SERC Studies Potential Wave Energy Test Center Off California Coast


The wave power resource off the coast of California and southern Oregon is substantial. Source: NREL’s MHK Atlas

Ocean waves represent a vast untapped energy resource that could someday become an important component of a diversified renewable energy portfolio. Each year, the equivalent of California’s total demand for electricity passes through our coastal waters as wave energy. Because of this enormous potential, there is a budding wave power industry looking to harness this power by installing wave energy conversion devices in the open ocean.

The wave energy industry is still relatively young. No one is certain what particular type of mechanism will extract energy from the waves at the least cost. There are dozens of manufacturers with a variety of device designs in various stages of development and, while wave tanks can be used to test scale models, open-ocean testing is critical to proving these devices under real-world conditions. Since the infrastructure and permitting requirements to install devices in the ocean are expensive, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking to fund a wave energy test facility on the West Coast in order to reduce these barriers and jump start the technology.

Right now, three sites are under consideration: Humboldt Bay, Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California, and Newport, Oregon. The DOE has funded two feasibility studies to explore the potential of each site. The California sites are under study by a partnership between Humboldt State University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and a variety of industry experts and stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels. SERC is leading the HSU team, which includes HSU faculty, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, and HT Harvey, a local consulting firm. The Oregon site is under study by researchers from Oregon State University. By this time next year, one of the three sites will be selected by DOE to receive implementation funding.

Humboldt Bay has a number of compelling advantages when it comes to offshore renewable development. It has the only deep-water port in California north of San Francisco Bay, the wave energy resource here is among the highest in the nation, and critical grid infrastructure already exists on our coast. Indeed, Pacific Gas & Electric studied our waters carefully during their WaveConnect project, which similarly sought to create a wave power test facility. Unfortunately, that project was abandoned for various reasons in 2011. In addition, the Humboldt Bay Harbor District has recently taken title to the former Freshwater Tissue Pulp Mill and is actively developing the site as a marine research and innovation park. The site could potentially be used as a base of operations for wave energy device manufacturing, deployment, and maintenance.

It’s important to note that a test center will not move forward in Humboldt or elsewhere without a thorough community engagement process that carefully examines the potential social and environmental impacts of development. In addition, both the Vandenberg and Newport sites, which are competing with Humboldt for the test center, have their own considerable advantages.

Wherever the national wave energy test center is sited, all of the western coastal states will eventually play a role in the development of commercial-scale wave energy. This project is an excellent opportunity to put some thought into our strengths and gaps as a host site. And adding to the possibilities for offshore development, the wind energy resource off our coast is also phenomenal and offshore windpower shares most of the same requirements in terms of infrastructure and permitting. No matter how this unfolds, the work happening now is an important stepping-stone toward the greater goal of a sustainable energy future.

Regional Sustainable Transportation Planning

This winter, SERC was part of two groups that won proposals from the California Energy Commission (CEC). The first is a regional alternative fuels planning project for Northwest California (including the counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Trinity, Siskiyou, and Shasta). In partnership with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, this effort will build upon our electric vehicle planning work and evaluate the opportunities and challenges for our region to transition away from a petroleum-fueled transportation system. All alternative transportation fuels will be included in the evaluation: electricity, hydrogen, biofuels, and compressed natural gas. The project will involve substantial engagement with regional stakeholders and include outreach, education, and training for planners, policy-makers, and fleet managers.

The second proposal funded by the CEC is to establish the Northern California Center for Alternative Transportation Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Technologies (North CAT). Led by U.C. Berkeley and with SERC as the northern satellite office, the Center will become a clearinghouse for outreach, training, demonstration, and dissemination of best practices surrounding alternative fuel transportation technologies. To accommodate this effort, we will be expanding the amount of office space at SERC. The funding will also be used to cover associated overhead and to coordinate with our Bay Area partners. Participation in the North CAT will increase the visibility of SERC’s sustainable transportation activities and open up exciting opportunities to advance alternative fuels throughout Northern California.

Moving Forward with the RePower Humboldt Plan

Last spring, SERC worked with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) to release the RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan. The plan lays out long-term strategies and near-term implementation measures that can lead Humboldt toward a more sustainable energy future. Less than a year from the completion of that planning effort, we’re pleased to report that a substantial number of the implementation measures are already under way, and SERC is actively involved in several of them.

  • There are multiple efforts to utilize forest-based biomass resources in an ecologically sensitive and cost-effective manner.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy is funding a study to revisit the idea of a pilot-scale wave energy facility offshore from Humboldt Bay.
  • Locals and developers are still interested in harnessing wind and run-of-the-river hydro resources throughout the region.
  • SERC is working with RCEA to complete a regional plan to support the adoption of electric vehicles.
  • On the energy demand side of the equation, the efficiency programs at RCEA continue to grow and reach more local residents, businesses and schools.
  • RCEA will soon implement a heat pump pilot study in the City of Blue Lake.

While not exhaustive, this list makes it clear that our local community is serious about pursuing the vision articulated in the RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan, and that we already have the momentum to make substantial progress over the coming years!

SERC Continues Electric Vehicle Planning Work in Two New Regions

Earlier this year we reported on our plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) readiness planning work for Humboldt County. Building on this effort, SERC is now engaged in similar studies for New Delhi, India as well as the Upstate Region of California (covering the counties of Siskiyou, Shasta, and Tehama).

In partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SERC will be adapting our agent-based PEV model to simulate vehicle adoption and the need for public charging infrastructure in New Delhi, India. Among the many new challenges presented by this opportunity are capturing the impact of congestion on electric vehicle performance and simulating battery-swapping as an alternative to conventional charging. Like the Humboldt project, the Upstate Region readiness effort will involve a range of activities intended to prepare the region for the ongoing roll-out of plug-in electric vehicles. These tasks include adapting the infrastructure deployment model to evaluate the Upstate Region, streamlining permitting in the region, increasing public awareness about PEVs, and evaluating the challenges and opportunities associated with PEV adoption.

SERC Completes Siting Analysis for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure on the North Coast

Over half of Humboldt County’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Nationwide, the transportation sector contributes 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Plug-in electric vehicle (PEVs) present a compelling opportunity for communities to dramatically reduce these emissions along with air pollutants responsible for a wide range of adverse health impacts.

To support the successful introduction of PEVs to the North Coast, SERC is serving as the technical lead on the North Coast Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Study. Funded by the California Energy Commission, this work is being done in partnership with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and local engineering firm GHD.

One of the key questions we have addressed is how to deploy PEV chargers throughout the region in a cost-effective manner. This is a complex question. Where will PEV drivers live? Where will they drive? How long will they spend at their destinations? How will drivers adapt when they need a charge but no station is available?

Our approach to answering these questions was to develop an “agent-based” simulation model of PEV drivers in Humboldt County. Individual PEV drivers (or agents) are simulated as they conduct their daily travel throughout the county and interact with a hypothetical charging network. Drivers begin a day with a vehicle, an itinerary of trips, and a set of rules for how to behave. An example of a rule would be that drivers seek out a charger if their battery doesn’t have sufficient energy to make their next trip. Another example would be that some drivers elect to charge their vehicle even if it’s not necessary.

The simulation evolves over the course of the day as drivers follow their rule sets, interact with the charger network, and respond to changing circumstances. At the end of a simulation run, we can summarize the day’s events in a multitude of ways. Where, when, and how often did drivers charge? How many drivers experienced inconvenience of some kind (e.g., experienced a delay while waiting for a charger)? By repeatedly running the simulation with different charger locations, we can use the model to evaluate the impact of any hypothetical infrastructure scenario on driver inconvenience.

For a given penetration of PEVs into Humboldt County, we used optimization to find the infrastructure scenario that provided the greatest benefit to drivers for the least cost. The map of Eureka below provides an example of the recommended infrastructure for 2% penetration of PEVs, or roughly 3000 vehicles. Maps of the whole county can be downloaded at

The recommended PEV charging infrastructure for the City of Eureka for 2% penetration of PEVs, or roughly 3000 vehicles. The estimated cost of this scenario is $130k.

The recommended PEV charging infrastructure for the City of Eureka for 2% penetration of PEVs, or roughly 3000 vehicles. The estimated cost of this scenario is $130k.

We also developed some general conclusions about the optimal siting of PEV chargers in Humboldt, which are likely transferable to other rural communities:

  • Overall, relatively few chargers are needed to support a large number of PEV drivers.  Approximately 45 public chargers were sufficient to support about 3000 drivers in the 2% penetration scenario. Drivers will be able to accomplish most of their travel needs (~90%) just by charging at home.
  • Chargers tend to be sited in and around population centers and major regional corridors.
  • Level 2 chargers (which can charge a Nissan Leaf in ~5-6 hours) provide a more cost-effective means of supporting PEV drivers than DC fast chargers (which can charge a Leaf in less than 1 hour). This is primarily because DC fast chargers are about 10 times more expensive to install and only charge batteries to 80% of full capacity.
  • Exact siting of chargers is flexible. Chargers can be sited in one zone or a neighboring one and the overall impact on PEV drivers will be about the same as long as the total need for chargers in that region is satisfied.

Our deployment guidelines wouldn’t be complete without an estimate for when the infrastructure should be in place. To answer this question, we looked at the historic adoption of the Toyota Prius and other hybrids in Humboldt. If we assume that drivers will adopt PEVs at the same rate as hybrids, then we would expect that 1% of the light duty vehicles in Humboldt will be PEVs by approximately 2018 and 2% by 2025. In other words, there’s little time to spare in rolling out PEV chargers.

Fortunately, the North Coast PEV Readiness team is already working on a near-term implementation plan. Critical to this plan is identifying specific sites where the first wave of PEV chargers might be installed. This process involves soliciting input and feedback from a variety of municipalities and local stakeholders to ensure that the final sites reflect the needs and priorities of the whole community. If you’d like more information, or want to participate in this process, contact the Redwood Coast Energy Authority.

North Coast Electric Vehicle Planning Study

As part of a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) planning study for our North Coast community, SERC engineers have been busy developing a simulation model of PEV drivers and their experiences traveling through the county in electric vehicles. The model will allow us to investigate the demand for public charging stations and make recommendations for prioritizing which sites are the most critical to supporting the widespread adoption of PEVs in Humboldt County. We are working in collaboration with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and GHD (formerly Winzler and Kelly) on this study funded by the California Energy Commission.

Meanwhile, there is recent good news for electric vehicle owners in the county. Ourevolution Energy & Engineering will receive funding from the California Energy Commission to install electric vehicle charging stations in Eureka and Arcata. The two stations, which could be installed by the beginning of 2013, will feature ChargePoint equipment by Coulomb Technologies. This project will increase the number of modern charging stations in Humboldt County from one to three and increase the total number of public stations from three to five.

Wind Energy in Humboldt County

Harlock Hill Wind Farm

The wind farm on Bear River Ridge would look similar to this wind farm in the United Kingdom. (Photo credit Andrew Smith.)

For the past two years, SERC has conducted a renewable energy planning study through the California Energy Commission’s Renewable Energy Secure Communities (RESCO) program (see recent RESCO post).  Together with our project partners the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, we’ve taken a comprehensive look at the potential for local renewable energy in Humboldt County.

Here is what we learned.

  • We have the resources to supply most, if not all, of our energy needs with renewable sources.
  • No single resource is sufficient on its own; we must simultaneously develop multiple resources.
  • The most practical resources in order of increasing cost are energy efficiency, wind, small hydro, biomass, wave, and solar.

One thing that stands out in these conclusions is that wind power is the most cost effective of the renewable energy generation technologies.  That’s of particular interest because, right now, people in Humboldt County are engaged in a debate over a proposed wind power development project on Bear River Ridge, about 5 miles south of Ferndale (see map below).  ShellWind has proposed building a 50 MW wind farm on the ridge by installing 25 turbines and an associated substation.

Bear River Ridge wind energy project map

ShellWind has been working on this project for several years and is nearing the end of the feasibility phase of the project.  They have collected wind data, conducted environmental studies, including bird and bat surveys, and held public meetings.  Details can be found on Humboldt County’s web site,

On the plus side, the wind farm would produce enough renewable electricity to power 22,000 Humboldt County homes, and generate 10% of our countywide electricity.  It would create local jobs and generate local revenues.  It would directly displace the burning of natural gas at PG&E’s Humboldt Bay Power Plant.  The project would increase our local energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase our local air quality.

But a wind farm is a substantial civil project, requiring a large capital investment and involving industrial-scale construction activities.  Naturally, people are concerned about the potential negative impacts of the project.  The debate has become heated, with pro and con editorials and letters in local papers and discussions on local radio.  At a recent Ferndale City Council meeting, ShellWind made a presentation and attracted an overflow crowd, with strong opinions being expressed.  SERC also attended and director Peter Lehman made a presentation, “Facts About Wind Power,” at the meeting.  You can find Peter’s presentation at:

The range of concern reflects the diverse composition of our community.  Some are worried about the impacts of construction on local tourism and quality of life; some are concerned over the impacts to the local environment; some are bothered by the aesthetic impact of tall turbines on the scenic, coastal landscape; and some are simply opposed to a multi-national oil company doing business in Humboldt County.  Adding to the general tumult, there has been some misinformation circulating about this project and wind in general.  In addition to appearing on radio programs, writing editorials, and our Ferndale presentation, we’ve published a web page to address some of these topics and present relevant facts:

We’ve considered these facts and debated the pros and cons here at SERC.  We believe the benefits outweigh the consequences so we’ve gone on record in favor of the project.  Of all the renewable resources we might develop locally, wind is the easiest to accomplish at scale, as well as the most cost effective.  ShellWind expects to make a profit from the sale of wind electricity—without government subsidies—and is prepared to invest $125 million to complete this project.  It is hard to imagine how Humboldt County would raise funds of that magnitude otherwise.

We feel that saying no to this wind project would be missing a rare opportunity to implement the RESCO vision and put Humboldt County on a path toward a sustainable and secure energy supply.  At the same time, we recognize that the concerns being raised by the local community are real and need to be addressed.  We’re working with both sides—ShellWind and local citizens—to try and see this project through.

Being on the front lines of renewable energy development and being in the middle of a sometimes intense, politically charged debate has been a new and challenging experience for SERC.  Our mission has always been to promote clean and renewable energy.  We’re finding out what that really means.

SERC to Conduct Wave Monitoring & Modeling Research for PG&E WaveConnect

Ocean Wave

Ocean Wave (Image credit Wikimedia Commons)

Humboldt County is awash with renewable energy resource potential and wave power is the largest by far. Pacific Gas and Electric recognizes this potential and is developing a pilot scale wave power facility called WaveConnectTM off the coast of the Samoa Peninsula, directly west of HSU. Their objective is to install a “power strip under the sea” providing wave power manufacturers an opportunity to deploy and evaluate their wave energy conversion (WEC) devices.

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Promoting Nationwide Energy Efficiency Through Measurement and Performance-Based Rewards

2008 Performance Based State Efficiency Results

2008 Performance Based State Efficiency Results (Credit SERC)

Over the last two years, SERC has been engaged in energy efficiency policy analysis at the national scale. The National Resources Defense Council’s Center for Market Innovation contracted SERC to answer the question: Can progress in energy efficiency and energy conservation be tracked at the state level? If so, can a metric be developed to rank states and reward high performers? In short the answer is yes, but better data are needed before the government should begin to implement a program to reward states for energy performance.

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RESCO Energy Balance Dashboard (Image credit SERC)

RESCO Energy Balance Dashboard (Image credit SERC)

The Humboldt County Renewable Energy Secure Community (RESCO) study is off to a strong start. We began the project in November of 2009 and since that time we have developed a single-node electricity dispatch model, gathered data on local renewable energy resources and local electricity demand, researched energy storage technologies, worked with NREL to obtain and customize economic impact assessment models, and collected renewable energy cost data. Using our dispatch model we have examined some preliminary scenarios for renewable energy development in Humboldt County. The figure below shows the output from our model for one such scenario for the month of December. In this particular case, renewable resources, primarily in the form of biomass, wind, and wave power, supply 86% of the electricity demand for the month.

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