Energy Paths for the Yurok People

We recently helped the Yurok Tribe secure $180,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy and we are now working together to develop a Yurok Tribe Strategic Energy Action Plan. This plan will support the tribe’s efforts to increase energy efficiency, develop local renewable energy resources, reduce energy costs, and meet energy needs on the reservation. First we will identify potential energy projects that can help achieve these goals. This list will then be screened and prioritized based on technical feasibility, cost, likelihood of being funded, and other criteria. Finally, we will work with the Tribe to select a few key projects where we will develop preliminary design and cost information sufficient to “queue them up” for future funding and deployment.

Our work will be split between two key regions of the Reservation – the Klamath region at the mouth of the Klamath River (served by Pacific Power) and the upriver region near Weitchpec (served by Pacific Gas & Electric). Projects will be identified in these two regions that can provide economic, environmental, resilience, and energy security benefits. These may include community solar installations with energy storage, micro-hydropower, microgrid technologies, and participation in aggregate net metering programs. The Yurok Tribe has been working for years to make sure all tribal members on the reservation have access to reliable, affordable, modern, cost-effective energy services. This project aims to outline a clear path to achieving these goals.

RELATED EVENTS…

On Thursday, November 1, Santa Clara law professor Catherine Sandoval will present her research on “The Native American reservation electricity access gap: a case study of the Yurok Tribe’s leadership and next steps for energy justice and climate change.” The talk will be held at 5:30 pm in the Native American Forum on the HSU campus.

Dr. Sandoval’s research will also be released shortly in Energy Justice: US and International Perspectives (New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018).

Looking over a ridge toward evergreen mountains

Looking south along the Klamath River from the new Tulley Creek Transportation Building

A Ground-Breaking Ceremony for Blue Lake Rancheria’s Low-Carbon Community Microgrid

It was a beautiful day for a celebration. Keynote speakers included Congressman Jared Huffman and Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas. Entering the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) property the morning of August 24, I saw a huge banner announcing the Rancheria as one of 16 designated White House Climate Action Champions. Further onto the property were additional banners with words like “sustainable” and “clean energy.” And then I came to the banner that explained what the hoopla was all about: “Celebrating clean energy and climate action. Announcing a new project: low-carbon community microgrid.”

Jana Ganion, Blue Lake Rancheria Energy Director, addresses the crowd.

Jana Ganion, Blue Lake Rancheria Energy Director, addresses the crowd.

The event was a ground-breaking ceremony for the Blue Lake Rancheria Low-Carbon Community Microgrid Project. A partnership between the Schatz Energy Research Center, BLR, Siemens, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and others, the project is funded in part by a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge program. The multi-year project includes planning and design in year one, system installation in year two, and operation and performance analysis in year three.

Tribal leaders and project partners participate in a ceremonial ground-breaking.

Tribal leaders and project partners participate in a ceremonial ground-breaking.

According to the US Department of Energy Microgrid Exchange Group, “A microgrid is a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island-mode.” The Rancheria’s microgrid will feature a 400 kW-AC solar electric array (the largest in Humboldt County), 1 MWh of battery storage, a 175 kW fuel cell system powered by a woody biomass gasifier, and interruptible loads, all of which will be controlled by a Siemens microgrid controller.

Microgrid topology. Adapted and used with permission from Siemens.

Microgrid topology. Adapted and used with permission from Siemens.

The microgrid will provide numerous benefits to the Rancheria and the local community. First, the Rancheria is a nationally recognized American Red Cross critical support facility, and in the event of a natural disaster on the North Coast, such as a large earthquake or tsunami, serves as an emergency evacuation site. The microgrid system will be capable of providing stand-alone power for emergency critical loads almost indefinitely. The microgrid system will also provide numerous non-emergency benefits. The solar electric array and biomass powered fuel cell generator will provide on-site renewable power that will lower the Tribe’s greenhouse gas emissions and reduce their electric bills. In addition, the battery storage will be optimally managed by the microgrid controller to reduce power consumption during peak periods. This will serve to lower the Rancheria’s electric bills, while also providing benefits to the local PG&E electric grid.

Microgrids are envisioned to be an integral part of the electric grid of the future. In this grid of the future, which PG&E refers to as the Grid of Things™, instead of relying solely on large central-station power plants, much of our electrical power will come from smaller renewable generators located near the facilities that need the power. In addition, there will be controllable loads, energy storage and plug-in electric vehicles; all of these devices will be capable of interacting via smart controllers in order to optimize the performance of the overall system. The goal is to lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower prices, provide more secure and reliable power, and allow more local choice and control. The BLR’s low-carbon microgrid project will move us one step closer to the Grid of Things™. Perhaps Jana Ganion, BLR Energy Director, explained it best when she said, “What it means to me personally is that I can look my son in the eye and when he asks me about climate change I can tell him, sweetheart, I’m working on it.”

“This project shows the type of leadership and partnership that can advance California’s climate and renewable energy goals, help transform our energy system and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”  —  Karen Douglas, California Energy Commissioner

NorthCAT

NORTHCAT-LOGO-finalcolors5-20-15RGB-01SERC is the home of the new North State Regional Office of the Northern California Center for Alternative Transportation Fuels and Advanced Vehicles (NorthCAT).  The formation of NorthCAT was made possible by a grant from the California Energy Commission. The UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies is the project lead and, along with SERC, has joined with numerous other project partners to offer education, training, demonstration, and project deployment services to the Northern California region, which stretches from the San Francisco Bay Area north to the Oregon Border. One of SERC’s key roles is to serve the rural North State region.

SERC has just completed an office space expansion to house the NorthCAT office. A space designed as a hydrogen generation and storage room but used for general storage has been converted into a five-person workspace. All that remains is to add a sign on the door reading “NorthCAT North State Regional Office.” This new space will help us provide alternative fuel vehicle services to the region, and in conjunction with our larger facility, including our hydrogen fueling station, will allow us to host trainings, workshops, and demonstrations. We also have plans to add an electric vehicle charging station in our driveway, with interpretive signage to be funded by the CEC grant.

In other NorthCAT news, SERC has participated in the development of a NorthCAT Center Development Plan and SERC staff will attend a NorthCAT strategic planning meeting at UC Berkeley in August. Plans are also in the works to hold NorthCAT stakeholder outreach meetings in the North State region later this year to solicit input and spread the word about the new Center. Finally, a NorthCAT web page is under development and should go live by the end of this month.

RePower Humboldt: Biomass-Fired Fuel Cell Power System

The 175 kW biomass-fired fuel cell power system being installed at the Blue Lake Rancheria is nearly complete. The Proton Power gasifier has been installed and gone through initial start-up procedures, including heating up the gasifier to temperature and running the flare. The gas compression system (rotary claw compressor, syngas ballast tank, and reciprocating compressor) has been tested and the control strategy has been confirmed. The Xebec pressure swing adsorption (PSA) hydrogen purifier is installed and ready for testing, and the Ballard PEM fuel cell is in place and has undergone pre-commissioning. Most of the peripheral systems (biomass feed, control, fire alarm and life safety, cooling, and ventilation) are complete or very near completion. Our next steps will be to obtain a fuel with a moisture content no greater than 40% (wet basis); begin making syngas; test and confirm syngas quality; and then fully commission the PSA and fuel cell system, as well as the fully integrated system. We submitted a draft final report to the CEC in March, but work on the system will continue over the next few months until we achieve full system operation and performance testing. Following these activities a revised final report will be submitted.

The Proton Power biomass gasifier installed at the Blue Lake Rancheria.

The Proton Power biomass gasifier installed at the Blue Lake Rancheria.

Helping California Pursue Greenhouse Gas Reductions in the Transportation Sector

The State of California has set ambitious goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions:  a reduction to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.  According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), 28% of the State’s total greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to light-duty passenger vehicles. Understandably, the State has placed significant focus on reducing emissions in the transportation sector, with a key strategy being the widespread deployment of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). This includes both plug-in electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCVs), two technology areas where SERC has significant expertise.

As part of their policy analyses, CARB staff estimated that ZEV market penetration levels over the next three decades will need to reach dramatic levels in order for us to reach our greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. The figure below depicts a scenario where FCVs and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) make up a whopping 87% of the light duty auto fleet in 2050, with the remainder of the fleet being composed of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), and conventional vehicles.

Target Market Penetration Levels for Passenger Vehicles

State sponsored efforts to encourage and even require the widespread deployment of ZEVs include regulations requiring auto manufactures to sell a minimum number of ZEVs in the State; consumer rebates for ZEV purchases; funding to support local planning for ZEVs and associated fueling infrastructure; and funding to support the installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations.

Many of SERC’s projects over the last two decades have supported these efforts. In the early days (circa 1990), SERC developed a small fleet of FCVs and a hydrogen fueling station for SunLine Transit in Thousand Palms, CA. Later SERC provided technical support for AC Transit’s fuel cell bus program, and delivered hydrogen safety trainings for emergency first responders for FCV projects around the country. SERC designed and installed a hydrogen fueling station at Humboldt State University, which has enabled SERC to operate, test, and demonstrate a Toyota Highlander FCV for the last five years.

Participants check out EVs like this Nissan Leaf at the Upstate EV101 workshop in Redding, CA.

Participants check out EVs like this Nissan Leaf at the Upstate EV101 workshop in Redding, CA.

In the last few years, SERC has been involved in several California Energy Commission funded projects to support the deployment of ZEVs. These efforts have included Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness projects for the North Coast region (Humboldt, Trinity, and Del Norte counties) and the Upstate region (Shasta, Siskiyou, and Tehama counties). These two projects featured the development of plans to install EV charging stations throughout these regions. SERC’s work in these locales continues as we identify additional locations for EV charging stations and support the design and installation of many of these stations. In addition, we are working on a project to assess the opportunities and barriers associated with deployment of a wide array of alternative fuel vehicles in the North Coast region. This includes not only EVs and FCVs, but also biofuel and natural gas fueled vehicles.

SERC has also recently partnered with the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley and others to establish the Northern California Center for Alternative Transportation Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Technologies (NorthCAT).  NorthCAT will focus on education, training, demonstration, and deployment of alternative transportation fuels and advanced vehicle technologies in the Northern California region.

Watch future newsletters for updates on these projects as SERC continues to help the north state region move toward a low-carbon, sustainable transportation future.

RePower Humboldt: BLR Biomass to Energy Project

The design and procurement phases of the BLR Biomass to Energy Project are in full swing and the project team is involved in a flurry of activity. A group of engineers from SERC, as well as staff from Serraga Energy, LLC at the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) project site, are meeting weekly to discuss design decisions and move the effort forward. Frequent interactions are also taking place with our technology partners: Proton Power (gasifier), Xebec Adsorption (PSA gas cleanup unit), and Ballard Power Systems (fuel cell). Below is a list of key activities currently underway:

  • site layout is largely completed
  • fire marshal review – first phase is complete
  • site work has begun and will ramp up significantly over the next few weeks
  • gasifier is being fabricated – witness testing will occur in late July with delivery in August
  • PSA design and fabrication are underway – delivery is expected in late August
  • syngas compressor requirements have been specified and quotes have been obtained – orders will be placed in the next couple of weeks
  • fuel cell is on site – installation is slated for July or August
  • central control and monitoring system – design is underway
  • ventilation system – design analysis is underway
  • fuel storage and processing – design is underway
  • electrical service (auxiliary power supply and fuel cell generator/utility interconnection) – electrical engineer and contractor team are working on design, procurement, and the utility interconnect application with Pacific Gas & Electric
BLR site photo

Neil Harris (far right) with electrical and construction experts implementing site design at Blue Lake Rancheria. Photo credit Serraga Energy, LLC.

The next phases of the project will include component installation (summer and early fall 2014), system integration and commissioning (fall 2014), and system operation, data collection, analysis and reporting (late fall and winter 2014/15). Stay tuned for additional updates in upcoming newsletters.

RePower Humboldt Update

Dana Boudreau of RCEA displays air flow measuring equipment that will be used in the heat pump study.

Dana Boudreau of RCEA displays air flow measuring equipment that will be used in the heat pump study.

Numerous SERC staff are busy working on the RePower Humboldt with Community Scale Renewable Energy project. Most of our recent efforts have been focused on the design of the biomass gasification to fuel cell project at the Blue Lake Rancheria.  We also met recently with Redwood Coast Energy Authority staff at the Blue Lake Elementary School to scope out the installation and testing of a mini-split heat pump system.  The RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan indicated that use of heat pumps could be a cost effective way to utilize local renewable energy resources to meet heating demands while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  However, heat pump performance can vary significantly in different climates, so the strategic plan recommended conducting a heat pump pilot study to examine performance characteristics in the Humboldt climate.  Blue Lake Elementary will receive one or two heat pump systems to be installed in individual classrooms. These systems will be equipped with monitoring instruments. At the same time, we will measure the energy consumption and performance of the small natural gas furnaces that currently provide heat to these classrooms. This will allow us to evaluate the energy efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and greenhouse gas impacts associated with the heat pump systems compared to conventional heating systems. This information can then be used to inform decisions about the potential future installation of heat pump systems throughout the county.

SERC Co-Hosts Woody Biomass Workshop

Biomass energy is an important resource in Humboldt County and other heavily forested regions. Woody biomass residues include waste materials generated during timber harvest operations. Often referred to as slash piles, these materials are typically piled and burned in the forest. Small trees, limbs and brush cleared in fire hazard reduction efforts are another source of biomass that are often piled and burned. Under the right set of circumstances, these materials can be processed, transported and used as a renewable fuel source, providing environmental and economic benefits.

The Woody Biomass Utilization Group at the University of California, Berkeley has been working for many years to further the use of biomass energy. To accomplish this, they have hosted regional workshops throughout the state since 2006. This past fall they held a series of regional workshops with a focus on “community scale wood bioenergy.” SERC co-hosted one of these workshops at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center in Eureka.

The biomass workshop featured presentations and site tours, including the Community Scale Biomass Power System at Blue Lake Rancheria.

The biomass workshop featured presentations and site tours, including the Community Scale Biomass Power System at Blue Lake Rancheria.

November 7th was a beautiful day on the Eureka waterfront, and we had an enthusiastic turnout of more than 60 attendees, as well as a full slate of dynamic speakers. One key topic at the workshop was an update on California Senate Bill 1122. This bill, enacted in September of 2012, directs investor-owned utilities in California to purchase 50 MW of biomass power from community-scale, distributed energy systems of less than or equal to 3 MW. The woody biomass fuel must be sourced from by-products of sustainable forest management, such as materials generated during fire threat reduction activities. This bill will create new opportunities for the development of distributed biomass energy systems.

Other topics covered during the workshop included siting and permitting, project financing, feedstock and technology, and regionally specific topics such as local case studies and projects.  Presentations on local projects in which SERC is significantly involved included the RePower Humboldt planning project, which identified biomass energy as an important local renewable energy resource; the Blue Lake Rancheria biomass gasification project, where SERC is leading the design and installation of a local distributed biomass energy system; and the HSU Biomass Research and Development Initiative project, which is soon to get underway.

BLR Biomass Project

A key element of our RePower Humboldt vision is to use the county’s extensive biomass resource to produce electricity for local consumption. The goal of the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) Biomass Project is to do just that. We plan to gasify redwood sawdust from our mills, use it to produce hydrogen fuel for a fuel cell, and generate electricity for BLR’s hotel and casino complex. The system will be the first of its kind.

The project has a short timeline and we have a tremendous amount of work to accomplish before the March 31, 2015 project end date. Thankfully, we are making good progress and we see a successful path forward.

The key stages of the BLR project include system design, equipment procurement, installation, start-up and commissioning, testing and evaluation, and final reporting.  We are currently in the design phase. Before finalizing the selection of major system components we need to pin down the composition of the syngas (“syngas” is short for synthetic gas and refers to the gas that comes from the gasifier when biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen). We are now working with project partner Proton Power, Inc., the gasifier manufacturer, to have their syngas tested. The test will be performed by a third party vendor, the Shaw Group (recently acquired by Chicago Bridge and Iron Works, or CB&I).

We expect the gas to be predominantly hydrogen with carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide impurities. Hydrogen is the fuel that will power the fuel cell. Carbon monoxide is detrimental to fuel cell operation and must be removed.  The gas will be cleaned up to a purity of greater than 99.9% hydrogen using a pressure swing adsorption unit, or PSA.  We are working with project partner Xebec Adsorption, Inc. to design and provide a PSA that will meet our requirements.

Once we know the syngas composition, we will also be able to specify other key components, including gas compressors and buffer storage tanks needed in the system. The final component in the system, the fuel cell generator, has already been purchased by the Rancheria and is sitting on their property.  It is a 175-kW Ballard ClearGen™ fuel cell. Over the next 15 months we will be very busy working to complete this project, and we will be sure to take a few moments each quarter to up-date you on our progress. It’s exciting to be working on this state-of-the-art energy system right here in our backyard.

Biomass Energy Workshop

SERC is proud to be co-hosting a biomass energy workshop along with the University of California’s Woody Biomass Utilization Group.  The workshop will take place on November 7th from 8:30 AM to 5 PM at HSU’s Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center in Eureka.  Recent energy planning work conducted by SERC identified biomass as a key renewable energy resource for our North Coast communities.  The goals of this workshop will be to:

  1. Increase practical understanding of critical environmental, engineering, and economic considerations for developing and retaining wood bioenergy systems.
  2. Provide a forum for stakeholders to identify issues, forge partnerships and articulate a vision for the role of wood bioenergy in forest restoration and management at the regional scale.

For more information and to register visit the workshop website here.