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.

A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

It was a momentous day for the Schatz Center. Our building grand opening was blessed with warm, sunny weather and an enthusiastic turnout. As I said in my remarks that day, when Charles Chamberlin and I met in my office 22 years ago to plan a promising new solar hydrogen project, neither of us had an inkling that it would lead to our wonderful new lab. But here we are—working with caring, passionate colleagues in a state-of-the-art facility. It’s been a great ride.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

I just returned from the Photovoltaic Specialists’ Conference in Seattle; it was the 50th year anniversary of the conference. The first PVSC that I attended was in 1987 when Charles Chamberlin and I reported on PV module tests in Humboldt County.

What a difference! The conference is now huge, with thousands of attendees, and the PV industry is mature and sophisticated. Total worldwide installations of PVs have now reached 40 GW and as one speaker reported, if PV growth stays on the historical path that it has maintained for the last 30 years, total installed PVs will reach 1000 GW by 2020. At that level, PVs will contribute about 10-15% of the world’s total electricity generation. That’s amazing and heartening progress.

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A Message From the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

This is the first director’s column written in my new office in our new Schatz lab. It’s just wonderful to be in this modern, well-designed building that will certainly increase our productivity and has already made us proud. You can read about some of the details and see a picture in the building update in this issue.

But while the Schatz Center has been upgraded, the U.S. hydrogen and fuel cell technology program has fallen from sight. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has suggested that the hydrogen program be zeroed out in the next DOE budget. There is plenty of funding for battery research and plug-in hybrids, but not a penny for fuel cell vehicles. Secretary Chu tried to do this in last year’s budget cycle but was rebuffed by a strong coalition of legislators who insisted that the funding be restored.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

As I wrote in this column last time, the November election in California was crucial to our progress to address climate change. Whatever else resulted from that election, one thing was clear – Californians are solidly behind their state’s efforts to limit our effect on climate. Voters soundly defeated Proposition 23, which would have undermined the Global Warming Solutions Act, California’s landmark bill to tackle the difficult climate change issues facing us.

The California Air Resources Board lost no time. It recently approved a cap and trade program to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases. Though many details are still to be worked out, this is the first effort in the U.S. to set a meaningful price on emitting carbon and start us on the path to repairing our atmosphere. Once again, I’m proud to be a Californian.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in Climate Ride California (www.climateride. org), a bike ride from nearby Fortuna to San Francisco over five days. Participants raise money for bicycle and climate advocacy organizations and enjoy beautiful scenery, camaraderie, and plenty of fresh air while pushing the pedals. Caeli Quinn, one of the organizers, recruited me for their after dinner speaker series and I got to ride my bike the first day to Richardson’s Grove State Park. I presented a talk about our renewable energy efforts in Humboldt County and SERC senior research engineer Greg Chapman drove our Toyota fuel cell vehicle down for riders to see and learn about. It was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable days I’ve experienced.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

Three months ago in this column, I took the Obama administration to task for announcing that vast tracts of seabed were being opened to oil and gas exploration and exploitation.    It turns out that the administration’s timing could not have been worse. The oil spill in the Gulf has highlighted in a stark and graphic fashion one of the many ways that our dependence on fossil fuels is dangerous.

The image that keeps going through my mind is kids playing with matches. We’ve unleashed forces that we don’t completely understand and can’t control. The marine life, the coasts, the wetlands, and the people who live in that biologically rich area will pay the price for our carelessness for decades to come.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

Just as I write this column comes the disheartening news that the Obama administration has called for opening vast tracts of the American seacoast to oil and gas exploration and exploitation. This is in addition to an earlier announcement from the President supporting the expansion of nuclear power generation in the U.S. This is evidently an effort to win political support from oil, gas, and nuclear interests in hopes of getting climate change legislation through Congress before the midterm elections in November.

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A Message from the Director

Peter Lehman

Peter Lehman, SERC Director

There have been several firsts at the Schatz Center recently and you can read all about them in this newsletter. We are all very proud of our first Fulbright Scholar, Richard Engel. Richard won his prestigious award competing against many PhDs and as he describes in his article, will be helping Don Bosco University in El Salvador to establish an energy efficiency and renewable energy curriculum. We wish Richard all the best as he extends our promotion of clean and renewable energy to Latin America.

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