SEL Real-Time Automation Controllers

Last week, Schatz Center engineers Dave Carter and Marc Marshall attended a training in Portland, Oregon to learn about the capabilities of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories’ (SEL) Real-Time Automation Controllers (RTAC). Designed for use in utility substations and other industrial control and automation systems, these rugged controllers are powerful, flexible, and configurable.

The Center currently has multiple projects where the SEL RTAC will be used as part of the control system, including the Redwood Coast Airport (ACV) Microgrid. The rigorous three-day training covered a broad range of RTAC capabilities and strengthened our foundation in automation and control for energy efficiency and renewable energy systems.

Dave Carter sitting at a laptop connected to SEL equipment

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories RTAC training

Microgrid Feasibility Study for UCSC

The Schatz Center is working with GHD, an international engineering firm, to conduct a microgrid feasibility study for the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). The study is focused on a former semi-conductor manufacturing facility that was acquired by UCSC and is being converted to offices and research lab space. UCSC wants to install a microgrid with renewable energy generating capacity of 2 to 4 Megawatts, allowing the facility to island and operate independently of the Pacific Gas & Electric grid as well as parallel with and provide support to PG&E’s grid in Santa Cruz. Another important objective is to use the microgrid as a teaching and learning laboratory by including both commercially mature and emerging/experimental technologies as well as advanced supervisory control and data acquisition systems.

The study includes:

  • evaluating microgrid technologies,
  • assessing space requirements for generation and storage technologies,
  • developing a design load profile for full occupancy,
  • selection of recommended technologies,
  • developing a site plan and one line diagram,
  • estimating construction costs,
  • evaluating interconnection requirements/constraints,
  • developing an implementation plan including potential funding sources,
  • identifying educational curriculum opportunities, and
  • evaluating how to connect the facility with the adjacent UCSC Coastal Sciences Campus to create one large microgrid that could support both of these facilities.

This project is currently active and scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017. The project is funded by the UC Regents.

Biomass Utilization Feasibility Study for the Karuk Tribe of California

The Schatz Center is assisting the Karuk Community Development Corporation (KCDC) with a biomass utilization feasibility study. The Karuk Tribe of California (KTOC) has aboriginal territory encompassing the Klamath River and Salmon River watersheds in Northern California. These lands are heavily forested and have been adversely impacted by postcolonial land use practices like timber production and wildfire suppression. Large, destructive wildfires have become an annual occurrence in and around Karuk territory, and there is widespread agreement among land managers that forest practices in the region need to change. The KTOC is leading this change through eco-cultural revitalization efforts that involve putting beneficial fire back on the land and restoration of traditional oak woodlands. Within this context, there is a role for utilization of biomass residuals that are removed through mechanical treatment. The Schatz Center is evaluating economic development opportunities for the KCDC to utilize forest residuals.

The overall goal of the project is to determine the feasibility of using local, renewable biomass resources that are available to the KTOC to generate power, heat, or products, while creating jobs, fostering environmental stewardship, and providing benefits to the Tribe’s economy. The objectives of this project are to determine the resource availability, identify technologies that could be implemented, and calculate the financial viability of potential projects.

This project is currently active and is funded by US Department of Interior Indian Affairs Energy and Mineral Development Program. We expect to complete the project by the second quarter of 2018.

Blue Lake Rancheria Microgrid

Since September, SERC’s microgrid team has been engaged in intensive design work with partners Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Siemens, Tesla, REC Solar, GHD, Idaho National Labs (INL), Robert Colburn Electric, and Kernen Construction. Commissioning of the microgrid is scheduled for October 2016, and we are keenly aware of how much work there is still to do.

Meeting the commissioning schedule requires strategic planning, hard work, and close coordination. Our implementation methodology involves an integrated design approach, with engineers and contractors collaborating on development construction plans as well as equipment and operational specifications. Design reviews and cost checks are programmed into the schedule at the 50% and 90% levels to build and maintain consensus among stakeholders and to determine if value engineering is required as we work towards construction-ready plans. One critical path is obtaining the necessary approvals from PG&E; we have worked to expedite aspects of that process that are under our control.

We accomplished several important milestones in January. The 50% design review and cost check were conducted, and the results indicate that no major course corrections are needed. Our Early Start design package was released for construction on schedule. We also submitted our interconnection application to PG&E.

Looking ahead, we are scheduled to release the design for construction in June, which is also when Siemens is scheduled to complete Factory Acceptance Testing on the microgrid controller. INL will then conduct hardware-in-the-loop testing of the controller in their real-time digital simulator prior to installing it at BLR in September. Meanwhile, construction will be ramping up as the weather dries out this spring.

Analyzing Opportunities for PV Systems on the North Coast

Last spring, the North Coast Resource Partnership (NCRP) issued a call for applications from small water and wastewater service providers in disadvantaged communities to host demonstration projects. The goal was to identify projects that would serve to “beta-test” a small community resources toolkit, provide real engineering support to providers, and develop case studies to serve as examples for the North Coast region as a whole.

Technical assistance for the projects selected by the NCRP was led by GHD Inc. in Eureka, CA. SERC was subcontracted by GHD to complete a photovoltaic (PV) analysis for the Smith River Community Services District’s (SRCSD) water pumping facilities using methods that could be replicated as part of the small community resources toolkit.

The System Advisor Model (SAM), developed by the National Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, was selected because SAM is a free, robust, and well-supported analysis platform. Also, data collected with a Solar PathfinderTM during the site visits was easily imported into the SAM model to account for shading at the proposed array locations.

Internal view of one of the seven water pumping facilities owned and operated by the SRCSD that were analyzed for opportunities to install photovoltaic systems.

Internal view of one of the seven water pumping facilities owned and operated by the SRCSD that were analyzed for opportunities to install photovoltaic systems.

SERC engineers analyzed seven of the SRCSD facilities and found that if PV systems were implemented on an individual basis, the simple payback periods ranged from 8 to 12 years, given the current incentive and pricing landscape. If the systems were aggregated together, the simple payback period would be about nine years to install 64 kW DC of PV generating capacity that could meet approximately 70% of projected SRCSD electrical loads. As a result of this work, SERC recommended that the SAM model and the Solar PathfinderTM be incorporated into the NCRP Small Community Resource Toolkit.

BRDI Waste to Wisdom: Torrefaction Partner Selected

As reported previously, SERC is leading the biomass conversion technology demonstration portion of the Waste to Wisdom project. Waste to Wisdom is examining the entire biomass supply chain, from collection, transportation, and pre-treatment of the material in the woods, to the conversion of the material into energy and other marketable products. Our role is to oversee the testing and evaluation of three biomass conversion technologies: a biochar unit, a briquetter, and a torrefier.

We are pleased to announce that the Norris Thermal Technologies (NTT) of Tippecanoe, Indiana is joining the project as the torrefaction research and development partner. SERC conducted a competitive selection process involving 10 firms currently operating in the biomass torrefaction space. NTT’s proposal stood out due to the readiness of their team’s technology and their ability to field mobile torrefaction systems at two different scales within the project’s budget and schedule constraints.

NTT's pilot torrefaction unit.NTT will provide a pilot-scale torrefaction unit (see photo at right) for field-testing during the summer of 2015. This unit, which was recently operated alongside two other biomass conversion units in a demonstration sponsored by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, is trailer mounted and will be modified and then delivered to a forest operations site of our choosing near Arcata, CA.

After completion of pilot testing, NTT’s team will build a larger torrefaction reactor of the same design and retrofit it into a shipping container. NTT will then ship this containerized unit to Arcata for testing at a forest operations site and provide an operator for testing. Testing of the larger unit is currently scheduled for the summer of 2016. We are looking forward to continuing our biomass conversion research efforts with such a strong industry partner and we are confident that the torrefaction research objectives of the Waste to Wisdom project will be met through collaboration with NTT.

BRDI Waste to Wisdom

biochar machine2

Biochar unit with instrumentation installed for testing.

In late July, Marc Marshall, Mark Severy, and I traveled to Pueblo, Colorado to conduct testing on a biochar production machine manufactured by Biochar Solutions Incorporated (BSI). The purpose of our three-week trip was to collect experimental data for use in evaluating stand-alone operation (i.e. without an external source of energy to power the process) of the biochar unit as part of the BRDI project.

Infrared image of biochar unit flare during operation.

Infrared image of biochar unit flare during operation.

Biomass conversion technologies (BCTs), such as the BSI biochar machine, can create higher market-value products in near-woods environments, justifying the transport of these products to market. This in turn could allow fuels reduction and forestry residual management projects to be implemented in greater numbers thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of catastrophic wildfires. One of the goals of the BRDI project is to explore whether stand-alone operation of BCTs improves the economic and environmental benefits of removing slash and other woody residues from the forest.

We spent the first week in Pueblo installing instrumentation on the machine and setting up the data acquisition system. During the second and third weeks, we conducted experiments producing biochar with various biomass feedstocks.The variations in feedstock included tree species, particle size, anatomical distribution, percent contamination, and moisture content. Additional experiments led to design changes in the feedstock drying system and the air injection system for the flare.

The machine generates significant heat while operating (see photo at right). Some of this thermal energy is used for drying feedstock and some is used to preheat fresh air that is injected into the flare for complete combustion. Beyond the heat used for those purposes, there is a significant amount of high quality thermal energy that could potentially be used to generate electricity to power the machine at a forest landing site. Over the coming months, we will analyze the data and evaluate technologies that could be paired with the biochar machine to generate process electricity for stand-alone operations in near-woods environments.