SERC Completes Energy Planning Project for the Trinidad Rancheria

Readers of this newsletter may recall that the Summer 2015 issue contained a short piece about an energy planning project we conducted for the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria. Funded by a grant from The Bureau of Indian Affairs Energy and Mineral Development Program, this multi-faceted project had the overall goal of reducing the tribe’s energy consumption, costs, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the implementation of energy efficiency measures and, possibly, producing renewable energy locally.

The project has since been completed and there is much to report.

Use Assessment
The initial phase of the project entailed a comprehensive assessment of recent energy use for the Rancheria’s multiple commercial facilities including the Cher-Ae-Heights Casino, the Seascape Restaurant, and tribal offices. Available information pertaining to the consumption of electricity, propane, diesel fuel, and gasoline, as well as the equipment involved, was cataloged. CasinoGreen, a PG&E subcontractor specializing in retrofits of Native American owned casinos, was responsible for examining the casino, while Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) covered the remaining facilities. RCEA also completed a comprehensive GHG inventory utilizing an Excel spreadsheet tool they developed in-house.

Results show electricity use in all tribal facilities accounts for 77% of energy costs and over 60% of all GHG emissions. Unsurprisingly, the casino is responsible for over 75% of total energy costs and more than 80% of all GHG emissions, but it is interesting to note that the Seascape Restaurant comes in second at 10% of costs and 9% of GHG.

Efficiency Assessment
Lighting accounts for a substantial portion of all electrical consumption, particularly for the casino, which operates around the clock. As lighting technology has changed considerably in recent years, the energy efficiency of available products greatly exceeds that of the equipment currently in use by the tribe. As a result there are great savings to be had by retrofitting their facilities.

CasinoGreen provided an extensive list of lighting upgrades for the casino, primarily focused on the replacement of existing equipment with new LED lamp, ballast and fixture packages. In total, the changes they suggest could save the tribe an estimated $21,000/year. Available rebates will defray the upfront installation costs considerably while the balance can be financed by PG&E’s Energy Efficiency Retrofit Loan Program. This zero- interest On-Bill Financing program for energy retrofits is paid off via normal monthly payments that credit the money saved due to the new equipment toward the loan balance, which is expected to be paid off in about four years.

In the early stages of the project, RCEA determined that the tribe could save more than $3,000/year by simply changing the Seascape’s PG&E account to a different rate. This was done with alacrity. Further recommendations for lighting and refrigeration efficiency upgrades could save an additional $2,600 annually for the restaurant. As with the casino, installation costs can be covered by rebates and On-Bill Financing. These improvements should pay for themselves in less than four years.

RCEA recommendations for the remaining facilities consist primarily of upgrading interior fluorescent tube lighting systems to LED technology, with some exterior lighting upgrades as well. These changes should have a payback period of just under five years.

Renewables
Following SERC’s examination of the potential for various on-site renewable energy resources, the project team concluded that solar electricity is the most economically viable technology for the tribe to pursue. We recommended three suitable sites for roof top installation: the Trinidad Pier bathroom and water treatment plant, the Trinidad Pier Guest House, and the tribal office building. These sites could accommodate systems of 8.2kW, 2.1kW, and 10.5kW respectively. As the Rancheria has sovereign nation status, they do not pay taxes, which in turn means that they do not qualify for the 30% tax credit or accelerated depreciation benefits available to those in the private sector. As a result, payback periods are noticeably longer (9 – 11 years) than for systems installed by private businesses with substantial tax obligations. Nevertheless, an investment in this technology would pay for itself over a reasonable time frame, and the electrical energy generated by these systems would continue to reduce the Rancheria’s dependence on PG&E long into the future.

Greenhouse Gases
If all of the recommendations discussed in this article were to be implemented, the tribe could reduce its GHG emissions by 65.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. This amounts to a nearly 10% reduction of the tribe’s estimated GHG emissions associated with current electricity usage levels.

SERC would like to thank the Trinidad Rancheria for the chance to perform this energy assessment work. We are pleased to have found numerous opportunities for the tribe to reduce energy costs, decrease GHG emissions, and increase energy security. We look forward to supporting the tribe in their future efforts to meet their sustainable energy goals.

SERC’s Off-grid Solar Testing Laboratory Gains International Recognition

ANAB-Test-Lab-2CSERC recently became accredited under ISO/IEC 17025, the single most important standard for testing laboratories around the world. This accreditation recognizes SERC’s technical competence to perform laboratory testing and produce precise and accurate test results. Specifically, SERC is accredited to carry out electrical and photometric testing of off-grid solar lighting products. This accreditation may be expanded in the future to include off-grid solar home systems and other technologies.

SERC leads the World Bank Group’s Lighting Global Quality Assurance program for off-grid solar lighting products, and tests dozens of these products each year. This new accreditation enables our test results for quality-assured, off-grid solar lighting products to be recognized by governments around the world, easing the importation of these products into countries that greatly need them. This in turn will increase access to these products for the many people in developing countries who currently rely on dangerous, unhealthy, expensive and dim kerosene lighting.

To become accredited under ISO/IEC 17025, we undertook a six-month process to formalize and update our laboratory quality management system. This included putting comprehensive policies and procedures and rigorous quality control practices in place, and training staff to follow these. All of our relevant equipment was also sent for calibration to ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratories to ensure that we produce the most precise and accurate results possible.

SERC was then assessed by ANAB, our ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation body. For two days in December, a visiting assessor audited our policies and procedures and witnessed testing conducted by SERC staff. After the visit, the assessor provided us with a list of non-conformities to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard, which we quickly addressed. As a result, our accreditation certificate was issued on January 8, adding SERC to the ranks of internationally recognized test laboratories.

Microgrid Project Groundbreaking Ceremony

Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony for our Microgrid project was a success – read more about the event and learn about the project goals and partners at the following:

SERC Teams With Trinidad Rancheria on Energy Planning

Jason Soto (left) of Trinidad Rancheria and Jim Zoellick of SERC perform a solar assessment atop the Trinidad Rancheria Seascape Vacation Rental in Trinidad, CA.

Jason Soto (left) of Trinidad Rancheria and Jim Zoellick of SERC perform a solar assessment atop the Trinidad Rancheria Seascape Vacation Rental in Trinidad, CA.

Thanks to a grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Energy and Mineral Development Program, SERC has begun a project with the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria. The Rancheria owns a portfolio of properties that includes multiple tribal operations buildings, homes, the casino complex and restaurant, the Trinidad Harbor pier and boat launch facilities, as well as the Seascape Restaurant, and its wastewater treatment plant.

Concerned about environmental impacts and ever-increasing energy costs, the Rancheria has hired SERC to perform an energy use assessment to determine ways in which energy consumption can be reduced as well as to examine the feasibility of producing renewable energy locally.  Renewable energy resources being investigated include solar, wind, and biomass.

The Rancheria is taking the long view. Their goal is not only to reduce energy consumption and expenses, but also to substantially reduce the carbon footprint of all of their individual members and businesses while working towards energy independence. The project is set to wrap in December; we will provide a final update in our Winter edition.

The Pico Power Revolution: Off-Grid Energy Services for Low Income People in Africa, Asia, and Beyond

SERC Director Arne Jacobson will kick off HSU’s Sustainable Futures Speaker Series spring lineup with a free, public presentation on Thursday, February 26 at 5:30pm in the Behavioral & Social Sciences Building room 166 on the HSU campus.

Jacobson is a professor in the Environmental Resources Engineering Department and Director of SERC. He serves as the technical lead for product quality assurance for Lighting Global, which is associated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs. Collectively, these programs have helped enable sales of over six million quality assurance solar lighting systems to people in off-grid areas of Africa and Asia.

Jacobson has a Ph.D. from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree focused on Environmental Resources Engineering from Humboldt State University, and a bachelor’s degree in physics from Earlham College. In 2010-11 he served as Senior Advisor in the Office of Policy and International Affairs at U.S. Department of Energy. His areas of research and work interest include renewable energy technologies, energy access in off-grid areas, and clean energy deployment policy.

RePower Humboldt: Blue Lake Elementary Heat Pump Study

Contractors installs one of the two heat pump units at Blue Lake Elementary school.

Contractors installs one of the two heat pump units at Blue Lake Elementary school.

In our last update we mentioned that SERC is working with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority to install and test heat pump systems at Blue Lake Elementary School. We hope to determine how well such systems work in our local climate and whether or not they can save money as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional systems.

Completed installation of the outdoor unit on top of the covered walkway in front of the classroom.

Completed installation of the outdoor unit on top of the covered walkway in front of the classroom.

In July, the project moved out of the planning phase and into hands-on implementation when HVAC contractor Crystal Air of Weaverville installed two Daikin mini-split units at the school. These systems consist of an outdoor compressor unit connected via insulated refrigerant lines to an indoor, wall mounted head (or air handler) which distributes the conditioned air throughout the classroom.

Data loggers with a USB cable for downloading the data to a laptop.

Data loggers with a USB cable for downloading the data to a laptop.

SERC installed a battery of monitoring sensors and data loggers on each of the heat pumps, as well as on the existing natural gas furnaces in two other classrooms. The information collected by the test equipment is being used to determine the amount of heat energy delivered to each of the classrooms as well as the total energy consumed by each of the systems in the process. In the case of the heat pumps, this consists entirely of electricity, while the gas furnaces (as the name implies) rely mostly on natural gas, but also require a moderate amount of electricity for the fan and other electrical components.

Following a shakedown period in which various problems were discovered and rectified, the system is now reliably collecting data around the clock. Preliminary results show that the heat pump systems are consuming less electricity than the conventional furnaces. However, the weather has been so mild up until recently that none of the systems have been used extensively. In addition, the colder it is outside, the more difficult it is for heat pumps to absorb enough energy from the outdoors to heat a room. The true test will come when outdoor temperatures are much lower and heat demand is correspondingly higher.

Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Alternative Fuel Pathways

AFRP logo-wpThis summer, in partnership with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) and other key regional partners, SERC embarked on a two-year Alternative Fuels Readiness Planning (AFRP) project funded by the California Energy Commission (CEC). This project seeks to assess the potential for development of alternative transportation fuels such as electricity, hydrogen, and some biofuels in the North Coast region of California. Each of the counties in the region (Humboldt, Mendocino, Del Norte, Trinity and Siskiyou) presents different challenges with respect to vehicle fleet, terrain and fuel demand. SERC is leading the analytical work, focusing on the costs and benefits of various alternative fuel pathways, and RCEA will lead the stakeholder engagement and strategic planning process.

The goal for the analytical work is to explore ways for the North Coast region to achieve the 10% reduction in fuel carbon intensity by 2020 mandated under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The optimal mix of alternative fuel vehicles and refueling infrastructure will depend on a variety of factors including commodity prices, policy implementation, carbon markets, electric grid mix, incentive structures, and fuel technology development. The simulation model being developed by SERC will enable local and state agencies and other partners to target incentives and investments in light of these realities.

Our first task was to figure out how much gasoline and diesel is being consumed on a yearly basis in each of the five counties. This involved collecting data from Air Quality Management Districts, CalTrans, the CEC, and other sources that track transportation markets and emissions. Additionally, we have catalogued existing alternative fueling stations (such as electric vehicle chargers and biodiesel fueling stations) in the region, and any measurable amounts of fuel they dispense.

With fuel quantities in hand, we will soon complete our simulation model, conduct the alternative fuels portfolio analysis, and then explore the potential impact of incentives on the adoption of alternative fuels. Ultimately, we will present the products of our work to regional stakeholders in the context of a strategic planning process. Using the stakeholders’ input, the team will set regional goals for alternative fuel adoption and define a roadmap to achieving a more sustainable transportation system.