dave Carter, Jim Zoellick, Jerome Carman, and Meg Harper merit special thanks for carrying heavy project management loads in difficult circumstances. Third, Steve Karp and his team at the Humboldt State University Sponsored Programs Foundation deserve credit for all the support they provide during both the pre- and post-award periods. We all appreciate their efforts; we could not succeed without them. Fourth, the SERC Advisory Board has helped us immensely through input that ranges from strategic guidance to networking support. Their assistance has been invaluable. Fifth, I want to thank everyone on the SERC team who has stepped up and helped with fundraising and proposal writing over the past few months, despite all the other work on their collective plates. While many have contributed, several people in particular have played leadership roles in this push, including Peter Lehman, Kevin Fingerman, Jim Zoellick, Jerome Carman, Meg Harper, Richa Goyal, and Mark Severy. I also want to thank all of the agencies that have supported our work over the past year. Here, the California Energy Commission, International Finance Corporation, World Bank, and U.S. Department of Energy merit special mention for being among our leading funders.

I will close with some staff transitions. First, I am pleased to welcome our new faculty members; Peter Alstone and Liza Boyle joined us in August. Peter has a joint appointment between SERC and the Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) Department, while Liza is a Faculty Research Associate at SERC and a member of the ERE Department. Both are already engaged in activities at SERC, and we look forward to much more of their involvement going forward. I am also pleased to welcome Scott Toyama, Jimento Aikhuele, and Steve Shoemaker to the SERC team. Scott joined in May as a full-time engineering technician in our off-grid solar laboratory. Jimento and Steve are incoming graduate students in the Energy Technology and Policy (ETaP) master’s program. Jimento is this year’s recipient of the Schatz Energy Fellowship, while Steve is the first recipient of the Blue Lake Rancheria Fellowship for Clean Energy Studies. It is great to have them both on board (and thank you again to the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe for establishing the fellowship).

Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank people who have moved on from SERC to other endeavors. These include Malini Kannan, Janoah Osborne, Ga Rick Lee, Greg Pfotenhauer, and Lukas Kennedy; they each made great contributions over the past few years to SERC’s work related to off-grid solar, clean transportation, and/or biomass energy. I am also grateful to Asif Hassan, Jayati Thakor, Steve Harrison, Emily Klee, and Rich Williams, all of whom worked for us as students, for their efforts on projects related to off-grid energy access and biomass energy. Richa Goyal, who has been with us at SERC as a visiting scholar for the past year and a half, has moved back to India. Fortunately for us, she will continue to work with us as a consultant going forward. Finally, a very special thank you is due to Mark Rocheleau, who retired from SERC in June after 24 years of dedicated service. All of these good people are greatly missed, but we are excited about all the good things that they are doing out in the world.

Goodbye until next time.

500kW Solar Array Installed for BLR Microgrid Project

SERC graduate student research assistants Pramod Singh (left) and Jake Rada on site at the solar array. Photo credit Kellie Brown.

SERC graduate student research assistants Pramod Singh (left) and Jake Rada on site at the solar array. Photo credit Kellie Brown.

Construction on the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) microgrid began in May, and great progress has been made this summer. While the lasting image of the project will be the 500kW solar array, there was significant preparatory work done above and below ground to make the microgrid functional. This included placing underground conduits for both power and communication lines to connect every aspect of the microgrid. A primary function of these conduits is to combine the 500kW of solar power from the array and the 500kW of stored solar power from the battery bank at a 12kV utility line that ties BLR to the PG&E electrical grid. As of this publication, the following building blocks of this project have been completed:

  • all conduit is in place
  • all 1,548 solar modules have been installed
  • all three concrete pads have been poured to hold equipment for the PV array, the battery bank (BESS), and the point of common coupling (PCC) with PG&E
  • all 10 Tesla batteries, as well as the rest of the BESS equipment, are in position and anchored on the pad
  • PCC switchgear is in place and anchored
Tesla battery bank with the solar array in the background.

Tesla battery bank with the solar array in the background.

There is still much to be done before the microgrid can begin to provide a renewable power generation source that is resilient and reliable. Now that the equipment and hardware are in place, the process of installing the software that is integral to making the off-grid islanding aspect of the microgrid possible will begin. The project is scheduled to be completed by early December.

Pramod Singh and I, both graduate student research assistants, represented SERC and the BLR Microgrid project at this summer’s InterSolar/ASES Conference and Expo in San Francisco. We gave a brief presentation outlining the design, goals, and progress made so far on the BLR microgrid, and we attended other presentations and panels dedicated to the solar energy sector. It was encouraging to learn that many conference attendees see microgrids as playing a critical role in the future of solar energy. SERC’s experience with the BLR microgrid will prove to be a fruitful venture as microgrids become more popular and affordable.

Northwest California Alternative Fuels Readiness Project

With funding from the California Energy Commission under solicitation PON-13-603, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) and SERC began a two-year planning process in the spring of 2014. Key project partners were the Mendocino Council of Governments, the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District, and the Siskiyou County Economic Development Council (SCEDC). As this project nears completion, we reflect on the accomplishments of the project and next steps for increased regional adoption of low carbon transportation fuels.

Background: “The goal of this project [was] to create an alternative fuel readiness plan through coordinated efforts in the Northwest Region,”[1] which for this project consisted of the counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Siskiyou, and Trinity. The readiness plan was to “include a strategic assessment of the challenges and opportunities for the adoption of alternative fuels and implementation of targeted outreach programs for fuels.”[2]

The project consisted of six main tasks:

  • assess the existing status of and potential for future deployment of fuels
  • analyze existing and potential incentives structures
  • identify strategies for increased procurement and commercialization of fuels
  • review existing training materials targeted to relevant stakeholders and identify needs and barriers
  • develop materials and strategies that communicate the benefits of low carbon fuels to targeted stakeholder groups
  • create a complete, comprehensive, and detailed readiness plan for the region.

Accomplishments and Results: As reported in the Spring 2015 newsletter, SERC addressed the first task through the development of a simulation model that explores marginal abatement cost curves in order to guide regional investment in low carbon fuels. The model used the statewide Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS)  target of a 10% reduction in transportation fuel carbon intensity by 2020 (see Figure below). The key conclusions of this analysis are

  • Electric vehicles currently present the least incremental cost across commercially available fuels and technologies, in terms of infrastructure capital cost, vehicle capital cost, and vehicle cost of ownership.
  • Due to market limitations there is no single “silver bullet” fuel. Regional investment in a variety of low carbon fuels is needed to meet the 2020 LCFS target.
  • Portfolio-wide average marginal cost of carbon abatement (as shown in is projected to be around $200 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, and could very well exceed this.

AFRimage2

The results of this simulation model were used to develop regional estimates of the direct impact to the transportation sector should model results be fully implemented. These estimates show that 17% of passenger vehicles and 2.7% of all other on-road vehicles may be impacted, resulting in a 6% increase in electricity consumption and a displacement of 10% of total gallons of gasoline and diesel currently consumed in the region. Furthermore, over 300 public electric vehicle parking stalls may be needed along with 19 new or retrofitted liquid fueling stations representing 9% of existing stations in the region. The projected incremental societal cost over the five-year period between 2015 and 2020 is $43 million (in 2015 dollars), which averages to $1,600 per vehicle across all fuel and vehicle types modeled.

In parallel to the above modeling effort, the project team formed three working groups that informed the planning process: a strategic planning working group, a fuel distributor working group, and a training materials working group. The working groups helped identify barriers and potential solutions to increased low carbon fuel adoption as well as guided the structure of the readiness plan. The input from these stakeholders, along with an extensive literature review, resulted in the identification of 22 specific barriers and 69 potential actions to address these barriers.

In addition, project partners developed outreach materials to be used to engage with and inform a wide array of stakeholder groups, focusing mainly on local government entities and fleet managers. Numerous outreach efforts were also conducted, including extensive engagement with public and private fleet managers and local government agencies.

Readiness Plan and Next Steps: The above efforts have been synthesized into a detailed regional readiness plan which is now available. The primary audience is local government, but the plan contains useful information for fuel distributors and fleet managers and contains recommendations for action across all stakeholder groups including state policy makers.

Project partners also identified the Department of Energy Clean Cities program as a key next step that could continue the development and implementation of the readiness plan. To this end the project team held a strategic networking event in February in Eureka that was simulcast to Redding and Ukiah, California. The goals of the event were twofold:

  • bring local government stakeholders up to speed on state and local efforts to accelerate the adoption of low carbon transportation fuels and vehicles
  • explain the Clean Cities program, outline the potential benefits of this program for the region, and pursue stakeholder interest and/or commitments to the formation of a Clean Cities Coalition.

A total of 20 different stakeholder agencies were represented at the event across seven counties, two CalTrans Districts, and two Assembly Districts. All stakeholder representatives expressed positive interest in the development of a Clean Cities Coalition in the North State region and found the event informative. Commitments to further action were made regarding participation in future events to solidify details and next steps. Two follow-up meetings were held in May and June with a sub-group of participants during which co-coordinator commitments were confirmed from SCEDC and RCEA. A Clean Cities Coalition application to the DOE is currently in development and is expected to move forward.

Conclusion: It is clear the proposed LCFS target is not realistic for the region in the near future given the level of investment and action required over such a short time frame. However, the readiness plan provides a useful guidepost for regional stakeholders, and quantifiable and actionable steps that can be taken now and well past the LCFS target date of 2020. In addition, the successful formation of a Clean Cities Coalition in the region is expected to increase the impact of this project and will hopefully lead to future funding and action in the region.

For more detailed information and access to project reports visit http://redwoodenergy.org/current-projects/alternative-fuels

AFRimage

[1] California Energy Commission Agreement Number ARV-13-012.
[2] Ibid

PV Module Testing Round Four

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SERC volunteer Andre Bernal (left) and graduate student research assistant Jake Rada (right) measure the current and voltage curve of a photovoltaic module that has completed 26 years of service in the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project. Each of the 192 modules in the project has been tested in 1990, 2001, 2010, and now again in 2016.