Article written by Arne Jacobson
Arne Jacobson of SERC helps Daniel Buyu of Yala, Kenya troubleshoot a problem with an LED flashlight. (Photo credit Evan Mills)
Kenya is a world leader, on a per capita basis, in the utilization of solar photovoltaic systems. Solar power provides the main source of electricity for more than 5% of Kenya’s rural population, and sales of solar products in Kenya continue to grow.
Although these high use levels indicate a robust renewable energy sector, quality issues have long been a concern in the Kenya solar market. As is true in many Sub Saharan African countries, market institutions for ensuring quality are weak in Kenya. As a result, while most solar products sold in the country perform adequately, some of the products sold in the market perform well below advertised levels. This persistent presence of low quality goods is a problem not only for rural Kenyans unlucky enough to purchase the “wrong” PV module or battery, but also for the reputation of the solar industry.
SERC is proud to be a sponsor of the North Coast Regional Energy Alternatives Conference. The conference is being put on by Plan It Green, a local non-profit organization composed of engineers, planners, builders, architects, and other professionals dedicated to green community planning and design. The conference will be an all day event on Saturday, June 23rd from 9 AM to 5 PM at the Arcata Community Center. The conference will focus on energy alternatives for Humboldt County, and will highlight the many opportunities we have for energy efficiency and renewable energy here on the North Coast. Presentations will be categorized into three concurrently running tracks: 1) large scale energy infrastructure; 2) small scale energy technologies; and 3) green buildings and energy efficiency and conservation.
Students use small PV panels to create solar buzzers. (Photo Credit SERC)
This past spring, SERC visited three elementary schools on the Yurok Reservation: Weitchpec Elementary, Margaret Keating School, and Jack Norton School. The goal was to inspire and teach Yurok youth about basic energy concepts, renewable energy technologies, and energy efficiency. The events were part of a community-wide energy education campaign for SERC’s “Human Capacity Building in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” project with the Yurok Tribe.
Solar panels atop the maintenance wing of the UIHS facility. (Photo courtesy of UIHS)
Local health care provider United Indian Health Services (UIHS) recently received a grant from the State of California to install a 40-kW solar electric power system on the rooftops of two wings of UIHS’s Potawot Health Village here in Arcata. SERC assisted UIHS in developing a conceptual design for the system and writing their grant proposal. Once UIHS received funding, they retained a professional solar contractor to install the system and hired SERC to help them with other aspects of the project.
Peter Lehman, SERC Director
Humboldt County has become a hotbed of renewable energy development. We’ve reported in a past issue that Humboldt County residents have the highest per capita use of grid connected solar systems in California, even though our amount of sunshine is less than in southern areas. Now things have intensified, with large corporations getting in on the Humboldt drive to switch to renewables.
The Schatz Center recently hosted a visit from Tim O’Leary and his colleagues from Shell Renewables and Hydrogen. Shell has begun the process of developing a wind farm on Bear River Ridge, just inland from Cape Mendocino and one of the best wind sites in the western U.S. Local ranchers are enthusiastic as they see wind farming as a way to gain revenue and keep their generations-old ranches active and thriving. Pacific Gas and Electric Company has announced that they’ll begin prospecting off the Humboldt County coast for wave energy potential. North coast wave energy could make a huge contribution to renewable energy in California. DG Energy is looking to increase its use of wood chips and other woody biomass to produce electricity; Humboldt County already gets almost 50% of its electricity from wood. And here at the Schatz lab, we’ve begun a partnership with Forestry faculty and the Schatz Tree Farm (yes, it’s the same Mr. Schatz) to study gasification and pyrolysis of woody biomass. We’re aiming to get biomass out of the forest and producing useful energy. This has a large potential to produce renewable energy in the West as fuel reduction efforts in our national forests will supply biomass for decades to come.