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

The Schatz Center roof goes solar

On the last weekend of September, HSU and Schatz Center alumnus Nate Coleman returned to Humboldt State with a team of solar professionals to lead the installation of a photovoltaic array on the roof of the Schatz Energy Research Center. Dodging between downpours, and assisted by Center staff, students, and HSU Facilities Management personnel, the team heroically completed the installation in two days.

The system is now complete except for the final electrical connections and an inspection, and should be live near the end of October. The 20 kilowatt (DC) array will produce an average of 57 kilowatt-hours per day, enough to completely power the Center’s new West Wing, with 25 kWh left over to power the main building.

The eighty modules of the solar array and the proprietary mounting hardware and connectors were donated to Humboldt State from Zep Solar through the efforts of Coleman and Jack West — a member of the Center’s Advisory Board and also an alumnus of the university.

Ahn and Greg insert a module into its place

Anh Bui and Greg Ball leverage a module into position

Later this year, an array display will be installed outside the Center. Visitors will be able to see a live report of energy generated by the array, plus rooftop weather data that directly impacts array efficiency: solar radiation, air temperature and relative humidity, wind speed and direction, and the temperature of the modules. The monitor will also feature project news from the Schatz Center and data from the onsite EV charging station. The interpretive display has been funded by HEIF, the student-run Humboldt Energy Independence Fund, and NorthCAT, the Northern California Center for Alternative Transportation Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Technologies. HEIF also provided the instrumentation for the data acquisition system.

The Schatz Solar Array installation team included:

  • Solar professionals: Brian Atchley, Greg Ball, Nate Coleman, Marcelo Macedo, and Ryan Woodward
  • HSU Facilities: Charles Day, Travis Fleming, Ray Robinson, and Brian Toroni
  • Students: Anh Bui, Carisse Geronimo, Chih-Wei Hsu, Craig Mitchell, and Anamika Singh
  • Schatz staff: Charles Chamberlin, Nick Lam, Peter Lehman, Marc Marshall, Kyle Palmer, Rich Williams, and Jim Zoellick
Nate and Marcelo on the roof

Nate Coleman and Marcelo Macedo prepare the Schatz roof for module installation

Jim and Carisse set a thermocouple on the white backside of a module

Jim Zoellick shows Carisse Geronimo where to place a thermocouple on the back of a solar panel

Jim, Charles and Ray consult the module layout plan

Jim Zoellick, Charles Chamberlin, and Ray Robinson review the module layout plan

Chih-Wei and Ray remove a panel from the stack on the lift, while Charles holds the remainder

Charles Day delivers solar panels via hydraulic lift to Chih-Wei Hsu and Ray Robinson

Craig twists a module mount near the edge of the roof

Craig Mitchell tightens mounting hardware on the Schatz roof

Charles Chamberlin holds the specialized mounting hardware

“The mounting hardware works like a charm.” – Peter Lehman

Marcelo bends close to the roof to view a connection

Marcelo Macedo inspects hardware connections

Anh works at the base of a rain-covered module

Anh Bui attaches modules to the roof

Travis and Ray transport panels in a hydraulic lift with redwoods behind

Travis Fleming and Ray Robinson lift solar panels from the courtyard to the Schatz roof

Nate, Peter and Craig crimp roof bars

Craig Mitchell, Peter Lehman, and Nate Coleman (l to r) prepare the roof for mounting hardware

The installation team stands on the roof next to the assembled array

The module installation is complete!

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.

Woody biomass poster & presentation given at the annual ARI meeting

In September, Sintana Vergara and Cassidy Barrientos presented on bioenergy and biomass emissions at the annual CSU Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) meeting in Sacramento.

Sintana presented ongoing research on the environmental implications of using residual woody biomass — a timber industry byproduct — as an energy resource, specifically within California. Ongoing work to develop a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for evaluating the climate change implications of mobilizing woody biomass for electricity production has uncovered a potentially significant source of greenhouse gas emissions: storage of woody biomass. Current work, funded by ARI, is now focused on characterizing these emissions.

Cassidy assisted with Sintana’s talk, and also presented a poster synthesizing what we know about greenhouse gas emissions from woody biomass. This poster presented a literature review of published studies that directly measured carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions from woody biomass stockpiles.

A jpeg of the linked pdf poster

October 4 lecture: A Rising Tide Lifts All Bytes

A rising tide lifts all bytes: marine energy R&D at the Pacific Marine Energy Center

Humanity has been harnessing tidal power for more than 1,000 years, and producing electricity from tides for more than 100 years. Tidal electricity generation is greenhouse gas-free, eminently predictable, sub-sea surface, and often co-located with demand; yet tidal power has seen slower adoption and deployment than other renewables such as wind or solar power. In this talk, Dr. Benjamin Maurer will share what the Pacific Marine Energy Center is doing to address the remaining key challenges in tidal power and how that R&D plays into the changing market landscape for marine energy. From autonomous subsea robotics to underwater data centers, he’ll cover the promise and potential pitfalls of this renewable energy resource.

Benjamin Maurer headshot

Maurer is the Associate Director of the Pacific Marine Energy Center, a multi-university consortium dedicated to the responsible advancement of ocean energy technologies, and a researcher at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory. He works closely with undergraduate and graduate students, startups, large corporations, regulators, government clients, and other stakeholders to address key challenges in harvesting power from the waves, tides, currents, and offshore winds. Maurer’s prior work includes positions supporting a $100M/yr US Department of Energy portfolio of ocean technology technology awards; conducting fluid dynamics experiments at the University of Cambridge GK Batchelor Laboratory; and piloting ROVs for the National Marine Fisheries Service. He holds a PhD in Oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, an MS in Engineering Sciences from UC, San Diego, and undergraduate degrees in Biology and Philosophy also from UCSD. He is an avid surfer, swimmer, and research diver.

Download the event flyer

The Sustainable Futures Speaker Series at Humboldt State creates interdisciplinary discussion, debate, and collaboration around issues related to energy, the environment, and society. Fall 2018 lectures are held on Thursdays from 5:30-7 pm in HSU Siemens Hall 108. For details on upcoming events or to request accessibility accommodations, visit our series events page or call (707) 826-4345.

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

Summer Camp Energy Outreach

A student attaches a solar module to a fan


A Robotics student attaches a solar module to a fan


On Tuesday afternoon, we joined the Yurok Tribe’s summer camp at the mouth of the Klamath River, to explore solar and wind power with elementary and middle school students. On Thursday, the HSU Robotics Camp met with the Center’s Lighting Lab team to learn about our off-grid solar product testing and build simple circuits.

Schatz docent Matilda Kerwin is working with the Robotics Camp this summer, and was interviewed this week on KIEM-TV about the program.

We will also be participating in the HSU Natural History Museum’s Careers of the Future Camp for ages 8-12 this July. Registration links for upcoming camps are below!

A student and counselor attach solar modules to a fan


A student and counselor construct a simple solar circuit

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

Director’s Note: June 2018

On May 4, we had the pleasure of hosting the Schatz Center Advisory Board for our annual meeting. In addition to our customary discussion of Center activities and strategy, we were happy to be able to include the Advisory Board members in a dedication ceremony for our new building addition, which we have been calling the ‘West Wing.’

Advisory Board standing outside the West Wing

Schatz Advisory Board members (left to right): Andrea Tuttle, Rick Duke, Jeff Serfass, Jack West, Christina Manansala West, David Rubin, David Katz, and Denise Helwig, and Directors Charles Chamberlin, Peter Lehman and Arne Jacobson. Not pictured: Dan Kammen and Jaimie Levin.

During the meeting, we reported our progress toward the Center’s strategic goals—which are derived from our mission to promote clean and renewable energy—and discussed our portfolio of projects, budget, staffing, and space within this context. We were able to report good news to the Advisory Board in multiple spheres.

We noted that our two most active project areas are those related to (i) renewable energy microgrids, grid integration of renewable energy, and associated demand-side management strategies and (ii) improved access to energy in off-grid and marginal grid communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Together with our partners, we have received recognition for our efforts in both areas: in January alone, the Blue Lake Rancheria renewable energy microgrid was awarded the Project of the Year for Distributed Energy Resources at the annual DistribuTECH conference in San Antonio, Texas, while our energy access team simultaneously played a key role at the premier international conference for the off-grid solar sector, the Global Off-Grid Solar Forum and Expo in Hong Kong. We also have current projects and activities in bioenergy, clean transportation, off-shore wind, energy efficiency, hydrogen energy, clean energy policy, and education/outreach. Our staff expertise continues to deepen, and we have ample opportunities for continued work in pursuit of our mission.

Regarding staffing, we have a motivated, skilled, and professional team, and their strengths provide the foundation for our success. Recent additions to the Schatz Center include Dr. Nicholas Lam (research scientist), Kaileigh Vincent-Welling (engineering technician), Richard Williams (engineering technician), and Jessica Ramirez (administrative assistant). We are pleased to welcome them to our team. During the advisory board meeting, we discussed two strategic foci in relation to personnel. We began by noting the importance of expanding our team’s project management capacity to meet the needs of our growing work portfolio. We then discussed our commitment to increasing staff diversity and ensuring a broadly welcoming work environment. We appreciate our board’s thoughtful advice, and we look forward to a continued focus on these key issues.

And, of course, we celebrated our new building and the opportunities that it enables. Importantly, the increase in space—along with a commitment to student mentorship by faculty and staff on our team—has allowed us to hire nine summer student interns. They join seven continuing student employees, for a total of 16 students working with us this summer. This is the largest number of students working at Schatz Center at one time in the history of our organization. We are grateful for the contributions that each student is making to our work, and I thank my colleagues for all that they have done to create hands-on learning opportunities.

Happy summer solstice, and goodbye until next time. ~ Arne Jacobson

Dedication of the Schatz Center West Wing

On Friday, May 4, we formally dedicated our new West Wing addition. Congressional Representative Jared Huffman was joined by HSU President Lisa Rossbacher, Blue Lake Rancheria Tribal Council Member Jason Ramos, and Schatz Advisory Board members Jack West and Andrea Tuttle to celebrate the Center’s expansion.

The 1900 square foot addition is located immediately west of the main building, and includes two faculty offices, a conference room, and fourteen staff and student workstations. This increase in space has enabled us to hire nine additional student research assistants for summer 2018 to work on projects in wind energy, smart grids, biomass assessment, and off-grid energy access.

Student researchers outside the West Wing addition

Summer 2018 Schatz student research assistants (l to r):
Cassidy Barrientos, Tanya Garcia, Ellen Thompson, Sabrinna Rios Romero, Karsten Hayes, Anh Bui, Chih-Wei Hsu, Craig Mitchell, and Rene DeWees

The dedication ceremony was followed by an open house with demonstrations in solar product testing, biomass energy, and microgrid management systems, an unveiling of interpretive photo galleries newly installed throughout both buildings, and the official deployment of the first electric vehicle charging station on the HSU campus.

The West Wing addition was designed by Suarez Kuehne Architecture of San Francisco and built by a team led by Adams Commercial General Contracting of Eureka. Humboldt State University Facilities Management coordinated the design and construction process. The project was fully funded by donor contributions, including major support from the estate of Louis W. Schatz, additional gifts from Anne and David Katz, Peter and Carolyn Lehman, Christina and Jack West, Jamie Everett, and Joel Lehman, and grant funding from the California Energy Commission.

Jared Huffman speaks from a podium, between a zero-emission vehicle and the West Wing

Congressional Representative Jared Huffman speaks at the West Wing dedication

Lisa Rossbacher and Peter Lehman listen to fellow speakers at the West Wing dedication

HSU President Lisa Rossbacher and Schatz Founding Director Peter Lehman

Andrea Tuttle and Jack West (applauding)

Schatz Advisory Board member Andrea Tuttle (left) is recognized for sponsoring the Donald and Andrea Tuttle Fellowship for Clean Energy Studies (with Advisory Board member Jack West, right)

Arne Jacobson and Matthew Marshall outside the Schatz Center

Schatz Director Arne Jacobson and RCEA Executive Director Matthew Marshall celebrate the dedication