Blue Lake Rancheria Microgrid: project update

The Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) renewable energy microgrid received full permission to connect to the Pacific Gas & Electric grid on July 28, 2017. Designed and implemented by a team led by the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, this new microgrid powers critical infrastructure for the BLR tribal community and the Humboldt County region.

A microgrid is an independent power generation and management system which can operate both while connected to (parallel) or disconnected from (islanded) the electric power grid. In the event of a power outage, a microgrid enters islanded mode and balances all power generation and electrical loads independent of the utility.

The BLR microgrid breaks new ground in its seamless transition between grid-paralleled and grid-islanded states and by demonstrating stable islanded operation with a high percentage of renewable energy.

This project heralds the first deployment of the Siemens Spectrum 7 based microgrid management system (MGMS) and the first multi-inverter Tesla battery energy storage system (BESS) utilized in a microgrid application. The MGMS and the BESS were integrated using foundational relay control programming developed at the Schatz Center.

At 420 kWAC, the Rancheria’s PV array is also the largest installed in Humboldt County. The BLR microgrid has a total of 1.92 MW of generation capacity, including the PV array, a 500 kW, 950 kWh Lithium-ion Tesla battery, and a legacy 1.0 MW backup diesel generator.

Sun on panels at the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid

Panel Array at the Blue Lake Rancheria

The microgrid powers numerous building and facility loads, including heating, ventilation and cooling; lighting; water and wastewater systems; communications; food production and storage; and transportation. The BLR green commuter program and electric vehicle infrastructure for the tribal government fleet are supported by the microgrid.

The BLR campus has also been certified to serve as an American Red Cross emergency shelter. The microgrid can maintain stable electricity for the shelter during extreme natural events such as an earthquake, tsunami, flood or wildfire. During an extended grid outage, the Rancheria can designate and shed non-critical energy loads as needed.

By coupling renewable generation with battery storage, the BLR microgrid achieves significant reductions in both utility cost and greenhouse gas emissions. The microgrid is now saving the Blue Lake Rancheria $250,000 annually and has allowed the Rancheria to increase tribal employment by 10% with new clean energy jobs.

The Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid was developed through funding from the California Energy Commission’s EPIC program. Major partners on this project included Pacific Gas & Electric, Siemens, Tesla Energy, Idaho National Laboratory, GHD Inc., Colburn Electric, REC Solar, and Kernen Construction.

• For more information about the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid and upcoming projects at the Schatz Energy Research Center, call (707) 822-4345 or email serc@humboldt.edu.

• For more information about Blue Lake Rancheria’s sustainability and green energy initiatives, please email info@bluelakerancheria-nsn.gov.

California Biopower Impact Project: creating a Life Cycle Assessment for bioenergy systems

The Schatz Center recently began work on the California Biopower Impact (CBI) Project, supported by a three-year $1,000,000 grant from the California Energy Commission. Our project will investigate the impacts associated with utilization of forest-derived woody biomass and agricultural residues for electricity generation. If managed properly, bioenergy could support sustainable forest management activities while also advancing California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard goals. However, there are also legitimate concerns surrounding the climate, air quality, soil fertility, and ecosystem health implications of improperly managed bioenergy systems. Before biomass energy can be responsibly pursued as a means to achieve forest management and renewable energy goals, additional research is needed to firmly establish the climate impact and broader environmental performance of forest and agricultural bioenergy.

Our central effort under the CBI Project will be the creation of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) greenhouse gas emissions accounting tool that will allow stakeholders in California to evaluate the impacts of different bioenergy policy and technology pathways in the state. Along with greenhouse gas balances, the project team will address additional critical environmental impacts that can be associated with bioenergy – including altered risk or severity of wildfire, soil fertility and carbon stock reduction, changes to air quality, and potential impact on habitats and biodiversity.

Pile of small branches


Woody biomass

Key study areas and outputs:

  • Assessment and mapping of net recoverable biomass that could be utilized for electricity generation. This analysis will focus on agricultural residues as well as forestry residues and fire reduction thinning material per the California Governor’s state of emergency brought on by the record numbers of drought and beetle- killed trees in the Sierra Nevada range.
  • Conduct a landscape-level probabilistic assessment of the fire risk implications of sustainable forest harvesting. Fire behavior under future climate scenarios will be simulated using the Pacific Northwest variant of the USDA Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) in combination with the Fires and Fuels Extension and Climate Extension modules.
  • Develop and demonstrate the California Residual Biomass-to-electricity Carbon Accounting Tool (CaRBCAT). This tool will improve on existing frameworks representing California’s unique bioeconomy context, offering improved spatial resolution, rigorously characterizing uncertainty, and offering a high degree of specification regarding supply chain characteristics. Users will be able to specify harvest practices, feedstock collection and handling methods, post-harvest treatments, feedstock management pathways, conversion technologies, and other characteristics.
  • Characterize and report on key environmental impacts of residual biomass mobilization such as changes to soil nutrient balance and carbon stock, air quality effects from altered black carbon and criteria air pollutant emission profiles, and impacts to biodiversity.
  • Assess potential to offset some harvest and supply chain costs through payments for ecosystem services and similar environmental market schemes.
  • Identify best management practices to improve bioelectricity system net GHG balance as well as to optimize performance with respect to fire risk, soil health, air quality, and habitat conservation. Develop and disseminate science-based policy recommendations that support implementation of these practices in bioelectricity supply chains.
Kevin Fingerman headshot


Kevin Fingerman, CBI Project Principal Investigator

Kevin Fingerman is a Schatz Center Faculty Research Associate and an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science & Management at Humboldt State University. His research employs life cycle assessment and simulation modeling tools to evaluate the broad-based impacts of bioenergy and transportation energy systems. He has also worked extensively on the water/energy nexus and on bioenergy policy.

Kevin serves on the board of directors of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials and, prior to joining HSU, he worked in Rome for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. He holds MS and PhD degrees from UC Berkeley’s Energy & Resources Group.

Schatz Center “West Wing” Nears Completion

Construction of the Schatz Center’s new “West Wing” is nearing completion. The 1900 square foot single-story building was designed by Suarez Kuehne Architecture of San Francisco, and is being built by Adams Commercial General Contracting of Eureka. The new addition is located immediately west of the current Schatz office building and lab.

The $1.04M facility will include fourteen workstations for professional staff and student research assistants, two faculty offices, and a conference room that can accommodate 8-10 people. The West Wing matches our current building’s design, with features including a standing seam metal roof, redwood siding and stucco, and large windows to provide generous daylighting.

The exterior is complete. Inside, the wiring, lighting, drywall, and painting are done, and the carpet and Marmoleum™ flooring have been installed. Desks, cabinets, and other furnishings have been ordered. Schatz staff anticipate moving into the new space by early November.


Exterior of the Schatz Center West Wing


Schatz Center West Wing, from the southwest corner


Microgrid Feasibility Study for UCSC

The Schatz Center is working with GHD, an international engineering firm, to conduct a microgrid feasibility study for the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). The study is focused on a former semi-conductor manufacturing facility that was acquired by UCSC and is being converted to offices and research lab space. UCSC wants to install a microgrid with renewable energy generating capacity of 2 to 4 Megawatts, allowing the facility to island and operate independently of the Pacific Gas & Electric grid as well as parallel with and provide support to PG&E’s grid in Santa Cruz. Another important objective is to use the microgrid as a teaching and learning laboratory by including both commercially mature and emerging/experimental technologies as well as advanced supervisory control and data acquisition systems.

The study includes:

  • evaluating microgrid technologies,
  • assessing space requirements for generation and storage technologies,
  • developing a design load profile for full occupancy,
  • selection of recommended technologies,
  • developing a site plan and one line diagram,
  • estimating construction costs,
  • evaluating interconnection requirements/constraints,
  • developing an implementation plan including potential funding sources,
  • identifying educational curriculum opportunities, and
  • evaluating how to connect the facility with the adjacent UCSC Coastal Sciences Campus to create one large microgrid that could support both of these facilities.

This project is currently active and scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017. The project is funded by the UC Regents.

Biomass Utilization Feasibility Study for the Karuk Tribe of California

The Schatz Center is assisting the Karuk Community Development Corporation (KCDC) with a biomass utilization feasibility study. The Karuk Tribe of California (KTOC) has aboriginal territory encompassing the Klamath River and Salmon River watersheds in Northern California. These lands are heavily forested and have been adversely impacted by postcolonial land use practices like timber production and wildfire suppression. Large, destructive wildfires have become an annual occurrence in and around Karuk territory, and there is widespread agreement among land managers that forest practices in the region need to change. The KTOC is leading this change through eco-cultural revitalization efforts that involve putting beneficial fire back on the land and restoration of traditional oak woodlands. Within this context, there is a role for utilization of biomass residuals that are removed through mechanical treatment. The Schatz Center is evaluating economic development opportunities for the KCDC to utilize forest residuals.

The overall goal of the project is to determine the feasibility of using local, renewable biomass resources that are available to the KTOC to generate power, heat, or products, while creating jobs, fostering environmental stewardship, and providing benefits to the Tribe’s economy. The objectives of this project are to determine the resource availability, identify technologies that could be implemented, and calculate the financial viability of potential projects.

This project is currently active and is funded by US Department of Interior Indian Affairs Energy and Mineral Development Program. We expect to complete the project by the second quarter of 2018.

Improving a Biochar Production System in Mendocino County

by Kyle Palmer and Mark Severy

For the past three years, the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) has produced biochar from small-diameter tanoak trees collected from thinning operations in Mendocino County’s Usal Forest. The Usal Forest ecosystem was disrupted by industrial logging operations throughout the 20th century. Tanoak’s rapid regrowth dominated canopy light, and interfered with redwood repopulation. RFFI is selectively removing tanoak to create the natural space that redwood needs to flourish, and converting the tanoak into biochar to help fund their restoration work.

Biochar, a blackened, solid biomass produced at temperatures above 500°C in the absence of oxygen, is used primarily as a soil amendment to increase water holding capacity, reduce nutrient leaching, and improve conditions for microbial life. (Learn more about biochar on the Waste to Wisdom site.)

RFFI’s biochar production operation has balanced on the edge of technical and economic feasibility due to the high moisture content of the tanoak feedstock and the labor costs required to operate the machine. In 2016, the Schatz Energy Research Center addressed moisture content by installing a biomass drying system that uses waste heat from the biochar machine. This year, the Schatz Center is working to reduce labor hours while improving safety and productivity, by automating key processes on the machine.

A SEM photo shows the porosity of biochar


The highly porous structure of biochar is shown through scanning electron microscopy (SEM) at 600x magnification. This SEM image was taken by Murielle Manka and Marty Reed, using the Humboldt State CNRS Core Research Facility’s FEI Quanta 250 ESEM. The Quanta was obtained in 2012 via a Major Research Instrumentation grant from the National Science Foundation.

In July and August, research engineers Kyle Palmer, Andy Eggink and student research assistant Murielle Manka evaluated baseline labor hours, biochar production rate, and biochar quality produced with the existing system. Throughout these tests, real-time data were collected for gas flow, composition, and electric power demand to help develop the control schemes. Monitoring and automation equipment are currently being installed and performance improvements will be validated in the coming months.

The preliminary results from this study were presented in early September by Murielle Manka and Schatz Director Arne Jacobson at the Agricultural Research Institute’s (ARI) principal investigator’s meeting in Sacramento. Validation test results analyzed this autumn will quantify benefits of the automation system, including any reductions in labor, increases in throughput, and changes in biochar quality.

This material is based upon work supported by California State University Agricultural Research Institute and a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy under the Biomass Research and Development Initiative program: Award Number DE-EE0006297.


Murielle Manka and Arne Jacobson present biochar testing results


Murielle Manka and Arne Jacobson at the September 2017 ARI meeting in Sacramento


Blue Lake Rancheria receives FEMA’s 2017 Whole Community Preparedness Award

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced on September 28 that the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe (BLR) has been chosen to receive the 2017 John D. Solomon Whole Community Preparedness Award for proactive efforts to address emergency preparedness challenges. Arla Ramsey, Vice Chair of the Rancheria, lauded the tribe’s many collaborators in sustainability and disaster preparedness: “Our partnerships have been critical in our preparedness efforts, such as with the Schatz Energy Research Center, who led our low-carbon, community microgrid project and enabled our emergency power platform.”

This award is given in recognition of the high earthquake risk faced by Humboldt County, and the BLR’s efforts to prepare for disaster events and ensuing power loss: “… BLR has transformed the Blue Lake Casino and Event Center into an official public shelter with help from the American Red Cross. BLR also installed a back-up green power micro grid should the regular power grid fail. Using a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, BLR developed a Regional Resilience Training & Innovation Center (RTIC) that offers pre-disaster training and exercises to tribes, local governments, and agencies. The tribe has also distributed 72-hour disaster supply backpacks to residents and employees, and in 2017 held a Resiliency Preparedness Fair for the general public. BLR’s actions have been a model for other tribes and communities, and BLR officials assist other tribes and agencies with their emergency preparedness needs.” Click here to read the full award statement from FEMA…

Congratulations to the Rancheria for this much-deserved recognition of their commitment to emergency preparedness through disaster response training and sustainable, distributed energy generation!

BlueTechValley: opportunities for innovators in energy, water & agriculture

BlueTechValley is seeking entrepreneurs and businesses engaged in energy, water and agricultural innovations. Regional hubs throughout California connect local projects with statewide services including technology evaluation, proof-of-concept validation, training and education, incubator and advisory services, and networking opportunities. Humboldt State University hosts the far Northern California project hub of BlueTechValley.

For more information about submitting a project for consideration, visit btvnc.org or contact the Humboldt Hub Managing Director, Lonny Grafman.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Amy & Daniel Cordalis on October 5

Join us on Thursday, October 5 at 5:30 pm in Founders Hall 118, for a presentation by Amy & Daniel Cordalis on “Breathing life back into the Klamath River.”

Amy & Daniel Cordalis stand against a brick wall, holding hands

Amy & Daniel Cordalis

Amy Cordalis is General Counsel for the Yurok Tribe. She comes from a long line of Yurok Indians from the village of Requa at the mouth of the Klamath River, who have fought for Yurok rights: her great-uncle’s Supreme Court case, Mattz v. Arnett, confirmed the Yurok Reservation as Indian Country and set the stage for the Tribe’s federally reserved fishing and water rights. Cordalis received her undergraduate from the University of Oregon and her JD from the University of Denver College of Law. Before returning home to work for the Yurok Tribe in 2014, Cordalis worked for the Native American Rights Fund and Berkey Williams LLP on a wide range of Indian law issues.

Daniel Cordalis is a member of the Navajo Nation and a practicing attorney in natural resources and Indian law. Cordalis clerked for the Colorado Supreme Court and the Native American Rights Fund, and worked for the National Congress of American Indians in Washington D.C. and as an associate attorney for the Denver Earthjustice office. He received an undergraduate in geology from Rice University, a master’s in geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and his JD from the University of Colorado.

The Sustainable Futures Speaker Series is cosponsored by the Schatz Energy Research Center, the Environment & Community graduate program, and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Humboldt State. For details on upcoming events or to request accessibility accommodations, email us at serc@humboldt.edu or call (707) 826-4345.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Nick Goulette on September 28

Join us on Thursday, September 28 at 5:30 pm in Founders Hall 118, for a presentation by Nick Goulette on imagining and achieving the potential of community-based forestry in Northern California. As The Watershed Center’s executive director, Nick Goulette oversees programs focused on forestry, fire and fuels, watershed and fisheries, youth engagement, enterprise development, policy, and research.

Over the past thirteen years with the Watershed Center, Goulette has worked on a wide range of collaborative projects. He is the Chair of the Northern CA Prescribed Fire Council and a long-time member of the leadership team for the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition. He also helped establish the CA Forest Biomass Working Group and the CA Statewide Wood Energy Team, and worked with the design and launch of the national Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network.

Goulette was born and raised in Maine and received a B.S. in Forestry from the University of Vermont with a concentration in Community-Based Forestry. He now lives with his wife Naomi on a homestead in Weaverville, California.

The Sustainable Futures Speaker Series is cosponsored by the Schatz Energy Research Center, the Environment & Community graduate program, and the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Humboldt State. For details on upcoming events or to request accessibility accommodations, email us at serc@humboldt.edu or call (707) 826-4345.