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

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.

SEL Real-Time Automation Controllers

Last week, Schatz Center engineers Dave Carter and Marc Marshall attended a training in Portland, Oregon to learn about the capabilities of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories’ (SEL) Real-Time Automation Controllers (RTAC). Designed for use in utility substations and other industrial control and automation systems, these rugged controllers are powerful, flexible, and configurable.

The Center currently has multiple projects where the SEL RTAC will be used as part of the control system, including the Redwood Coast Airport (ACV) Microgrid. The rigorous three-day training covered a broad range of RTAC capabilities and strengthened our foundation in automation and control for energy efficiency and renewable energy systems.

Dave Carter sitting at a laptop connected to SEL equipment

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories RTAC training

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.

EV charging station unveiled at the Schatz Center

Humboldt State University recently unveiled its first electric vehicle (EV) charging station, located next to the Schatz Center’s “West Wing” addition. “We are proud to introduce electric vehicle charging to the HSU campus and advance our goals of greenhouse gas reduction and sustainability,” says Dr. Peter Lehman, the Center’s founding director. The new charging station supports goals articulated in HSU’s Climate Action Plan and reflects the Center’s longtime investment in clean transportation.

Gasoline and diesel transportation currently accounts for 39% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. Zero-emission vehicles, including EVs, directly limit both greenhouse gases and air pollution. Additionally, EV charging stations can support clean power generation. By charging their vehicles during the day, drivers can offset the solar energy “duck curve”—thus reducing the need for nighttime energy storage and allowing utility operators to incorporate more solar generation on the grid.

A red Tesla charges at the Schatz EV station

To charge at Schatz:

  • The Schatz Energy Research Center is located on the south side of campus, across from the Behavioral & Social Sciences building. To access the charging station, take the driveway between the G14 and G15 lots (see map) and park on the south side of the Schatz Center.
  • The Schatz station can provide charging for either of two adjacent parking spaces. One parking space is EV-only; parking here is limited to four hours, and the vehicle must be charging while parked. The second space is ADA parking (EV not required). HSU parking permits are required for both spaces and can be purchased from the kiosk in the G15 lot.
  • This first charging station was installed with funding support from HSU’s Office of Research, Economic & Community Development and will serve as a pilot for the campus. Initial station rules are based on policies from California State Universities with similar parking needs and constraints. After Parking and Commuter Services has data on HSU usage patterns, a formal EV charging station policy will be created. Additional stations will be installed as parking lots undergo routine renovation.

Sustainable Futures 4/5: Greening the Grid & Improving Resilience

Jana Ganion and Peter Lehman

Renewable energy microgrids are an emerging technology that can support:

  • emergency preparedness
  • job creation
  • greenhouse gas reductions
  • energy cost savings
  • grid reliability
  • and improved resilience across lifeline sectors.

In this week’s Sustainable Futures Speaker Series presentation, Jana Ganion, Sustainability Director for the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR), will join Peter Lehman, Founding Director of the Schatz Center, to discuss project challenges, first year performance, and the economic and environmental benefits of the ground-breaking BLR microgrid. They will also discuss other related activities in the region, including the upcoming renewable energy microgrid project at the Arcata-Eureka (ACV) airport.

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.

A clean energy microgrid for the Humboldt County airport

A cutting-edge clean energy microgrid is coming to Humboldt County’s regional airport. Designed by the Schatz Center, the microgrid will generate green electricity, create jobs for local contractors and technicians, and provide an energy lifeline in the event of a natural disaster. Last week, the California Energy Commission announced a $5 million grant award through its EPIC program that will support $6 million in matching funding from the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), for development of this solar + storage microgrid system.

“The Redwood Coast Energy Authority is excited to be partnering with the Schatz Center, PG&E, and the County,” said Matthew Marshall, Executive Director of the RCEA. “This project will allow us to provide enhanced resiliency and emergency-response capabilities for the airport and Coast Guard and deliver the environmental and economic benefits of developing our local renewable resources.”

Composed of a 2.3 megawatt photovoltaic array covering 9 acres—the largest in Humboldt County—and an 8 megawatt-hour battery storage system, equivalent to the batteries in 100 Tesla Model S cars, the microgrid will support 18 electric accounts including the airport and the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station.

The California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport serves 50,000 flights a year and 140,000 customers, including commercial, private, and emergency medical flights. The Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay provides search and rescue for 250 miles of rugged rural coastline, from the Mendocino-Sonoma County line to the California-Oregon border. Since roads into and out of Humboldt County are often closed by fires and slides, energy stability at the regional airport is crucial.

Aerial view of ACV airport from plane


Aerial view of ACV airport

“This is a wonderful project for Humboldt County and we have a great team eager to get started,” said Peter Lehman, founding director of the Schatz Center and principal investigator for the project. “The airport microgrid will make us a safer and more resilient community and plow new ground in developing the electric grid of the future.”

As the first multi-customer microgrid in Pacific Gas and Electric’s service territory, the project will provide a test bed for the policies, tariff structures, and operating procedures necessary to integrate microgrids into California’s electric grid. Lessons learned will help the state strengthen its power grid by creating a roadmap for microgrid integration across the state.

A microgrid combines energy generation–often solar or wind power–with energy storage and smart controls to allow it to run both connected to and disconnected from the larger power grid. Under normal conditions, microgrids add power to the grid and smooth out power fluctuations, adding stability. In an outage, microgrids can “island” and supply electricity indefinitely. As extreme weather events and fires driven by climate change continue to cause regional outages, the ability to maintain independent power generation is key to local resiliency. Microgrids provide life-saving power to transportation hubs and other critical facilities like shelters, hospitals, and fire stations.

The airport microgrid is the second designed by the Schatz Center for the Humboldt Bay region. The Center’s renewable energy microgrid at the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) went live in 2017, providing clean energy to the BLR campus and enabling the Rancheria to operate as a Red Cross Shelter. Last fall, the Rancheria was recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its contributions to community safety.

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.

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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

Schatz Energy in brief: climate-smart infrastructure and sustainable bioenergy

The Union of Concerned Scientists just released a new white paper on “climate-smart” infrastructure in California, citing the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) microgrid as a prime example of infrastructure built to safely sustain communities during climate change.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) adopted a revised Standard for Advanced Fuels this month at the delegate meeting in Vancouver, Canada. Kevin Fingerman (second from left below) is an RSB board member, and is the principal investigator on the California Biopower Impact Project here at the Schatz Center.