Building Institutions for Renewable Energy Markets: Quality Assurance Testing of Solar Modules in Kenya by Arne Jacobson

amorphous silicon PV panel test results

Average Stabilized Maximum Power Output for Five Brands of 14 Watt Rated Amorphous Silicon Solar Modules Sold in Kenya. (Maximum Power at Standard Test Conditions of 1000 W/m2 and 25°C).

Renewable energy can be a pillar of a sustainable future in industrialized and developing countries alike. Over the past decade renewable energy has moved from the margins into the mainstream, as commercially viable markets have emerged in a number of countries around the world. However, the sustainability of these new markets is not guaranteed. Market institutions that ensure quality and protect consumer interests are critical to support and expand renewable energy markets.

Kenya has one of the largest markets per capita for solar electric systems among developing countries, but it has been plagued by quality problems and even fraud. For example, while many of the solar module brands sold in Kenya perform adequately, some companies have sold low quality products that produce only a fraction of their rated power output. See the graph above showing test results for five competing brands of 14 Watt rated solar modules sold in Kenya for an illustration of these problems.

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Annual Speaker Series on Energy, the Environment, and Society

Dr. Alan Lloyd addresses panel and audience members during the first public meeting of California’s Climate Action Team, held at HSU. Dr. Lloyd spoke later that evening on air quality issues for SERC’s speaker series. (Photo Credit SERC)

Energy is a vital element of some of the most important and most divisive processes of our times. The widespread use of fossil fuels provides the foundation on which economic globalization is taking place. At the same time, the use of these fuels is a central cause of global climate change, which may prove to be the single largest environmental issue that we face today. Studies of fossil fuel resource availability indicate that world oil production may peak within the next decade, even while demand for the fuel continues to rise. As a result many scholars foresee increasing possibilities for resource conflicts as well as rising fuel prices. Renewable energy and energy efficiency have significant potential to contribute to solutions for some of the environmental, economic, and security problems associated with current trends in world energy use, but many barriers currently limit the widespread use of these technologies. The path towards progressive solutions to these issues requires an interdisciplinary approach that combines technical and scientific expertise with economic, social, and political analyses.

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SERC Delivers Fuel Cell to San Luis Obispo

Cal Poly SLO fuel cell

Cal Poly SLO student with new SERC fuel cell. (Photo Credit SERC)

The Materials Engineering Department at CalPoly San Luis Obispo (SLO) recently purchased a 140 cm2 single cell fuel cell that was designed and produced at SERC. Delivery of the cell to the department occurred last May, but our job did not end there; to facilitate SLO’s foray into fuel cell research, SERC engineer Antonio Reis provided technical expertise and insight into fuel cell research issues by installing and demonstrating the operation of the fuel cell to department faculty and student researchers. Technology transfer to other universities is an important method SERC uses to contribute to the fuel cell research and development arena.

First-Ever Schatz Energy Fellow Announced

Ranjit Deshmukh

Schatz Fellow Ranjit Deshmukh (Photo Credit SERC)

SERC recently awarded the first ever Schatz Energy Fellowship to Ranjit Deshmukh, an incoming HSU student who will begin the Environmental Systems Graduate Program in Fall 2006. Although SERC has supported graduate students in the past, from student assistant positions to financial support such as tuition, co-directors Peter Lehman and Charles Chamberlin and Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) Assistant Professor Arne Jacobson decided the time had come to make SERC’s support and commitment official. The fellowship aims to attract high caliber graduate students in the ERE and International Development Technology (IDT) options of the Environmental Systems Graduate Program who intend to focus on renewable energy or energy efficiency related work. The fellowship provides $10,000 in support during the academic year and may be renewed once to cover a second year of graduate study. The fellow is expected to participate in research activities at SERC during the nine-month academic year. Ranjit comes to SERC with a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Government College of Engineering in Pune, India, and an MS degree in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

Watts Up?

SERC docents

2005-2006 docents (left to right) Eric Zielke, David Kang, Colin Ritter, Melissa Caldwell, and Kevin Fancher. (Photo Credit SERC)

What’s the difference between energy and power? What’s a “Watt?” These are some of the questions students explored during SERC’s “Got Energy?” workshops at the annual Redwood Environmental Education Fair (REEF).

Each spring, elementary and middle school students throughout Humboldt County converge for two days to learn about environmental education. SERC has participated in this event since 2001. Workshop attendees played “Watts Up?”, an interactive game that motivates students to explore the difference between energy and power and inspires them to think about the use of energy in their lives. Workshops culminated with a solar electric circuit activity that challenged students to discover how to sound a solar powered buzzer. Students were excited about this activity; many of them asked how to get their own solar panels and buzzers in order to pursue solar energy and power at home.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

Early in May, we were fortunate to host a visit from California’s Climate Action Team. The team was here to discuss the role of forests in mitigating climate change and to take input from attendees on the state’s Climate Action Plan. The plan is well researched and well written and its very existence puts our state far ahead of our nation in addressing climate change. Energy efficiency, conservation, new technologies, and a carbon trading system are among the important and effective strategies promoted by the plan. In my response to the team, I pointed out that despite the plan’s quality, the most important message about climate change had been omitted. It is this: All of these strategies taken together won’t solve our problems without a reduction in our wasteful lifestyle. That’s a message we at SERC try to stress: Technology, no matter how clever and effective, won’t solve our problems by itself. We have to change too.

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