Lighting Lab: Solar a Dominant Power

For the past five years, SERC has helped lead the development of the Lighting Global quality assurance framework for small, solar-powered lights sold in countries ranging from Kenya to India. In 2009, a team of researchers from SERC, working with sponsorship from the Lighting Africa program (Lighting Global and Lighting Africa are associated programs of the World Bank Group), found that solar lamps represented a single-digit fraction of the off-grid lights available in markets in selected Kenyan towns. A follow-up visit in 2012 found that solar lamps had expanded to about a third of market share in these towns. This year when we returned to the same Kenyan towns, we discovered that solar products now represent a large majority (over 70%) of the total sales volume of off-grid lights in the market. Given that kerosene wick lamps and cheap, dry-cell battery flashlights had dominated the off-grid lighting market, the shift toward solar-powered LED lights represents a huge step forward in improving energy access for the rural poor.

SERC alum Peter Alstone (front) and UC Berkeley graduate student Dimitry Gershenson (back) interview retailers in Kericho, Kenya.

In partnership with the Energy Resources Group at UC Berkeley, the team broadened the scope of the research to include mapping the supply chain for solar lights in Kenya and investigating the growing potential for pay-as-you-go financing for solar home systems and small solar lights. Through dozens of meetings with distributors, micro-finance institutions, private companies, and NGOs in Nairobi, we were able to observe the positive impact of Lighting Africa’s engagement with key market stakeholders. The biggest decision-makers in the off-grid lighting supply chain are now dealing almost exclusively with products that meet the Lighting Global minimum quality standards. Looking forward, there is still much work to do. For example, many retailers still sell substandard off-grid lighting products, and there is a need to engage with these vendors and their customers to ensure they have information about product quality and performance when they look to buy an off-grid lighting product.

SERC Display Illuminates Efficient Solar Home Power Systems

SERC’s Lighting Lab recently finished testing efficient DC lighting products for use with off-grid solar home systems, as part of a competition administered by the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) Awards program. To highlight the awards program, SERC incorporated some of the winning products into a tabletop display illustrating the difference between a solar-powered system with inefficient lighting and one that uses state-of the-art LED lighting and super-efficient appliances. The display was then presented at the Fifth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) conference in Seoul, South Korea, on May 12 and 13, where ministers, energy officials, and observers from more than 21 countries and the European Union were in attendance. This year’s slogan was “Act Together, Think Creative.”

Each system includes a 40 watt (W) solar panel, a charge controller, and a 70Ahr battery. In the “inefficient” system, these power a single 25 W incandescent bulb for five hours a day. In the “super-efficient” system, the same solar panel and battery can power two LED lights, each brighter than the 25 W incandescent, for five hours a day; one radio for five hours a day; one 13 W super-efficient flat panel television for over three hours a day; one 6 W super-efficient fan for four hours a day; and one cell phone charger.

Clearly, the use of high efficiency appliances can greatly enrich people’s lives.

CEM5 display

Efficient solar home power system tabletop display.Photograph courtesy of IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

This project was a collaboration between the US Department of Energy (US DOE), the Collaborative Labeling and Appliance Standard Program (CLASP), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and SERC. Our team at SERC designed and built the portable display, while Carolyn McGregor of the US DOE, Matt Jordan of CLASP and Won Young Park of LBNL attended the CEM5 conference and manned the booth.

Sustainble Futures Speaker Series: Duncan Callaway of UC Berkeley

Please join us in welcoming Dr. Duncan Callaway of the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley as the next speaker in the spring 2014 Sustainable Futures speaker series. Duncan will speak on Thursday, April 10 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in Science B room 135 (SciB 135) on the HSU campus. The title of his talk is “Leveraging Large Data Sets and Control to Enable Low Carbon Power Systems.”

Duncan Callaway is an Assistant Professor of Energy and Resources and Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. After receiving his PhD from Cornell University, he was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow and held senior engineering positions in the energy industry. Prior to joining the University of California he was a Research Scientist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His current research interests are in the areas of (i) modeling and control of aggregated electricity loads and storage devices, (ii) spatially distributed energy resources, (iii) environmental impact assessment of energy technologies, and (iv) using information technology to improve building energy efficiency.

Duncan’s work is linked to important innovations associated with concepts such as the ‘smart grid’ and other information technology enabled approaches to deploy clean energy. His talk should be a good one, and we encourage you to attend.

Sustainable Futures: Preparing for Plug-in Electric Vehicles on the North Coast

We are pleased to have Matthew Marshall of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and Colin Sheppard of SERC as the next speakers in the spring 2014 Sustainable Futures series. They will speak on Thursday, March 13 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in Science B room 135 (SciB 135) on the HSU campus. The title of their talk is “Preparing for Plug-in Electric Vehicles on the North Coast.”

Matthew Marshall is the Executive Director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. Matthew has been involved in a variety of energy and sustainable development planning, policy, and implementation endeavors. Matthew previously served as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program Administrator for the City and County of Denver, where he was responsible for developing and managing greenhouse gas reduction projects and community partnerships in support of Denver’s Climate Action Plan. A graduate of Humboldt State University, Matthew’s work on innovative sustainable energy systems has been recognized and honored by the National Hydrogen Association, the U.S. Department of Energy, the California Hydrogen Business Council, and the United States Congress.

Colin Sheppard is a Research Engineer at SERC. Colin has been involved in a variety of regional energy planning projects for the North Coast and beyond.  His professional passion is to apply quantitative analysis to sustainable energy problems, exploring the dynamic interactions within complex energy, economic, and environmental systems.  Colin studied Symbolic Systems at Stanford University and Environmental Resources Engineering at Humboldt State and has been working at SERC since 2008.

Electric vehicles have great potential to contribute to an environmentally sustainable transportation system. Expanding the use of electric vehicles will require investments in public chargers and other supporting infrastructure. Matthew and Colin’s talk will provide insights into recent innovative work related to electric vehicle infrastructure development here on the the North Coast.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Richard Norris

It is our pleasure to host Dr. Richard Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography as the next speaker in the spring 2014 Sustainable Futures speaker series. Richard will speak on Thursday, March 6 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in Science B room 135 (SciB 135) on the HSU campus. The title of his talk is “Geologic Analogs to Future Global Change.” The event is co-sponsored by HSU’s Marine and Coastal Science Institute.

Richard Norris works on climate and evolution in the oceans on a variety of time scales. A good deal of his work is focused on the biological and physical processes that structure marine biodiversity. These studies rely on fossils and geochemical analysis of marine sediment cores and the zoogeography of modern plankton and fish. He is also interested in human impacts on the environment, and forecasting where the “tipping points” lie in marine ecosystems. Richard’s background includes a BS from UC Santa Cruz, a MS from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He was a postdoc and research scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution before joining Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2002.

The interactions between carbon dioxide emissions, global climate change, and ocean ecosystems are both important and complex. Richard Norris is one of the world’s leading scientists for the study of these interactions, and we are very pleased to have an opportunity to hear him speak. We hope that you will join us in welcoming him to campus.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Adam Browning

Unfortunately, inclement weather precluded Adam from making it to campus in time to deliver his talk. We hope to reschedule; stay tuned.

HSU’s Sustainable Futures Speakers Series spring lineup kicks off on February 6 with Adam Browning of Vote Solar. Adam will present a free, public lecture from 5:30pm-7:00pm in Science B 135 on the HSU Campus. The title of his talk is “Solar Market Development in the US: Theory, Practice, and Prognostications.”

Adam is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Vote Solar Initiative, a non- profit organization with the mission of bringing solar energy into the mainstream. Vote Solar got its start with a successful ballot initiative for a $100 million solar revenue bond in San Francisco in 2001, and since then has been working with state and municipal governments on pro-solar policies, with the goal of jumpstarting the national transition to renewable energy. Vote Solar has 10 advocates spread across the country, working full-time to advance solar markets.

Prior to Vote Solar, Adam spent eight years with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s San Francisco office, where he won the Agency’s top pollution prevention award for developing a program that reduced air emissions of mercury. Adam received a BA with Distinction from Swarthmore College in 1992, and served with the Peace Corps in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.

California is a leader in solar technology adoption, and Vote Solar deserves considerable credit for its advocacy work over the past decade. If you are interested in the politics of solar power adoption, you should not miss this talk.

For more information call (707) 826-4345.

Lighting Laboratory Conducts Testing for Global LEAP Competition

With 1.3 billion people globally still living without access to reliable electricity, there remains an acute and persistent need for affordable, efficient, and quality off-grid appliances. For over five years, engineers at SERC, along with other independent consultants, have worked to support the quality assurance of off-grid lighting products through the Lighting Africa, Lighting Asia, and Lighting Global projects, jointly funded by the IFC and World Bank Group.

Due to our background in quality assurance testing and research for off-grid lighting appliances, SERC was approached to become the lead testing laboratory for the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) Off-Grid LED Lighting Awards. The Awards Competition is a Clean Energy Ministerial energy access program that “recognizes the highest quality, most energy-efficient products, and then promotes those products to off-grid market stakeholders.” The Collaborative Labeling and Appliance Standards Program is the Awards Operating Agent and Administrator conducting the competition.


Left to right: SERC Director Arne Jacboson and Research Engineers Kristen Radecsky and Robert Hosbach use an integrating sphere to measure the light output of a lighting product.

The Awards Competition consists of two judging rounds, the first of which was completed in November. Our team is preparing to thoroughly test the LED lighting products that passed the first judging round—a process that will take the next few months to complete. The results generated at SERC will be evaluated by an independent, expert judging panel to determine the best LED products in each nomination category. The Awards will culminate with the announcement of the winners at the fifth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) gathering in Seoul, Republic of Korea in May 2014.

Aqueous Phase Reformation: New Pathway for Renewable Biomass to Offset Fossil Fuels

I’ve been leading a new area of research aimed at offsetting natural gas consumption with hydrogen produced from biomass-derived sugars or waste glycerol from biodiesel production. The process utilizes waste heat in the exhaust from internal-combustion-engine power plants to drive chemical reactions that produce hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be blended with the primary natural gas fuel in order to enhance combustion. Hydrogen-enriched combustion can increase efficiency by up to 20% and reduce emissions of NOx by more than 95%.

The current project is focused on understanding the use of catalysts in aqueous phase reformation (APR) processes to speed up chemical reactions so that medium-temperature waste heat can be used to reform a wide range of plant based feedstocks.

Mark Severy recently graduated with a M.S. in Environmental Resources Engineering from HSU.  His thesis modeled the waste heat resources available from large internal-combustion-engine power plants like the one at the Humboldt Bay Generating Station. His work demonstrates that, depending on engine type and operating conditions, there is sufficient waste heat to replace a significant portion of the natural gas with hydrogen produced from waste glycerol left over from biodiesel production.  His work also shows that water vaporization in APR can consume a significant portion of the recovered waste heat.  By raising the APR pressure, this water vaporization could be reduced. We are currently applying for grants to experimentally investigate high-pressure APR.

Waste heat from engine exhaust is used to convert the feedstock into hydrogen rich gas. The hydrogen produced in the reformer will be mixed with natural gas and air in the combustion engine to increase efficiency and reduce emissions.

Waste heat from engine exhaust is used to convert the feedstock into hydrogen rich gas. The hydrogen produced in the reformer will be mixed with natural gas and air in the combustion engine to increase efficiency and reduce emissions.

Speaker Series: Nathan Hultman on US Climate Policy

HSU’s Sustainable Futures Speaker Series presents Nathan Hultman, Associate Professor and Director of the Environmental Policy Program at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. He is also a Fellow at the Brookings Institution and Associate Director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Dr. Hultman will give a free, public lecture at 5:30pm Thursday, October 10 in Gist Hall 218 on the Humboldt State University campus. The title of his talk is, “US Climate Policy and Prospects for a 2015 International Climate Agreement.”

Dr. Hultman’s research focuses on energy technology transitions in diverse development contexts; clean technology innovation; international climate policy; and private sector decisions to undertake low-carbon investments. He has participated in the UN climate process since the Kyoto meeting and is a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Before joining the University of Maryland, Dr. Hultman held a faculty appointment at Georgetown University and was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Institute for Science, Innovation, & Society. He holds a Ph.D. in Energy & Resources from the University of California, Berkeley.

SERC Receives Funding for Bio-Energy Research

A $95,000 California Energy Commission (CEC) grant enables SERC, in partnership with Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT) of San Mateo, to continue experiments aimed at converting slash from logging and fuel reduction efforts into energy dense bio-coal. RFT has developed a pilot-scale, one ton per day torrefier which produces bio-coal from timber waste by heating biomass to 300°C in the absence of air. Bio-coal can be co-fired in a power plant with standard fuels such as coal or wood chips to generate renewable electricity.

This new project involves measuring the energy and mass balances in RFT’s pilot-scale unit. These measurements will aid in designing the torrefier for mobile, stand-alone operation and optimizing the technology for commercial use. Mobility is considered crucial if torrefier technology is to become commercially viable. A good deal of forest debris lies in remote, difficult to reach locations, generating high logistics overhead. By making biomass three times as energy dense, the mobile torrefier would provide a far more economical approach as well as a major incentive to commercial conversion of timber waste into very low carbon renewable energy.

The CEC also awarded SERC Faculty Research Associate Dr. David Vernon $94,993 to examine the use of sugars from biomass to offset fossil fuel use, increase efficiency and reduce emissions in combustion processes. This work uses plant-derived sugars in chemical reactions that consume waste heat to produce a hydrogen-rich gas that can be mixed with traditional fuels to promote more complete combustion. This process has the potential to replace up to 50% of the fossil fuel and to increase efficiency by as much as 25%. It could also reduce emissions of NOx by over 95% while maintaining or reducing emission levels of other pollutants. If successful, the technology developed from this work could be retrofit onto existing gas turbines and engines in power plants and gas pipeline compressor stations without requiring costly modifications to the existing systems.

Graduate Student Assistants Mark Severy and Billy Karis (left) and Faculty Research Associate David Vernon test aqueous phase reformation reactions.

Graduate Student Assistants Mark Severy and Billy Karis (left) and Faculty Research Associate David Vernon test aqueous phase reformation reactions.

Specifically, this project explores the use of aqueous phase reformation reactions that directly process sugars and operate at lower temperatures than the gas phase reformation reactions that are being investigated for waste heat recovery elsewhere. Sugars can be produced from virtually any cellulosic biomass, including waste resources such as forestry slash, lumber mill waste, crop residues, portions of municipal solid waste, yard waste, etc. By operating at lower temperatures, aqueous phase reformation has the potential to recover significantly more waste heat compared to gas phase reformation reactions.