Speaker Series: Nick Lam on Black Carbon, Climate Change, and Kerosene Lighting

Please join us in welcoming Nicholas Lam of UC Berkeley as the next presenter in the spring 2013 Sustainable Futures Speaker Series. Nick will speak on Thursday, March 7 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in the Behavior and Sciences Building room 166 (BSS 166) on the HSU campus. The title of his talk is “Let There Be (Clean) Light: How Kerosene Lighting in Developing Countries Is Contributing to Climate Warming and the Global Disease Burden.”

Nick’s primary research interests address the relationships among household fuel use, air quality and human health. His current research focuses on measuring and modeling the contribution of household cooking and lighting in developing countries on human exposure, disease risk, and emissions of climate-altering air pollutants. He has conducted and managed numerous evaluations of cookstove performance and program impacts throughout Africa, South Asia and Latin America. This experience has allowed him the opportunity to develop curricula and training programs for local organizations and researchers on techniques for monitoring and evaluating household energy projects. He most recently served as director of the first US CDC Summer Cookstove Research Institute in Antigua, Guatemala. Prior to his efforts in household energy, he investigated the effects of air pollution on lead paint deterioration and its potential contribution to historic lead exposure in children. He is currently a doctoral student in Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

Recent research indicates that black carbon particulate emissions are the second most important contributor to global warming (carbon dioxide emissions are the first). In other words, according to the latest science black carbon’s contributions appear to be larger than methane, nitrous oxide, and a host of other greenhouse gases. Nick was the lead author on two very recent articles. One article outlined the significant global burden of disease associated with the use of kerosene lighting, while the second identified kerosene lighting is a key source of black carbon emissions. Technologies that replace kerosene lighting with cleaner alternatives therefore represent a significant opportunity to help improve health outcomes for low income people in off-grid areas while simultaneously helping to mitigate global climate change. Nick’s talk will provide insights on both the health and climate change dimensions of kerosene lighting. It should be a very interesting one, and I hope you will join us for the talk.

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.

A Message from the Director

I am honored to write my first newsletter column as Director of the Schatz Energy Research Center. The faculty, staff, and students who work at SERC are a talented and dedicated group of people, and it is a privilege to work with such a fantastic team.

As I start in this new role, I am conscious of the large shoes I am attempting to fill. Peter Lehman has directed SERC boldly and effectively since it was founded in 1989. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate closely with Peter over the years to come as he continues to play a leading role in his position as Founding Director.

Under the leadership of Peter and long time Co-Director Charles Chamberlin, SERC has built a reputation for taking on innovative and challenging renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that make a difference for the environment and society, carefully measuring and analyzing energy system performance, and building things that work. It was, in fact, these characteristics that attracted me to SERC, first as an Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) master’s student back in 1992 and later—after completing a PhD in Energy and Resources at UC Berkeley—as a faculty member in the ERE department in 2005. These traits are now deeply embedded into the culture of who we are at SERC, and we will, of course, strive to build on them.

Since becoming a Co-Director at SERC in 2007, I have worked with Peter, Charles, and the broader team to develop three key themes at the Center. First, we have worked to increase student involvement in SERC projects. Second, we have taken on interdisciplinary projects that combine technical rigor with policy and social science analysis. And third, we have diversified our portfolio of projects; for example, we now have a robust set of international efforts that complement our local, state, and nationally oriented projects. These will continue to be high priority themes going forward.

The lead story in this issue exemplifies the marriage between SERC’s longstanding core capabilities and the emerging themes we have been working to add. The GridShare project involves the application of smart grid concepts to improve the quality of electrical service from a village scale renewable energy mini-grid in Bhutan. Successful implementation involved collaboration with international partners and an interdisciplinary approach that spanned technical, socio-economic, and educational activities. The project was also a student-led effort that provided significant opportunities for learning and professional development for both graduate and undergraduate students.

Closer to home, in this issue we also report on an analysis of infrastructure needs for plug-in electric vehicle infrastructure for Humboldt County; the release of RePowering Humboldt, a strategic plan for scaling up renewable energy use over the next two decades here in Humboldt County; and progress on the HSU hydrogen fueling station upgrade. It is exciting to be involved in this diverse and meaningful set of projects. I look forward to many more in the years to come.