A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3The last few months have been busy ones at SERC. As outlined in this issue, we continue to be active on several efforts related to hydrogen and fuel cells. One especially notable milestone, led by Senior Research Engineer Greg Chapman, was completion of an upgrade to our hydrogen fueling station. It is now capable of fueling vehicles to 700 bar pressure. This is an exciting step forward that will allow us to drive fuel cell powered vehicles back and forth to Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.

We have also been busy with several efforts related to access to energy for people in off-grid areas of Africa, Asia, and beyond. Research Engineer Tom Quetchenbach writes about recent work related to renewable energy mini-grids, and Research Engineer Meg Harper describes our participation in the 3rd International Off-Grid Lighting Conference and Trade Fair, held from November 13 to 15 in Dakar, Senegal. The conference was organized and sponsored by Lighting Africa, a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank. I was on the conference organizing committee, and many of us from SERC were involved in preparations for the meeting.

In many ways, the conference was a reunion for SERC staff, alum, and long-time collaborators who have worked on energy access and off-grid lighting over the past several years. The SERC crew included Kristen Radecsky, Patricia Lai, and me. SERC alumni in attendance were Peter Alstone, Jennifer Tracy, and Chris Carlsen. Many long-time collaborators (too many to mention) from Lighting Africa, the Lumina Project, the U.S. Department of Energy, and a host of private sector firms and government agencies were also there.

What drew us all together in Dakar for a few days of intense conversation and networking? As many of you know, rechargeable LED lamps have emerged as an affordable alternative to fuel-based lighting in many off-grid areas of Africa, Asia, and beyond. Commercial sales of quality assured off-grid lighting and energy systems have skyrocketed as the products have gotten better, prices have dropped, and companies have become increasingly successful at reaching low-income off-grid customers. The meeting in Dakar was aimed at sustaining and accelerating this progress through information exchange, strategic discussions, and networking.

There was a buzz in the halls at the conference, and the attendees had good reason to be excited. The rapid emergence of LED-based off-grid lighting has some very positive implications. Solar-charged LED lights typically save off-grid families and businesses money from reduced expenditure on lighting fuel. Many of the products also charge mobile phones, which can lead to additional savings. In addition, the health benefits of a transition away from kerosene lighting are large. A new report sponsored by the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) details kerosene lighting’s role in hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries annually from fires, explosions, indoor air pollution, and accidental ingestion by infants. Additionally, it seems that the climate change mitigation benefits of measures to reduce kerosene are much larger than previously understood. A recently published study out of UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois indicates that the climate forcing effect of black carbon (soot) emissions from kerosene wick lamps is about 20 times larger than the warming effect of carbon dioxide emissions from the lamps. This provides good motivation to press forward with efforts like Lighting Africa, Lighting Asia, and Global LEAP.

For now, though, we are all looking forward to a little end-of-year rest. Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year.

Lighting Global 2012 Outstanding Product Awards

SERC’s yearlong effort coordinating the Lighting Global 2012 Outstanding Product Awards culminated in the announcement of the award winners at the 3rd International Off-grid Lighting Conference and Trade Fair in Dakar, Senegal in November. This marks the second time SERC has led the Outstanding Product Awards effort; the first was at its inception in 2010. Lighting Global, which is closely associated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs, is a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank. The Outstanding Product Awards recognize exceptional off-grid lighting products and seek to encourage the development of quality, affordable lights for the estimated 1.6 billion people in the world who lack access to electricity.  Providing access to quality lighting enables people to reduce their use of expensive fuel-based lighting, such as kerosene lamps, which in turn lowers their exposure to air pollutants, minimizes fire hazards and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions.

Lighting manufacturers entered 25 different products in this year’s competition.  Products were divided into three price-based categories: ‘Budget’ products under $30; ‘Mid-range’ products between $30-$72; and ‘Premium’ products from $72-$135.

An initial screening based on preliminary tests narrowed the candidates down to 16 finalists.  All award finalists underwent a rigorous assessment process involving detailed laboratory testing, evaluation by people living in off-grid areas of Senegal, Kenya, and India, and final judging by a panel of experts. The entire process took over seven months to complete and not only informed the judges, but also provided valuable feedback in the form of test reports and end-user evaluations to the lighting manufacturers.

Focus group participants examine the Sun King™ Pro.

Focus group participants examine the Sun King™ Pro.

SERC played a substantive role in all phases of the assessment.  SERC’s lighting test lab coordinated with the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (FISE) to test the technical performance of the finalist lamps according to the Lighting Global Quality Test Methods.

Concurrently, SERC team members and SERC alum Jennifer Tracy coordinated the field evaluations in which 18 focus groups of 10-12 people in India, Kenya, and Senegal provided end-user perspectives about the products. Each focus group member was able to try out one of the candidate lamps in their home for 1-2 weeks. Following the in-home trials, each group met for a feedback session in which participants reported on and demonstrated their lamps as part of a group discussion. This field feedback was a key part of the judging process.

Finally, SERC served as part of the expert judging panel, which also included experts from the UN Foundation, the German development agency GIZ, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), and the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs. In making their final selections, the judges considered overall design, technical performance, environmental impacts, truth in advertising, ease of use, special features such as mobile phone charging, end-user perspectives and price.

Several members of SERC’s lighting lab team attended the awards ceremony in Senegal and were thrilled to congratulate the winning manufacturers. All the winning lamps (see photo, below), aside from the winner in the budget category, offer the ability to charge a cell phone in addition to providing high-quality lighting service. The awards ceremony and gala dinner were sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy under the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP). Visit the conference website for a list of product award winners and to view photos from the event.

Graduate Student Research Assistant Patricia Lai looks over this year’s winning products: (from left to right) Marathoner Beacon MB2 380/SooLED B3, Marathoner Beacon MB2 090/SooLED B1, Trony Sundial TSL01, Greenlight Planet’s Sun King™ Pro and Barefoot Power Firefly 2.5. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Graduate Student Research Assistant Patricia Lai looks over this year’s winning products: (from left to right) Marathoner Beacon MB2 380/SooLED B3, Marathoner Beacon MB2 090/SooLED B1, Trony Sundial TSL01, Greenlight Planet’s Sun King™ Pro and Barefoot Power Firefly 2.5. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Following the excitement of the Outstanding Product Awards, SERC’s off-grid lighting team continues to work with the Lighting Global program to promote clean off-grid lighting in the developing world. In the coming months, SERC and the Lighting Global team will expand their efforts beyond Africa to support quality assurance activities related to the IFC’s Lighting Asia program, which launched activities in India in May of 2012 and is planning future work in additional countries including Bangladesh.

SERC Develops Mini-grid Interconnection Guidebook

SERC is collaborating with Chris Greacen of Palang Thai to develop a guidebook on the interconnection of mini-grids to national or regional electrical grids. Titled A Guidebook on Grid Interconnection and Islanded Operation of Mini-Grid Power Systems Up to 200 kW, the document addresses both technical and policy aspects of interconnection and is intended for energy policymakers, mini-grid operators, utility administrators and engineers, and community leaders. Worldwide, more than 50 million households get their electricity from renewable energy mini-grids powered by small hydroelectric generators, wind turbines, or solar photovoltaic arrays. These systems provide clean, reliable electricity to rural locations not yet served by national or regional electric grids. They may be developed by traditional utilities or, more commonly, by private-sector developers.

When a national grid reaches areas previously served by isolated mini-grids, operators are faced with several challenges. Will customers served by the mini-grid be connected to the main grid? If so, what happens to the mini-grid’s generator, power lines, and other equipment? Will these assets be abandoned, or will the generator become another power plant selling electricity to the grid? If the mini-grid system remains independent from the grid, how can the operator keep electricity prices competitive?

If there is no policy in place to address these issues, mini-grid developers may be reluctant to invest in new projects and may use substandard wiring and undersized equipment to reduce costs, knowing that their investment could be made worthless at any time if the national grid arrives. These problems plagued mini-grid systems in Cambodia until the government developed a policy to allow mini-grid operators to become small power distributors (SPDs) and resell electricity from the grid. Since these regulations were instituted, over 100 isolated mini-grids have been converted to SPDs. Other developing countries with interconnection policies include Thailand and Tanzania.

Renewable energy mini-grids, like this micro-hydroelectric system in Rukubji, Bhutan, provide electricity for millions of households worldwide.

Renewable energy mini-grids, like this micro-hydroelectric system in Rukubji, Bhutan, provide electricity for millions of households worldwide.

The interconnection guide discusses technical topics, including voltage and frequency control methods and protective relays, as well as mini-grid policies from developed and developing countries around the world. A draft version of the guidebook is currently being reviewed by outside experts, and final publication is tentatively slated for early February 2013. The guidebook is being developed for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories under the auspices of the US Department of Energy’s Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP). This program is associated with the Clean Energy Ministerial, a global forum promoting clean energy policies and programs.

Florida Tech Latest User of SERC Hydrogen Curriculum

SERC’s hydrogen experiment kits are now being used by chemistry students at Florida Institute of Technology (FIT). The kits were originally developed as part of SERC’s Department of Energy-funded Hydrogen Energy in Engineering Education (H2E3) project.

H2E3 was initially directed at engineering students at California universities, but we have had numerous inquiries from schools outside the state interested in the equipment and curriculum. In addition, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that instructors in fields other than engineering find the H2E3 materials useful in meeting their own teaching objectives.

DOE financial support was also instrumental for Florida Tech in adopting the curriculum. Their College of Engineering/College of Science received DOE funding to develop hydrogen education materials including an experiment, Thermodynamics of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell, that is now used in a physical chemistry laboratory course required of all chemical engineering, chemistry, and biochemistry majors.  In this new experiment, based on the SERC kits and documentation, students explore the thermodynamics and efficiency of a hydrogen fuel cell and compare these results with the performance of the electrolyzer that produces the hydrogen and oxygen used in the fuel cell.

“The availability of the SERC resources has allowed the successful introduction of hydrogen fuel cells to our course with a relatively quick and easy adaptation, and the student response has been very positive,” said Dr. Clayton Baum, professor of chemistry at FIT.

The H2E3 project met its objectives and is no longer receiving financial support from DOE. However, we continue to maintain the project website at hydrogencurriculum.org and offer the experiment kits and fuel cell test stations for sale. We welcome inquiries from instructors in any field interested in incorporating this hydrogen energy curriculum in your courses.

New Chapter in SERC Partnership with Kettering University

SERC has a long-standing working relationship with the mechanical engineering department at Kettering University in Flint, MI. As reported in the debut issue of this newsletter in 2006, we provided Kettering with a four-station fuel cell test stand and two fuel cell stacks. We even lost one of our finest fuel cell engineers, Antonio Reis, to Kettering’s engineering faculty, who recruited him to help run their fuel cell R&D program.

Kettering has continued to use that test stand and the SERC fuel cells over the past six years, periodically consulting with us on maintenance and upgrades to the equipment. This fall, we rebuilt their four-cell, 140 cm2 stack with new materials, enabling Kettering to keep on educating their students about fuel cell technology. More recently, Kettering has asked SERC to rebuild another of their aging stacks.

Kettering faculty expressed their pleasure to continue using SERC technology. “The SERC test equipment has been successfully used without any down time for teaching and research, year round, ever since it was first commissioned,” said Dr. Etim Ubong, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Kettering. “Notably, the equipment was used at our Center for the U.S. Fuel Cell Council’s round-robin test and validation of low temperature PEM single cells. We really value our great relationship with SERC.”

The 700 bar Hydrogen Fueling System is in Service

SERC has successfully installed and commissioned the 700 bar hydrogen fueling system at the Humboldt State University (HSU) Hydrogen Station. The first 700 bar hydrogen fueling of a Toyota FCHV-advanced vehicle took place on October 25, 2012 during testing operations with engineers from Toyota.

The 18-month project was supported by a grant from the California Department of Transportation entitled, “Developing a Hydrogen Transportation Infrastructure.” With the new fueling system, the station can now completely fuel state-of-the-art vehicles, such as the Toyota FCHV-advanced vehicle, to 700 bar. This high pressure fueling capability now connects the HSU station with the rest of California’s Hydrogen Highway.

The new fueling system required the installation of a 700 bar compressor and dispensing hardware to allow full fueling of vehicles. The compressor pumps hydrogen from the existing 420 bar storage tanks through the dispensing plumbing and directly into the vehicle’s fuel tanks.

refueling

Research Engineer Meg Harper performs a 700 bar refueling.

Data collection and analysis has started and will continue in order to evaluate the 700 bar fueling system and vehicle performance in day-to-day use. Through this continued operation and evaluation, SERC will contribute to the technical experience needed in the development of a hydrogen transportation infrastructure and also assist in public acceptance of this alternative fuel technology in California.