Student research developments: summer 2018

This summer, thirteen students contributed to Schatz Center research projects in smart grids, bioenergy, wind, and off-grid energy access.

SMART GRIDS

Craig Mitchell provided construction observation at the Solar+ installation, tracking the canopy weight in real-time and serving as an onsite liaison between contractors and the Schatz microgrid team. As part of his observation, Craig recorded the installation’s actual daily labor and equipment requirements, to better define the needs for similar projects in the future. He is currently developing a hardware design toolkit that documents lessons learned in the Solar+ installation.

Solar+ students standing outside the Schatz Center

Solar+ student team: (l to r) Craig Mitchell, Thalia Quinn, Ellen Thompson and Rene DeWees

Thalia Quinn, Ellen Thompson and René DeWees have been developing a model to assess the current and future costs of building microgrids that integrate solar, battery storage, and fast EV charging. This model will help define which sites are good candidates for investment, and identify future research and development opportunities. This summer, the team conducted a detailed literature review to assess current and forecasted cost data: Thalia focused on battery storage, Ellen on electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and René on solar PV. They are now refining their cost model and generating a convenience store survey, to understand how current site owners view microgrids and to better assess installation opportunities.

Smart grid design is also evolving to take advantage of demand response technologies. As part of a collaboration with GE & Southern California Edison, Anh Bui developed an algorithm using Python code for estimating the tension between shifting a customer load to benefit the grid versus shifting a load to reduce their bill. Anh also helped with the installation of our new Schatz Solar Array in September.

Anh Bui tightens a solar module on the Schatz Center roof

Anh Bui installs a module for the new Schatz Solar Array

BIOENERGY

This summer, Sabrinna Rios Romero quantified decay rates for the post-harvest residues of seven agricultural crops: corn, wheat, rice, cotton, almond, walnut and grape. These decay rates will allow us to better assess the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission implications of leaving residues in field versus converting them into electricity. This fall, Sabrinna is surveying state foresters to clarify the fate of forest residues — i.e. whether they are piled, burned, or scattered in the field — information which will allow us to more accurately assess emissions following forest harvest. She has also been analyzing biomass samples using a bomb calorimeter and a thermogravimetric analyzer, to measure the performance of a gasifier system.

Cassidy Barrientos conducted a literature review that characterized GHG emissions from wood chip storage (e.g. chip piles at a power plant). Decomposition during storage — and the resulting emissions — are an area that have not been well-quantified, and may represent an important source of greenhouse gases. In September, Cassidy and Schatz Faculty Research Associate Sintana Vergara presented a poster, “Characterizing greenhouse gas emissions from wood chip storage,” and gave an oral presentation “Waste not: Improving the efficiency of using forestry residues as an energy resource” at the ARI Principal Investigator’s Meeting in Sacramento.

Cassidy Barrientos in front of her poster at the ARI conference

Cassidy Barrientos at the ARI Principal Investigator’s Meeting

Max Blasdel continued his ongoing work for the California Biopower Impacts Project. Max is characterizing the field decomposition of woody biomass residues left behind by forestry operations. His efforts comprise a key component of the business-as-usual case used to evaluate the net climate impacts of biomass removal for electricity generation. Max’s project research will form the basis for his master’s thesis in the Natural Resources program here at Humboldt State.

WIND ENERGY

Karsten Hayes developed an initial cost model (using Python and R) for north coast California offshore wind energy. The model includes associated storage needs, and integrates high-resolution offshore wind resource data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory with load data for Humboldt County and California, drawn from Pacific Gas & Electric and the California Independent System Operator (CAISO).

OFF-GRID ENERGY ACCESS

Eli Wallach and Chih-Wei Hsu developed a method to estimate the number of fossil fuel generators used in low- and middle-income countries, how much electricity they generate, and how much fuel they consume. Their work supports a larger effort to estimate the economic, environmental and health impacts of fossil fuel generator systems used as a primary or backup source of electricity. To inform their assumptions and approach, they drew from multiple sources of data, including dozens of nationally representative household and business surveys. These data helped them understand the intensity of generator use at the country level, and in which sectors they are being utilized (i.e. commercial, residential). Eli and Chih-Wei’s fuel consumption estimates for over 130 countries are currently being utilized to update a widely used air quality and climate impacts model maintained by project collaborators at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis.

Schatz fellow Anamika Singh worked this summer with a team led by Dr. Amol Phadke at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Her research, which included collaboration with Dr. Phadke and Dr. Nikit Abhyankar, focused on identifying the parity price at which renewable energy technologies become feasible for heavy industries in India. Read more in our Fall 2018 From the Fellows report…

Chih-Wei and Anamika also helped with our Schatz Solar Array installation in September.

Tanya Garcia worked in the Schatz Center’s off-grid solar lab this summer, conducting solar product tests — including durability (drop and ingress), safety, and truth in advertising (light output, max power, full battery run time, etc.). She developed communications templates for the test lab network and edited specifications sheets to clarify product test policies. Tanya also helped test an open source electricity monitor, the EmonPi, and provided energy outreach activities for university and K-12 groups. Tanya is continuing her work in the off-grid solar lab this fall.

Tanya Garcia unpacks a solar module in the Schatz courtyard

Tanya Garcia prepares to test a solar module

From the fellows: Anamika Singh

Anamika Singh headshot

I am second year graduate student in the Energy, Technology and Policy program here at HSU. I am also a recipient of Blue Lake Rancheria fellowship for clean energy studies and a graduate research assistant at the Schatz Center. My primary interest lies in providing electricity access to rural communities through renewable energy technologies. I am writing my thesis on identifying the techno-economic feasibility of solar water pumping for public facilities in rural parts of Nigeria. At the Center, I am working on the development of a quality assurance framework for these systems, to provide guidance for gathering necessary data, assessing the hydro-geologic conditions, and designing an off-grid groundwater extraction and delivery system.

Before coming to HSU, I worked as a project engineer with the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Government of India. My work primarily revolved around promoting energy efficiency in small and large industries and appliances. This summer, I began research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory focused on identifying the electrification potential for heavy industries, including cement, iron, and steel, in India. The project aims to identify the parity price at which electrification via renewable energy technologies can become feasible – with the end goal of reducing coal demand and mitigating CO2 emissions.

~ Anamika Singh

Quality Matters: a new report from Lighting Global

The Lighting Global Quality Assurance Program works to ensure that solar products sold around the globe meet established quality standards for product durability, representation of product performance, and warranty. To obtain quality verification, manufacturers may submit products for testing at laboratories in the Lighting Global network.

Pico-solar products include lanterns and simple systems with a peak PV module power up to 10 watts. These small systems encompass 85% of the global cumulative sales of off-grid solar devices. Although more than 30 million quality assured off-grid solar products have been sold globally over the past eight years, the sales numbers for products that do not undergo quality verification (hence are “non-QV”) is even higher. Field observations and customer experiences indicate that non-QV products typically underperform compared to the standards established by Lighting Global.

In order to ascertain the actual performance of these devices, Lighting Global laboratories recently tested 17 pico-solar non-QV products that are top-sellers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria and Tanzania. Products were purchased direct from market retailers.

Key results:

All 17 evaluated products failed to meet the Lighting Global Quality Standards for pico-PV products.

  • 94% of the tested products fail to meet the Standards due to one or more deficiency that
    affects product durability.
  • 88% of the tested products inaccurately advertise product performance.
  • 88% of the tested products do not include a consumer-facing warranty.
  • 76% of the tested products would require significant changes to product design and
    components to meet the Quality Standards.

The Lighting Global Quality Assurance team issued the report this August as part of the Technical Notes series. Chris Carlsen (a Schatz Center alumnus) led the effort in collaboration with team members from CLASP, the Schatz Center, World Bank Group regional lighting programs, and the Lighting Global network of test labs.

Read the complete report on the Lighting Global website…

Corroded batteries, shown inside and removed from the product

NiMH batteries with leaked electrolyte: When a battery is faulty, of low quality, or stored at a deeply discharged state, the battery cell can rupture and leak electrolyte. The battery pack in this product was not functional, and has leaked corrosive chemicals that damaged adjacent electronic components. – From page 12 of the Quality Matters report

Schatz Energy Spring/Summer Newsletter

Our print (and pdf) newsletter is just off the press, with features & updates on:

  • the Redwood Coast Airport (ACV) microgrid
  • breaking ground on Solar+ at the Blue Lake Rancheria
  • the California Biopower Impact project
  • our recent publications on biomass conversion technologies
  • the May dedication of the West Wing addition, and
  • HSU’s first EV charging station, unveiled at the Schatz Center…

… Plus a recap of our spring education and outreach programs, faculty and fellowship news, and recent conference presentations.

Two middle school students hold solar modules and fans in the sun


Students explore solar circuits at the 2018 Redwood Environmental Education Fair

Schatz Energy interviews on KHSU

Catch up with these recent Schatz Energy interviews on the KHSU Magazine:

Measuring Dirty Fuels to Improve Lives
Show host David Reed with Schatz Center’s Nick Lam • April 13, 2018

Resilience Achieved with Blue Lake Rancheria Microgrid
Show host Katie Whiteside with Schatz Center’s Peter Lehman and Jana Ganion of the Blue Lake Rancheria • April 5, 2018

Do Wind Turbines Make Good Neighbors?
Show host Katie Whiteside with visiting SFSS lecturer Joseph Rand • February 22, 2018

Lectures from the Sustainable Futures Speaker Series are also posted to Humboldt Digital Scholar once available.

April 12 Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Energy access, health & the environment

Headshot of Nicholas Lam

    Nicholas Lam

Millions of families worldwide rely on solid and polluting fuels to meet their basic energy needs, such as cooking, heating, and lighting. This talk will discuss how sociological and physical measurement methods are being used to characterize energy needs, estimate the impacts of energy poverty, and identify mitigation opportunities.

Nicholas Lam is a Research Scientist at the Schatz Energy Research Center. His research interests are directed towards improving the welfare and environment of families living in low- and middle- income countries through improvements to the household energy system. Lam has a Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences and a M.S. in Global Health and Development from the University of California, Berkeley.

The Sustainable Futures Speaker Series at Humboldt State creates interdisciplinary discussion, debate, and collaboration around issues related to energy, the environment, and society. Lectures are held on Thursdays from 5:30-7 pm in HSU Founders Hall 118. For details on upcoming events or to request accessibility accommodations, visit our series events page or call (707) 826-4345.

Energy Adoption Patterns in Uganda: Final Blog

In 2017, we worked with UNCDF’s CleanStart Programme in partnership with SolarAid/Acumen, to evaluate the impact of pay-as-you-go purchase opportunities for small solar systems in Uganda.

Here’s the third and final installment of our blog series, with some initial findings:

Read our previous blogs:

2018 Global Off-Grid Solar Forum and Expo

Kristen Radecsky in discussion at the Expo

Schatz Center Senior Research Engineer Kristen Radecsky discusses technical points with a solar product designer.

The test lab network team

Participants in the Lighting Global Test Laboratory Network following a successful meeting held at the Forum and Expo. Schatz Center team members Kristen Radecsky and Scott Toyama organized the meeting and led the discussions.

The Schatz Energy Research Center was a major presence at the 5th Global Off-Grid Solar Forum and Expo, which took place this week in Hong Kong. The conference is the premier global event for the off-grid solar industry. Schatz Center Director Arne Jacobson was on the conference organizing committee, and six members of the Center’s off-grid team delivered presentations and facilitated discussions in conference sessions and side events over the three-day meeting.

The Schatz Center’s involvement in the conference is linked to its leadership role in the World Bank Group’s Lighting Global Quality Assurance Program, the world’s leading framework for quality assurance and consumer protection for off-grid solar products. The quality assurance program is widely used to support consumer protection for low-income families in off-grid areas of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

The Center’s work on Lighting Global is carried out in partnership with CLASP, a D.C.-based non-profit, and it involves close collaboration with the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA).

A Quality Assurance Framework for Solar System Installations at Public Facilities in West Africa

Community members around a water pump


Zhigbodo Community Borehole, Niger

The Schatz Center and the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), with support from the World Bank through their Lighting Africa program, are working collaboratively with government partners in Nigeria and Niger to develop a new approach for the procurement, installation, and long-term maintenance of off-grid solar electricity systems at public facilities, such as health clinics, schools, police posts, public offices, and water pumps.

Off-grid solar systems offer the promise of clean, renewable electricity for public facilities. However, historically, there has been a high failure rate for these systems in many countries, often caused by poor quality design and installation, or lack of maintenance and good operational practices following installation even when initially high quality system components are installed.

Students are gathered inside a primary classroom


Primary school classroom in Gwarinpa, Nigeria

The proposed new approach involves the innovative use of digital remote monitoring technology, along with quality standards for equipment, design, and installation, to ensure and verify the ongoing performance of off-grid solar electricity systems. Under such an approach, companies in the off-grid solar sector could enter lease agreements or extended service contracts with government agencies to provide an agreed-upon level of electricity service in return for guaranteed monthly payments. The payments could be designed to cover the capital costs of equipment and installation (or a percentage of these costs), along with the ongoing operation and maintenance costs over the projected system life. By digitally monitoring the performance of the systems, a third-party could verify that the service provider is delivering the agreed electrical service and instruct the government agency to pay the monthly fee. Spreading the cost of the systems over many years and keeping service providers engaged is expected to improve the long-term performance of the systems.

Over the next two years, the proposed approach will be developed, evaluated, and revised through research and deployment of approximately fifteen pilot systems in Nigeria and fifteen pilot systems in Niger. Our main role in this effort is to develop the quality assurance framework that serves as the basis for the approach. This includes determining a standard for service delivery that can be used to verify that the system’s performance matches contractually specified targets. Our staff will conduct site visits, provide technical designs for the thirty pilot systems, and verify system performance for the first six months. Support for this effort is provided by the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa Program.

Jimento Aikhuele takes solar measurements in a schoolyard


Jimento Aikhuele takes solar measurements in a schoolyard

A car is parked under a solar array


Working solar installation in Nasarawa, Nigeria

To kickoff the project this September, three team members visited sites in Niger and Nigeria to gather initial information about health clinics, schools and other public facilities. Chris Carlsen, a Center alumna and current consultant, met with officials in Niger and visited several communities to understand the country’s existing infrastructure. Jimento Aikhuele, a Schatz Energy graduate fellow originally from Nigeria, and Olakunle Owoeye, a Center consultant, met Chris in Nigeria to scope out potential sites for pilot installations and learn about the energy needs of the various facilities. The team also visited sites with existing solar installations to gain insight into why well-intentioned solar systems so often fail. Our initial work in the field was fruitful thanks to the indispensable support of ECREEE, the Ministries of Energy, Health and Secondary Education of Niger, and the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing of Nigeria.

Back at the Schatz Center, we have been hard at work reviewing existing standards and determining appropriate requirements to include in the quality assurance framework. This work dovetails with projects we’ve conducted in the past, including the ongoing development and co-management of the Lighting Global Quality Assurance program. We are looking forward to heading back into the field to gather more information before finalizing a draft of the framework and providing recommended designs for the pilot installations next spring.

Energy Adoption Patterns in Uganda

The United Nations Capital Development Fund’s CleanStart Programme, in partnership with SolarAid/Acumen and the Schatz Center, is conducting research on energy adoption patterns. This project seeks to determine which channels customers in rural Uganda use to finance and purchase solar systems. We are also investigating the drivers of solar product adoption, including the influence of flexible financing tools on purchasing behavior.

We have learned that the quality of existing energy services plays an important role in shaping customers’ receptiveness to alternative off-grid solutions. Our research also shows that in-person marketing, “real-life” observations, interactions with sales staff, recommendations by thought leaders, and conversations with existing satisfied customers are all strongly influential in driving end-user uptake of solar energy products.