A clean energy microgrid for the Humboldt County airport

A cutting-edge clean energy microgrid is coming to Humboldt County’s regional airport. Designed by the Schatz Center, the microgrid will generate green electricity, create jobs for local contractors and technicians, and provide an energy lifeline in the event of a natural disaster. Last week, the California Energy Commission announced a $5 million grant award through its EPIC program that will support $6 million in matching funding from the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), for development of this solar + storage microgrid system.

“The Redwood Coast Energy Authority is excited to be partnering with the Schatz Center, PG&E, and the County,” said Matthew Marshall, Executive Director of the RCEA. “This project will allow us to provide enhanced resiliency and emergency-response capabilities for the airport and Coast Guard and deliver the environmental and economic benefits of developing our local renewable resources.”

Composed of a 2.3 megawatt photovoltaic array covering 9 acres—the largest in Humboldt County—and an 8 megawatt-hour battery storage system, equivalent to the batteries in 100 Tesla Model S cars, the microgrid will support 18 electric accounts including the airport and the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station.

The California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport serves 50,000 flights a year and 140,000 customers, including commercial, private, and emergency medical flights. The Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay provides search and rescue for 250 miles of rugged rural coastline, from the Mendocino-Sonoma County line to the California-Oregon border. Since roads into and out of Humboldt County are often closed by fires and slides, energy stability at the regional airport is crucial.

Aerial view of ACV airport from plane


Aerial view of ACV airport

“This is a wonderful project for Humboldt County and we have a great team eager to get started,” said Peter Lehman, founding director of the Schatz Center and principal investigator for the project. “The airport microgrid will make us a safer and more resilient community and plow new ground in developing the electric grid of the future.”

As the first multi-customer microgrid in Pacific Gas and Electric’s service territory, the project will provide a test bed for the policies, tariff structures, and operating procedures necessary to integrate microgrids into California’s electric grid. Lessons learned will help the state strengthen its power grid by creating a roadmap for microgrid integration across the state.

A microgrid combines energy generation–often solar or wind power–with energy storage and smart controls to allow it to run both connected to and disconnected from the larger power grid. Under normal conditions, microgrids add power to the grid and smooth out power fluctuations, adding stability. In an outage, microgrids can “island” and supply electricity indefinitely. As extreme weather events and fires driven by climate change continue to cause regional outages, the ability to maintain independent power generation is key to local resiliency. Microgrids provide life-saving power to transportation hubs and other critical facilities like shelters, hospitals, and fire stations.

The airport microgrid is the second designed by the Schatz Center for the Humboldt Bay region. The Center’s renewable energy microgrid at the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) went live in 2017, providing clean energy to the BLR campus and enabling the Rancheria to operate as a Red Cross Shelter. Last fall, the Rancheria was recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its contributions to community safety.

Evaluation of biomass conversion technologies: new publication released

We recently completed work on the Waste to Wisdom project that examined the entire supply chain of converting forest waste residues into bioenergy and wood products. The Center’s role was to evaluate equipment that produces biochar, torrefied biomass, electricity, or densified wood briquettes using forest residues as the input feedstock. Collaborators from Humboldt State’s Forestry Department analyzed the upstream collection of forest biomass, and experts from the U.S. Forest Service conducted a lifecycle assessment and economic analysis of the supply chain.

SEM biochar image

SEM biochar image (taken at the HSU CNRS Core Facility)


Data collected by the Schatz Center during field tests of biomass conversion equipment were used to:

  • identify optimal process conditions,
  • specify feedstock limitations,
  • measure emissions,
  • evaluate product quality, and
  • recommend design improvements to equipment manufacturers.

Results and conclusions from the entire project are presented in a special issue of Applied Engineering for Agriculture, published in February 2018. Four principal investigators, including Schatz Center Director Arne Jacobson, summarized the project’s objectives and major conclusions in the introduction article to the special issue. Engineers from Schatz authored four papers, on biochar production, torrefaction and briquetting, and gasification of forest residues:

Collaborators at the U.S. Forest Service and the Consortium for Research and Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM) used the results collected from testing activities to conduct economic and environmental life cycle analyses of biomass conversion technologies. Field measurements from the Waste to Wisdom project will also be included in our current California Biopower Impacts project, which is evaluating the environmental impacts associated with utilization of forest-derived woody biomass for electricity generation.

This work could not have been completed without close collaboration between our primary industry partners: Biochar Solutions, Inc., Norris Thermal Technologies, and Pellet Fuels Institute, who provided the testing equipment. Other partners that provided key support include the Green Diamond Resource Company, the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI), All Power Labs, Bear Mountain Forest Products, Colorado Biochar Resources, Pueblo Wood Products, California Redwood Company, North Coast Air Quality Management District, RUF Briquetting Systems, and OMNI Test Labs.

Stack of three briquettes; different colors represent combinations of temperature and time.
Forest residues were converted into torrefied briquettes in the demonstration-scale torrefaction plant. The perceptible differences in color and density reflect combinations of reaction temperature and residence time.

SFSS lecture this Thursday (2/22): Do wind turbines make good neighbors?

In this week’s Sustainable Futures Speaker Series, energy researcher Joseph Rand shares results from a nationwide survey of people who live in proximity to wind farms. Wind power now supplies over 6% of the nation’s electricity demand, with over 60,000 turbines installed across the country. Which factors create community opposition or support for wind farm development?

Joseph Rand is a research affiliate in the Electricity Markets & Policy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and holds a MS in Energy and Resources from UC Berkeley and a BA in Environmental Studies from Macalester College. He conducts research and analysis on renewable energy, including cost and market analysis, spatial data analysis, and research related to public acceptance and deployment barriers of renewable energy.

Joseph Rand, headshot

The Sustainable Futures Speaker Series at Humboldt State creates interdisciplinary discussion, debate, and collaboration around issues related to energy, the environment, and society. Lectures are held on Thursdays from 5:30-7 pm in HSU Founders Hall 118. For details on upcoming events or to request accessibility accommodations, visit our series events page or call (707) 826-4345.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Spring 2018

This spring’s Sustainable Futures Speaker Series features nine talks on topics ranging from wind turbines to Icelandic glaciers, microgrids to traditional forestry practices, cannabis policy to tanoak restoration, the legal personhood of rivers to climate change in redwood ecologies, and the implications of clean energy access for human health. Events are held on Thursdays from 5:30-7:00 pm in Founders Hall 118 on the Humboldt State University campus.

This interdisciplinary speaker series is intended to stimulate cross disciplinary discussion, debate, and collaboration around issues related to energy, the environment, and society. The series is sponsored by the Schatz Center, the Environment & Community Graduate Program, and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Humboldt State.

For details on upcoming events or to request accessibility accommodations, please email or call the Schatz Center at (707) 826-4345.

Spring 2018 Season Poster

Energy Adoption Patterns in Uganda: Final Blog

In 2017, we worked with UNCDF’s CleanStart Programme in partnership with SolarAid/Acumen, to evaluate the impact of pay-as-you-go purchase opportunities for small solar systems in Uganda.

Here’s the third and final installment of our blog series, with some initial findings:

Read our previous blogs: