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

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

Fuel Cell Vehicle Readiness: Project Update

Over the last three years, the Schatz Center has been a technical lead for the North Coast and Upstate Fuel Cell Vehicle Readiness Project, in partnership with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and six local government agencies across eight counties in Northern California. Funded by the California Energy Commission (PON-14-607), this project seeks to support the successful introduction of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), reduce barriers to the effective deployment of hydrogen fueling infrastructure, and help catalyze a robust regional market for FCEVs. This project is catalyzed by aggressive California targets to transition the on-road vehicle fleet to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs).

Map of Redding area with priority fueling zones

Map of recommended early market hydrogen fueling zones for the City of Redding, from the Micrositing Summary Report (Image courtesy of Redwood Coast Energy Authority)

This year, the Center has led the completion of two key project deliverables. The first is a Site Readiness Report that provides recommendations for public fueling infrastructure, focusing on the cities of Eureka and Redding. Led by Greg Chapman P.E. with support from Jerome Carman, this report provides an overview of:

  • state of the art of hydrogen fueling station design,
  • current code and safety requirements,
  • station design recommendations, and
  • a list of recommended locations for the installation of hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

The second is a Micrositing Summary Report which documents past efforts and recommends next steps regarding potential station development locations and stakeholder engagement. Going forward, this report will be used to continue engagement with key stakeholders and catalyze momentum towards the development of fueling stations in the North State.

Currently the project team is engaging with state government fleet managers to leverage aggressive mandates (DGS Memo 16-07, SAM 4121, SAM 4126, EO-18-12) as a way to catalyze FCEV adoption in rural areas.

RELATED EVENTS…

On Thursday, October 11, the Sustainable Futures Speaker Series will host a panel discussion on zero-emission vehicles. For this special event, we’re bringing together experts in local planning, state regulation, mass transit, and advanced fuel infrastructure development, to share strategies for achieving a ZEV rollout on the north coast. The talk will be held from 5:30-7 pm on the HSU campus, in Siemens Hall 108.

Biochar Quality Assessment Project

Biochar has the potential to provide environmental and economic benefits to California’s agricultural sector through improved water retention [1], carbon sequestration [2], and reduced nutrient leaching [3], but realization of this potential is currently impeded by an information market failure [4]. In August, the Schatz Center was awarded a new project from the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) to study the biochar market and evaluate how physical characteristics of different biochars relate to their market price. The outcomes from this project will help biochar producers understand how to price their product based on its characteristics, and it will help consumers identify the quality of different biochars using informed knowledge and price signals.

Two cupped hands hold (a) woody biomass and (b) biochar.

Woody biomass before and after biochar conversion

The current market size for biochar is estimated around 400,000 tons per year for gardening and landscaping — but it is poised to quickly grow into much larger agricultural sector opportunities where biochar could gain an estimated 2% of the soil amendment market [5]. To achieve this growth, improved information about available biochar products is needed. Currently, many sellers may not receive the full value for their product, and consumers do not know the characteristics of the biochar they are considering for purchase because quality assessment protocols have not been widely adopted. This project aims to understand this market failure and help close the information gap between producers, distributors, and buyers by measuring the characteristics of a dozen biochar products and interviewing stakeholders about desirable properties. By improving the maturity of the biochar market, this project will help California farmers save water and improve crop yield by appropriate, context-specific biochar applications.

As the first step in this project, Mark Severy attended the U.S. Biochar Initiative 2018 Conference in Wilmington, Delaware to deliver a presentation and connect with key stakeholders. The presentation, Biochar Quality and Market Assessment: Comparing Physical Properties to Market Value, provided an overview of the current state of the biochar market and demonstrated how price is not always reflective of quantitative, measured physical characteristics. Mark connected with many biochar producers who are willing to participate in interviews and contribute samples for testing and analysis.

This work will continue by collecting samples of biochar and conducting measurements to quantify their chemical, physical, and agricultural properties. Before and after the tests, interviews with biochar suppliers and end users will be used to understand how they evaluate the use value of biochar in each context. Results will be disseminated through a webinar and technical report when the project concludes in early 2020.

  1. Abel, Stefan, Andre Peters, Steffen Trinks, Horst Schonsky, Michael Facklam, and Gerd Wessolek. “Impact of biochar and hydrochar addition on water retention and water repellency of sandy soil.” Geoderma 202 (2013): 183-191. doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2013.03.003
  2. Brassard, Patrick, Stephane Godbout, and Vijaya Raghavan. “Soil biochar amendment as a climate change mitigation tool: Key parameters and mechanisms involved.” Journal of environmental management 181 (2016): 484-497. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2016.06.063
  3. Laird, David, Pierce Fleming, Baiqun Wang, Robert Horton, and Douglas Karlen. “Biochar impact on nutrient leaching from a Midwestern agricultural soil.” Geoderma 158, no. 3 (2010): 436-442. doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2010.05.012
  4. Groot, Harry, Jeff Howe, Jim Bowyer, Ed Pepke, Richard, A. Levins, and Kathryn Fernholz. “Biochar as an innovative wood product: A look at barriers to realization of its full potential.” Dovetails Partners, Inc. (2017) Accessed August 27 2018
  5. Sasatani, Daisuke and Ivan Eastin. “Demand curve estimation of locally produced woody biomass products.” Applied Engineering in Agriculture 34, no. 1 (2018): 145-155. doi: 10.13031/aea.12392

Solar+ project continues in Blue Lake

The Solar+ project at the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) hit high gear this summer, with activity across our research and design areas — from engineering to market assessment. Our project is at the halfway point, with construction underway and plans afoot for experiments to run once we are operational next year. It has been rewarding to see progress towards a standardized package for microgrids at the building scale.

Over the summer, our engineering designs came into form as the PV array was installed at the Rancheria’s “Playstation 777” fueling station and convenience store. Our partners at BLR have been working closely with us to coordinate the construction and installation of a 60 kW array of high efficiency SunPower modules on the fueling area canopy. Later this year we will install control devices, switchgear, and other microgrid components.

Overhead shot shows solar modules on the canopy of the fueling station

Drone photo of the PV array under construction, September 2018 (courtesy of the BLR)

In parallel to our work designing and installing the microgrid hardware, project partners at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have been developing the control software that will eventually manage the microgrid. Building off the open source XBOS (“Extensible Building Operating System”) framework, the LBNL team has been adding model-predictive control and communications features needed to optimize the operation of our energy systems. We are in the testing phase for this software now, and look forward to its installation and operation in 2019.

Along with our progress on the prototype installation for our Solar+ microgrid design, we have been synthesizing our overall experience in microgrid design and development. Our cross-site analysis is helping us to model the current costs and benefits of microgrids based on the characteristics of a site — and we are looking ahead to future prices for PV, storage, and integration technology to understand possible deployment pathways for microgrids at scale.

We made a lot of progress this summer, thanks in great part to a crew of excellent summer research assistants. René DeWees and Ellen Thompson joined our market and data analysis team, and helped model the costs of microgrids (along with big contributions from Jo Caminiti and Thalia Quinn). Craig Mitchell joined the hardware design and construction team, and provided important on-site research observation and engineering support as we worked on building the PV array.

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

Evaluation of biomass conversion technologies: new publication released

We recently completed work on the Waste to Wisdom project that examined the entire supply chain of converting forest waste residues into bioenergy and wood products. The Center’s role was to evaluate equipment that produces biochar, torrefied biomass, electricity, or densified wood briquettes using forest residues as the input feedstock. Collaborators from Humboldt State’s Forestry Department analyzed the upstream collection of forest biomass, and experts from the U.S. Forest Service conducted a lifecycle assessment and economic analysis of the supply chain.

SEM biochar image

SEM biochar image (taken at the HSU CNRS Core Facility)


Data collected by the Schatz Center during field tests of biomass conversion equipment were used to:

  • identify optimal process conditions,
  • specify feedstock limitations,
  • measure emissions,
  • evaluate product quality, and
  • recommend design improvements to equipment manufacturers.

Results and conclusions from the entire project are presented in a special issue of Applied Engineering for Agriculture, published in February 2018. Four principal investigators, including Schatz Center Director Arne Jacobson, summarized the project’s objectives and major conclusions in the introduction article to the special issue. Engineers from Schatz authored four papers, on biochar production, torrefaction and briquetting, and gasification of forest residues:

Collaborators at the U.S. Forest Service and the Consortium for Research and Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM) used the results collected from testing activities to conduct economic and environmental life cycle analyses of biomass conversion technologies. Field measurements from the Waste to Wisdom project will also be included in our current California Biopower Impacts project, which is evaluating the environmental impacts associated with utilization of forest-derived woody biomass for electricity generation.

This work could not have been completed without close collaboration between our primary industry partners: Biochar Solutions, Inc., Norris Thermal Technologies, and Pellet Fuels Institute, who provided the testing equipment. Other partners that provided key support include the Green Diamond Resource Company, the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI), All Power Labs, Bear Mountain Forest Products, Colorado Biochar Resources, Pueblo Wood Products, California Redwood Company, North Coast Air Quality Management District, RUF Briquetting Systems, and OMNI Test Labs.

Stack of three briquettes; different colors represent combinations of temperature and time.
Forest residues were converted into torrefied briquettes in the demonstration-scale torrefaction plant. The perceptible differences in color and density reflect combinations of reaction temperature and residence time.

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:

Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid wins Project of the Year Award at DistribuTECH conference

The Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) microgrid was awarded the 2018 Project of the Year Award for Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Grid Integration at the annual DistribuTECH conference held this week in San Antonio, Texas. The award was given in recognition of the project’s ingenuity, scope, practicality, vision, and follow-through.

The Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University is the project lead and system integrator. The BLR microgrid integrates a photovoltaic array, a Tesla battery, and a legacy backup generator. A Siemens management system and foundational programming developed by Schatz engineers control the microgrid, which provides renewable electricity, lowers the Rancheria’s energy costs, and supports clean energy jobs. The microgrid also provides an emergency services backbone for its remote rural community and equips the Rancheria to serve as a Red Cross shelter in the event of a natural disaster.

DER design strategically deploys power generation across multiple sites to lower impact on existing grid infrastructure and to make use of renewable technologies including solar and wind. By locating power generation close to where that power will be used, utilities are able to streamline infrastructure improvements. When microgrids are employed, these smaller generation sites can disconnect from the main grid in the event of a grid outage – protecting critical electricity supply within a campus, business, hospital, or other community facility.

The BLR microgrid was funded by the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge and the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe. Major project partners include Pacific Gas & Electric, Siemens, Tesla Energy, Idaho National Laboratory, GHD Inc., Colburn Electric, REC Solar, McKeever Energy & Electric, and Kernen Construction.

For more about Schatz DER, visit our projects page.

***

The Schatz Energy Research Center develops clean and renewable energy technologies for implementation worldwide. Current projects and expertise include smart-grid design, bioenergy assessment, off-grid energy access, and clean transportation. The Center also plays a leading role in the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia initiatives, which support high quality, affordable energy solutions for people in off-grid and marginal-grid communities. The Schatz Center is located on the campus of Humboldt State University in Arcata, California.

Press Contact:
Maia Cheli, Schatz Energy Research Center
maiacheli@humboldt.edu / 707-826-4363

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.