A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3Happy summer from sunny northern California. I am pleased to let you all know that SERC and the Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) department at Humboldt State University (HSU) are jointly conducting a search for a new tenure track faculty position. The person hired for the job will divide her or his time between teaching in the ERE department and conducting research at SERC. This is a fantastic opportunity for the right person, and we look forward to bringing a new, dynamic faculty member on board. See the announcement in this newsletter for additional vacancy details.

Speaking of new team members, we are pleased to welcome four new people to SERC. Our most recent addition is Ga Rick Lee, a senior energy analyst from Australia. Ga Rick will work on our energy access projects, including especially our projects related to quality assurance for off-grid lighting and energy systems for rural electrification in Asia and Africa. Much of our work in this area is linked to the World Bank Group’s Lighting Global, Lighting Africa, and Lighting Asia initiatives. Ga Rick worked most recently for the Australian Red Cross in the Philippines, and he brings considerable experience and expertise to our already strong energy access team. In addition, we have hired two HSU engineering students, Greg Pfotenhauer and Janoah Osborne, to work as research assistants on our energy access projects. Their efforts are focused on testing off-grid lighting products and other associated laboratory tasks. We are also very pleased to welcome Manan Parikh to SERC. Manan is working as a research assistant on work focused on assessment of the potential to expand the use of alternative transportation fuels in five northern California counties. These four new team members are in addition to David Carter, who, as I mentioned in our spring newsletter, joined SERC as a senior research engineer in May. We are very pleased to have all of these new people, and their expertise and enthusiasm, on board.

I will close by thanking everyone who was able to join us in celebrating our 25th Anniversary in May. We had a great celebration, and it was good to see many familiar faces and long time friends at the event. A special thanks goes also to the team from SERC who led the effort to organize the event. I appreciate all the good work that went into the preparations.

Goodbye to you all until next time.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3Spring is a time of renewal and celebration. Here at SERC, we have much to celebrate as we reach our 25th anniversary. I joined SERC as a graduate student in 1993, a few years after it was founded. When I look back, I am amazed at all that this Center has accomplished. It is especially gratifying to review the list of SERC alumni and to reflect on where they are now. To date, 145 people have either worked or volunteered at SERC, and many are now working in the clean energy field. Their collective activities and accomplishments have made a real difference in the world. It will be great to see all of the alumni who can make it to the anniversary party on May 16.

Speaking of SERC alumni, two key SERC staff members are about to make the transition. Robert Hosbach, an integral member of our energy access and off-grid lighting team, has accepted a position working in the energy efficient appliance standards group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Richard Engel, a senior research engineer who has been with SERC for over 14 years, is also moving on. Both will be deeply missed, and we wish them well on the next steps in their journey.

Although they cannot be replaced, we are in the process of hiring several new team members. We are excited to be able to announce that Dave Carter has accepted our offer to join SERC as a senior research engineer. Dave is a licensed civil engineer with almost a decade of professional experience. He is also an alumnus of SERC, having worked here as a student and just after his graduation back in 2004 and 2005. We are also in the process of hiring for four other positions. We are selecting candidates for two staff positions and one student position associated with the Lighting Global program and other activities related to energy access for low-income people living in off-grid areas. We are also reviewing applications for a position focused on alternative fuels for transportation.

I will close by thanking our Advisory Board for their input during a very productive meeting on April 11. This year’s meeting was our second on-campus session, and we are very pleased with the support and guidance that the board is providing. We are already looking forward to the next meeting.

Goodbye until next time.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3Happy New Year! I hope that 2014 is off to a good start for you all. The year promises to be a busy and productive one for the team at SERC. We have an exciting lineup of clean energy projects and activities across a number of subject areas.

In the energy access arena, we are in the final stage of negotiating a three-year, $1.6 million contract with the International Finance Corporation to continue our work as the technical lead for quality assurance for the Lighting Global initiative. Lighting Global is associated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs, which support the development of markets for modern off-grid lighting and energy products. Under our contract, we will continue to manage the program’s quality assurance testing and verification program for off-grid lighting products. We will also lead a strategic effort to update and expand the program, conduct laboratory and field research related to the effort, and engage with key industry stakeholders. Our work to date for IFC has helped support rapid expansion of the use of solar charged off-grid lighting and energy systems. For example, over 2.7 million off-grid LED lights that were quality assured through the program have been sold in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2009, and sales have been doubling annually. Sales in South Asian countries such as India are also high. We look forward to our continued participation in the effort to expand access to clean and affordable energy for people without access to grid power in the years to come.

We will be similarly busy in the biomass energy arena. First, we are working closely with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) and the Blue Lake Rancheria on a project involving the development of a cutting edge biomass-fueled power system to be installed at the Rancheria. The system involves a gasifier that converts woody biomass fuel into a hydrogen-rich syngas, which is, in turn, processed for use in a proton exchange membrane fuel cell. This year is a pivotal one for the effort, as we aim to make considerable progress toward the goal of having an operational system in 2015. We will also continue work on the conversion of biomass into useful fuels and other valuable products using technologies such as gasification, torrefaction and densification. We are currently finishing up one project in this area, and anticipate starting a significant new project in the coming months (details forthcoming).

We also have several projects in hand on the clean transportation front, including analyses related to electric vehicle infrastructure planning for Humboldt County, several other counties in the northern Central Valley of California, and the city of New Delhi. We learned in December that a $300K alternative transportation planning project (including electric vehicles and other alternative fuels) that we are conducting in partnership with RCEA and other regional partners was funded by the California Energy Commission. Special thanks go to Jim Zoellick, Colin Sheppard and Kevin Fingerman of SERC and Matthew Marshall, Dana Boudreau, and Jerome Carman of RCEA for leading that proposal development effort. We may have even more work in this area soon, as we learn the outcome of additional submitted proposals.

Last, but certainly not least, we will participate in a feasibility analysis for the development of a wave energy technology test site in California in collaboration with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a number of additional partners, including local partners RCEA, the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, and HT Harvey and Associates. The analysis, which is a $750K effort funded by U.S. Department of Energy, involves consideration of sites near Humboldt Bay and San Luis Obispo.

I can say with confidence that 2014 will not be a dull one here at SERC. We are holding on to our hats. Goodbye until next time.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3We have completed the transition from summer to fall here in far northern California, and – while it has been clear and sunny for the past few days – we recently had the first heavy rainstorm of the season. As the seasons change, we remain busy at SERC with a diverse portfolio of clean energy projects. The selection of articles in this newsletter reflects this diversity.

In the lead article, Richard Engel reports on a project that is in line with our broader work aimed at enabling energy access in off-grid areas ranging from South Asia to East Africa. We are also happy to report on recent progress in our biomass energy collaboration with Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT). We look forward to deepening our work with RFT and others in the field as we expand our efforts in this arena.

Several other articles reflect our long tradition of work related to clean transportation. We were pleased to be in a position to fuel the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that SERC alum Anand Gopal and his wife Liz Pimentel drove up from the Bay Area. We hope this event will be the first of many such occurrences made possible by our hydrogen vehicle fueling station.

We are also pleased to extend our plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charging infrastructure planning work from California to India. The work in New Delhi, which involves collaboration with Anand Gopal and colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will require analysis in a new and complex setting involving very different driving patterns and electricity infrastructure. We at SERC always like to get involved in new and challenging work, and we hope to contribute meaningfully to the wider effort to enable cleaner transportation systems in New Delhi and beyond.

I will close by welcoming several new members to the SERC team. This August, Nick Bryant of Washington state and Amit Khare of New Delhi, India started work at SERC. They are also pursuing master’s degrees in the Energy Technology and Policy (ETaP) program here at HSU. We also have three additions to our docent team, including Yaad Rana, Onomewerike “Robo” Okumo, and Jake Coniglione. All are undergraduate students in the Environmental Resources Engineering program. It is great to have these students on board.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3Activities on the Humboldt State campus have slowed down for the summer, but we are still very busy here at SERC. The articles in this newsletter highlight some of our current activity. As Colin Sheppard’s article indicates, we have been engaged in analysis related to planning for plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) infrastructure development in Humboldt County. We are also working on a similar analysis for three other northern California counties and are exploring other project possibilities.  All of this work fits into SERC’s longstanding tradition of enabling expanded use of clean transportation technology in the U.S. and beyond.

In this issue we also describe two new biomass energy efforts at SERC. One of these projects, involving torrefaction technology, is motivated by a desire to reduce the cost of transporting biomass fuel from the forest to end-use sites. The second effort explores conversion of biomass-derived sugars into hydrogen, which can then be injected into engines to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. These projects represent important progress in SERC’s bio-energy research, and, in both cases, we are grateful for funding support from the California Energy Commission (CEC).  We will start additional bio-energy work soon on a $1.75M CEC-funded project involving collaboration with the Blue Lake Rancheria, Redwood Coast Energy Authority, and Ballard Power Systems.

We also remain busy on the international front. Our work with the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs continues to involve laboratory, field, and policy activities. In the lab this summer, we are grateful to have participation by student assistants Melissa Lancaster and John Hunter. Recent activities have taken team members to Kenya, Tanzania, India, and Bangladesh. Additionally, last month I attended meetings hosted by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) in Munich, Germany on the sidelines of Intersolar-Europe. As reported in our last newsletter, we are also working on a feasibility analysis and design for solar powered mini-grids in India. Two members of our team, Richard Engel and Brendon Mendonça, traveled to India last month as part of this effort.

Last but not least, we recently received good news related to the cost of education for some of our graduate students. Over the years, a number of graduate students from the Energy Technology and Policy (ETaP) and Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) options of the Environmental Systems (ES) Graduate Program have worked at SERC. The ES Graduate Program was recently accepted by the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which means that students from eligible states will be able to attend HSU at a cost equivalent to the rate for California residents. This makes the ETaP and ERE graduate program options much more affordable for students from these states. This is great for SERC, as it will help us recruit talented students from western states such as Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, and others. More information is available on the ETaP and ERE graduate program websites. Goodbye until next time.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3On April 5th, SERC hosted the first meeting of its new Advisory Board. The formation of the board represents an important milestone for our center. The board is a dynamic group with deep experience in the clean energy sector, and they are well positioned to help us enhance our ability to achieve our mission of promoting clean and renewable energy.

If renewable energy is to make a difference in addressing the major environmental problems of our times, it must continue to move from the margins into the mainstream. During the board meeting, the SERC team reported on the recently completed RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan, which confirms that Humboldt County is well positioned to play a leading role in this effort. As senior research engineer Jim Zoellick reports in this issue, the strategic plan includes an analysis of the potential to dramatically scale up the use of renewable energy in Humboldt County.

The results are interesting and promising. They indicate that Humboldt County can meet 75% or more of its electricity needs and a substantial percentage of its transportation and heating requirements by 2030 using renewable energy at only a modest increase in cost. Meeting these targets would result in reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are on the order of 35% to 45% relative to the expected business-as-usual trajectory.

If successful, an effort to achieve these goals would have significance that goes well beyond Humboldt County. Back in 2009, President Obama set a target of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 83% by 2050 (relative to 2005 baseline emissions).  For the country to have a chance to meet that target, some regions need to lead the way by achieving substantial reductions much earlier. The challenge is a big one, and Humboldt County has the renewable energy resource base, prior track record, and environmental ethic to play a leadership role. The RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan provides a vision and a roadmap that we can use to move forward. And, as Jim explains, some next step activities are already underway in the form of a CEC funded project involving collaboration between SERC, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, and the Blue Lake Rancheria.

The board also heard about SERC’s education and outreach work. Over the past year, SERC’s clean energy education programs have reached over 1,000 students and community members. In addition to activities in schools and university classes, SERC provides mentorship to students working to reduce the environmental impact of energy use on the Humboldt State campus through projects funded by the Humboldt Energy Independence Fund (HEIF).  In this issue, senior research engineer Richard Engel writes about our work to support HEIF projects, one of the latest efforts in SERC’s longstanding tradition of training and mentoring students.

The board was very interested in SERC’s international project portfolio, including our work in support of quality assurance for off-grid lighting in Africa and Asia.  In this newsletter, research engineer Kristen Radecsky recounts the recent successful technical training workshop that she helped lead for the Solar Lighting Laboratory at TERI University in New Delhi, India. This work is part of a broader effort associated with the Lighting Asia and Lighting Africa initiatives to develop a network of laboratories which can evaluate the quality and performance of off-grid lighting and energy systems that provide critical energy services to people in rural areas of Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

Also in this issue, Richard reports about a new international project related to the use of solar powered mini-grids for rural electrification in India. The effort involves collaboration with partners including E3 and Black & Veatch.

I will close by extending a special thanks to our Advisory Board for taking the time to serve on our behalf. It was a pleasure having them here at SERC, and I look forward to more productive sessions over the coming years. Goodbye until next time.

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.

A Message from the Director: Passing the Torch

This is my last director’s column.  After 7 years of newsletters and 23 years at the helm of the Schatz lab, I’ll be entering the faculty early retirement program in mid-August and passing the torch on to Arne Jacobson who will become the lab’s director.

We’re fortunate to have Arne stepping in.  He was one of the first grad students to work at the lab; his master’s thesis concerned work with the electrolyzer at the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project.  He went on to earn his Ph.D. at the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley and now is my colleague in the Environmental Resources Engineering department.  Arne’s long time connection with the lab, his service as co-director for five years, and his strong leadership skills will serve us well for many years to come.  And starting next issue, you’ll get to read his thoughts in this space.

Meanwhile, I’m not going away.  Working here is way too interesting and fun to stop now.  During the five years of my early retirement program, I’ll be known as the Founding Director and share leadership duties with Arne.  I look forward to being busy and involved; maybe I’ll even have a chance to get back into the lab and turn a wrench or two.

In this issue of our newsletter, Peter Alstone and Meg Harper keep us up to date on summer activities in Kenya as part of the Lighting Africa project and Richard Engel writes a tribute to our benefactor Mr. Schatz on the 100th anniversary of his birth.  Jim Zoellick describes a project with local partners to plan for an electric vehicle infrastructure in Humboldt County, Allison Oakland describes our continuing effort to bring fuel cell topics into science education with a teacher workshop, and Greg Chapman describes progress in upgrading our hydrogen fueling station to 700 bar operation.

I’m writing this on the summer solstice as the sun shines its warmth and light on our hemisphere.  I want to thank all you faithful readers and send a fond farewell.  It’s been a joy and a privilege to communicate with you through this column; let’s all keep working to improve the health of our beautiful planet.  Goodbye, thank you, and best wishes.
—Peter—

A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

The past couple of months have been an exciting time at the lab.  As Colin Sheppard reports in his article about wind energy in Humboldt County, SERC—and I personally—have been caught up in an intense and politically charged debate about ShellWind’s proposed 50 MW wind farm on Bear River Ridge.  Though our work in renewable energy has always had political overtones, never before have we been thrust into the political limelight.  It’s been an eye-opener for me.

In many ways, ShellWind’s proposal to build the wind farm seems like a no-brainer.  When complete, it will mean a substantial increase in renewable energy generation in Humboldt County and it will make us more energy secure.  It will mean local economic development and jobs.  It will reduce greenhouse gases.  Who could be against that?

It turns out many people can.  The citizens of Ferndale and Petrolia have come out in force to oppose the project.  As Colin notes, they have objected to the road building, the environmental impacts, the disruptive nature of big turbines in their pastoral country, and doing business with a large, multi-national corporation that they don’t trust.  Editorials have appeared in our local paper entitled, “I don’t want ShellWind in my backyard,” and “NIMBY and proud of it.”  Because we’ve written and spoken in favor of the project, some have called us out for “attacking” local citizens and their interests.  It’s an unfamiliar situation for me personally and for the lab.

The good news is that we’ve been able to start a civil dialogue with some of the project’s opponents that I hope will allow cooler heads to prevail.  But how this will play out is anyone’s guess.  We’ll keep you informed in subsequent newsletters.

In other, calmer news, Andrea Alstone reports on progress in upgrading our hydrogen station so that we can achieve 700 bar refueling.  That will mean we can drive our Toyota fuel cell car to the Bay Area, refuel at the AC Transit or Berkeley station, and drive home.  Since we travel to the Bay Area frequently, this will be the first long distance fuel cell commute in the world.  Richard Engel reports on our efforts to take our hydrogen/fuel cell curriculum to a national audience through an NSF grant.  Finally, Jim Zoellick reports on our RESCO project that is coming to fruition with the publication of our strategic renewable energy plan for Humboldt County.

Last newsletter, written in December, I wrote about the sunniest fall and early winter ever.  Now our more usual winter weather has returned with a vengeance.  It’s pouring as I write this and flood warnings are posted.  As everything here in Humboldt turns electric green, I wish you some refreshing spring rain and flowers to come.