How much of Humboldt County’s energy needs could be supplied by wind and wave energy? At what point would the local electricity grid become unstable due to the intermittent nature of these resources? How many biomass power plants would be necessary to buffer these resources? Should we invest in energy storage technologies or increased transmission to the rest of California? How much would this all cost?
This article was written by Matt Bray and Garren Sparks.
Recently the Bureau of Land Management contracted with SERC to design and install a photovoltaic (PV) system for the Kaluna Cabin. Located in California’s rugged King Range National Conservation Area in southwestern Humboldt County, the Kaluna Cabin overlooks the Kaluna cliffs and the mighty Pacific Ocean. Acquired by BLM in the 1990’s, the cabin is used to showcase the natural beauty and ecological importance of the area to visiting government officials, dignitaries, and non-profit groups. The cabin has no electricity, and propane is used for lighting, refrigeration, hot water, and cooking. BLM staff decided that an off-grid PV system to provide electricity for lighting and small electronics could improve the usability of the cabin as well as decrease fire hazards associated with using propane for lighting.
For the past two years, SERC has been investigating biomass gasification for the Indonesian Sugar Group. Bagasse, a fibrous sugar cane waste product, is burned inefficiently in boilers at the Sugar Group factory. An alternative is gasification, a process of partially oxidizing biomass to produce combustible gases that can be burned cleanly and efficiently in a turbine to produce electricity. We are testing the feasibility of gasifying bagasse in a small-scale gasifier at SERC and investigating the economics of larger gasifiers that could be used by the Sugar Group.
The final troubleshooting is complete at the Humboldt State Hydrogen Fueling Station. We are now producing and dispensing hydrogen gas reliably. Dave Hoskins, equipment technician at the Telonicher Marine Laboratory in Trinidad, CA and the primary Prius driver, is now able to refuel the Prius unassisted. The station is running as designed with no operator intervention, and the data acquisition system now allows for remote data collection.
Dr. Steven Hackett is a Professor of Economics at Humboldt State University. Through his association with HSU’s Energy, Environment, and Society graduate program, Environmental Science undergraduate program, Schatz Energy Research Center, and Humboldt Energy Independence Fund, Dr. Hackett works with an interdisciplinary group of faculty, staff, and students on energy projects linked to reducing anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions. He will lead the economic portion of the RESCO project (see front page for more information about RESCO), which includes the development and application of economic impact assessment models to the energy sector of our regional economy and qualitative analyses of the economic development potential resulting from creating a renewable energy cluster in Humboldt County.
Well, that didn’t last long. The honeymoon that new Secretary of Energy Steven Chu enjoyed has ended, at least among hydrogen energy researchers and advocates. With the announcement that funding for the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle program has been eliminated in DOE’s 2009-10 budget request, Chu caused consternation, even anger, in the hydrogen world.
Chu explained his choice by saying that when he asked the question of whether or not hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would contribute to our economy in 10 to 15 or even 20 years, the answer he felt, was “no.” Instead, Chu wants to focus funding on plug-in hybrids and battery technology.