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.

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.

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.

lightinglab

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.