PV Module Testing Round Four


SERC volunteer Andre Bernal (left) and graduate student research assistant Jake Rada (right) measure the current and voltage curve of a photovoltaic module that has completed 26 years of service in the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project. Each of the 192 modules in the project has been tested in 1990, 2001, 2010, and now again in 2016.



SERC Completes Energy Planning Project for the Trinidad Rancheria

Readers of this newsletter may recall that the Summer 2015 issue contained a short piece about an energy planning project we conducted for the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria. Funded by a grant from The Bureau of Indian Affairs Energy and Mineral Development Program, this multi-faceted project had the overall goal of reducing the tribe’s energy consumption, costs, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the implementation of energy efficiency measures and, possibly, producing renewable energy locally.

The project has since been completed and there is much to report.

Use Assessment
The initial phase of the project entailed a comprehensive assessment of recent energy use for the Rancheria’s multiple commercial facilities including the Cher-Ae-Heights Casino, the Seascape Restaurant, and tribal offices. Available information pertaining to the consumption of electricity, propane, diesel fuel, and gasoline, as well as the equipment involved, was cataloged. CasinoGreen, a PG&E subcontractor specializing in retrofits of Native American owned casinos, was responsible for examining the casino, while Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) covered the remaining facilities. RCEA also completed a comprehensive GHG inventory utilizing an Excel spreadsheet tool they developed in-house.

Results show electricity use in all tribal facilities accounts for 77% of energy costs and over 60% of all GHG emissions. Unsurprisingly, the casino is responsible for over 75% of total energy costs and more than 80% of all GHG emissions, but it is interesting to note that the Seascape Restaurant comes in second at 10% of costs and 9% of GHG.

Efficiency Assessment
Lighting accounts for a substantial portion of all electrical consumption, particularly for the casino, which operates around the clock. As lighting technology has changed considerably in recent years, the energy efficiency of available products greatly exceeds that of the equipment currently in use by the tribe. As a result there are great savings to be had by retrofitting their facilities.

CasinoGreen provided an extensive list of lighting upgrades for the casino, primarily focused on the replacement of existing equipment with new LED lamp, ballast and fixture packages. In total, the changes they suggest could save the tribe an estimated $21,000/year. Available rebates will defray the upfront installation costs considerably while the balance can be financed by PG&E’s Energy Efficiency Retrofit Loan Program. This zero- interest On-Bill Financing program for energy retrofits is paid off via normal monthly payments that credit the money saved due to the new equipment toward the loan balance, which is expected to be paid off in about four years.

In the early stages of the project, RCEA determined that the tribe could save more than $3,000/year by simply changing the Seascape’s PG&E account to a different rate. This was done with alacrity. Further recommendations for lighting and refrigeration efficiency upgrades could save an additional $2,600 annually for the restaurant. As with the casino, installation costs can be covered by rebates and On-Bill Financing. These improvements should pay for themselves in less than four years.

RCEA recommendations for the remaining facilities consist primarily of upgrading interior fluorescent tube lighting systems to LED technology, with some exterior lighting upgrades as well. These changes should have a payback period of just under five years.

Following SERC’s examination of the potential for various on-site renewable energy resources, the project team concluded that solar electricity is the most economically viable technology for the tribe to pursue. We recommended three suitable sites for roof top installation: the Trinidad Pier bathroom and water treatment plant, the Trinidad Pier Guest House, and the tribal office building. These sites could accommodate systems of 8.2kW, 2.1kW, and 10.5kW respectively. As the Rancheria has sovereign nation status, they do not pay taxes, which in turn means that they do not qualify for the 30% tax credit or accelerated depreciation benefits available to those in the private sector. As a result, payback periods are noticeably longer (9 – 11 years) than for systems installed by private businesses with substantial tax obligations. Nevertheless, an investment in this technology would pay for itself over a reasonable time frame, and the electrical energy generated by these systems would continue to reduce the Rancheria’s dependence on PG&E long into the future.

Greenhouse Gases
If all of the recommendations discussed in this article were to be implemented, the tribe could reduce its GHG emissions by 65.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. This amounts to a nearly 10% reduction of the tribe’s estimated GHG emissions associated with current electricity usage levels.

SERC would like to thank the Trinidad Rancheria for the chance to perform this energy assessment work. We are pleased to have found numerous opportunities for the tribe to reduce energy costs, decrease GHG emissions, and increase energy security. We look forward to supporting the tribe in their future efforts to meet their sustainable energy goals.

UNCDF Energy Ladder Research

The first and second phases of the Energy Ladder Research project, a yearlong study in rural Uganda funded by the United Nations Capitol Development Fund CleanStart Programme, are nearly complete. The study aims to investigate end-user patterns of adoption of off-grid solar energy products in one district each in the central and the eastern regions of Uganda. Our first project announcement can be accessed here.

In the first phase of the project, Arne Jacobson and I organized a stakeholder workshop in Kampala, and visited and built familiarity with the districts under this study. During this phase, we also pilot tested the household phone survey and mapped the off-grid solar product distribution chain in these districts.

In the second phase of the project, I trained the survey team from the Center for Integrated Research and Community Development Uganda (CIRCODU), a Uganda-based organization specializing in field research on topics such as off-grid solar energy, the context and role of research, business models of data partners, and best practices for conducting interviews. During this phase, the CIRCODU team and I also initiated and completed the baseline surveys, which comprised short telephone interviews with 614 off-grid solar product buyers and longer face-to-face interviews with 117 of these respondents. This strategy helped save cost associated with implementing face-to-face interviews with a wider sample and at the same time provided the research depth that comes with in-person interviews, albeit for a smaller sub-sample. The phone surveys were used to gather critical data required for the study and the face-to-face surveys for verifying some of the responses received from phone surveys and for diving deeper into specific topics.

In the next stages of the project, I will prepare baseline survey data for analysis, consolidate early insights from the project based on the work so far, and prepare end-line surveys due to be implemented in January and February of 2017.

Surveyors from CIRCODU interview an off-grid solar product customer, Luwero, Uganda

Surveyors from CIRCODU interview an off-grid solar product customer, Luwero, Uganda


Example of an electronics shop that also stocks solar components, Luwero, Uganda.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Alex Eaton on Energy Production from Farm Waste in Latin America

alexeaton_dragon_revWe are pleased to welcome Alex Eaton, CEO of Sistema Biobolsa and an HSU alumnus, as the next speaker in the Fall 2016 Sustainable Futures Speaker Series. Alex will speak on Thursday, October 13 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in the Art B building, room 102 on the HSU campus. The title of his talk is “Waste to Energy to Market.”

Alex Eaton is the co-founder and CEO of Sistema Biobolsa, a company that fabricates, distributes, finances and services small-scale biogas systems in Latin America. Based in Mexico, the company is currently growing into new markets. Alex is also the co-founder of the Latin America Biogas Network and the Mexico Biogas Program of the International Renewable Resources Institute. He has been supported in his work as an Ashoka Fellow and Switzer Environmental Leadership Fellow and through the USDA, US EPA, and the Mexican government. Alex has a BA in journalism from Western State College of Colorado and an MS from the Energy Technology and Policy (ETaP) master’s program at Humboldt State University, where his master’s thesis focused on the development of the Sistema Biobolsa concept.

As we work to increase energy access and to mitigate climate change, we need creative, cost effective solutions to thousands of different energy problems. Sistema Biobolsa represents a highly innovative and successful effort that simultaneously increases access to affordable energy for low income farmers, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and provides additional benefits such as high quality fertilizer. In his talk, Alex will tell the story of how he helped build a successful business around the Sistema Biobolsa concept from work that he started while he was pursuing his master’s degree here at HSU. The talk should be interesting and engaging, and we encourage you to attend. Please forward this message on to others who may be interested.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Andy Baker on Ocean Source Heat Energy

We are pleased to announce Andy Baker, an energy consultant from Anchorage Alaska, as the next speaker in the Fall 2016 Sustainable Futures Speaker Series. Andy will speak on Thursday, October 6 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in the Art B building, room 102 on the HSU campus. The title of his talk is “Saved By The Gyres: Ocean Source Heat Pumps Cut Heating Costs and CO2 Emissions in Coastal Alaska Cities.”

Andy Baker is a registered professional engineer in Alaska and owner of YourCleanEnergy consulting in Anchorage. He has lived and worked in Alaska since 1998 and has focused for the past twelve years on identifying and designing cost effective renewable energy systems for commercial, municipal, and community clients. Andy has a bachelor of science in environmental engineering from Penn State University. He has worked previously as a project engineer for Buchart-Horn in Pennsylvania; Black & Veatch in San Diego, Lusaka, and Boston; and for HDR Alaska in Anchorage.

Andy’s work focus since 2009 has been on ocean source heat pumps systems for large facilities and district heating in coastal Alaska. He has worked with the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward for the past seven years to evaluate, design and monitor a large sea water heat pump system that has now effectively replaced 98% of local fossil fuel use with ocean source heat pumps. This high profile demonstration project combines the science of ocean gyres and an innovative heating system to produce a clean energy solution that has exciting implications for many northern coastal cities of the world.

The talk should be a very interesting one, and we encourage you to attend.

Sustainable Futures Speaker Series: Sharon Kramer of H.T. Harvey to Speak on Wave Energy and the Environment

We are pleased to welcome Dr. Sharon Kramer of H.T. Harvey & Associates to campus as the first speaker in the Fall 2016 Sustainable Futures Speaker Series. Sharon will speak on Thursday, September 15 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in the Art B building, room 102 on the HSU campus. The Art B building is located just to the east of the Van Duzer Theater. The title of her talk is “State of the Science on Environmental Issues and Marine Renewable Energy.”

Dr. Sharon Kramer is a principal at H. T. Harvey & Associates, and she heads its North Coast office and the Fish and Aquatic Ecology team. She has more than 25 years of experience in aquatic ecology and fisheries biology in the Pacific Northwest, California, Australia, and Hawai‘i. Sharon is well-versed in fish and aquatic habitat restoration and monitoring and project permitting, with extensive federal Endangered Species Act work. Her most recent focus has involved assessing and mitigating the environmental effects associated with marine renewable energy projects. Sharon has a Ph.D. in Marine Biology from the University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, an M.S. in Zoology from the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa, and a B.A. in Aquatic Biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Marine renewable energy, including wave energy and off-shore wind power, has great potential to contribute to the production of clean energy over the coming decades. Our region, including sites offshore along the California Coast north of Cape Mendocino and the Oregon Coast, has perhaps the best wave and off-shore wind resource potential in the continental United States. While the resource is excellent, challenges must be overcome to create reliable, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable marine renewable energy systems. Sharon has been a central player in efforts to address these challenges, with a focus on monitoring and addressing environmental issues associated with off-shore renewable energy systems. Her talk should be a very interesting and engaging one, and we encourage you to attend.


A Message from the Director

We are pleased to welcome two new faculty members to SERC and the Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) Department. We recently received confirmation that Peter Alstone and Liza Boyle accepted the tenure track positions that were offered to them. They will bring new ideas and dynamism to the ERE Department and SERC, and we are excited to have them join us.

Peter completed a PhD in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley this past fall, and is currently a post-doc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is an alumnus of SERC and has an MS from HSU (ERE option of the Environmental Systems graduate program). His bachelor’s degree is in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University. Peter’s dissertation examined the role that information technology is playing in enabling the expanded use of clean energy, and his dissertation revolved around a case study of the off-grid solar market in Kenya. His postdoc work at LBNL involves analysis to estimate the potential for demand response on California’s electrical grid. The work is being used by the California Public Utilities Commission to set state policy related to demand response and grid integration of renewable energy. Peter’s position at HSU is a joint appointment, with responsibilities at SERC (40% of his time) and the ERE Department (60%).

Liza also finished her doctorate in the fall of 2015. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. She has MS and BS degrees in mechanical engineering from CU Boulder and the University of the Pacific, respectively. Liza’s dissertation focused on the effect of soiling due to particulate deposition on the performance of solar photovoltaic arrays. The work involved experimental measurements and statistical analysis aimed at identifying factors that affect array performance. In conducting the research, Liza drew from her expertise in solar energy and air quality. The work is intended to lay the foundation for the development of tools to help commercial solar operators optimize power production and operations costs for their arrays. Liza’s faculty position in the ERE department puts her in a good position to engage in research through SERC, and we look forward to collaborating with her when she joins us here at HSU.

In other SERC news, we are happy to welcome Kim Thorpe as a new staff member. She is working on our energy access projects. We have also remained very busy with project work, and are engaging closely with the HSU planning department and an architectural firm as they work to design a 1900 square foot addition for SERC.

Goodbye until next time.

SERC Launches “The Energy Ladder Research” in Uganda

SERC has received a research grant from UNCDF’s CleanStart Programme to conduct a yearlong study in Uganda. This study aims to explore

  • solar energy product adoption patterns for off-grid rural users and if flexible consumer financing methods can help enable adoption of higher levels of access
  • if the use of off-grid solar products leads to improved communication by supporting the use of mobile phones and other similar devices
  • if, given the rise of mobile banking and pay-as-you-go sales models in the off-grid solar sector in East Africa, these solar products have the potential to increase access to mobile banking and similar digital financial services.

The adoption process of energy solutions by rural off-grid populations from basic lighting products to more sophisticated off-grid power systems is often explained by using the concept of an ‘energy ladder’. A ladder suggests a linear process of adoption involving substitution of inferior technologies with superior ones as users move up the rungs of the ladder. However, it is likely that while substitution does occur in some cases, energy adoption frequently involves fuel and technology “stacking”, in which new technologies are obtained but the original technologies are also retained.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 14 percent of people have access to grid electricity; however, nearly 70 percent now have access to mobile phones. While the demand for use of mobile phones is high in these regions, they often lack access to electricity and end up paying steep fees for phone charging services in the local market. A symbiotic relationship exists between increasing access to electricity in Africa and expanded use of information, communication and banking services using a mobile phone.

Our research team, which is led by Arne Jacobson, Richa Goyal, and Meg Harper, will take a rigorous look at these assumptions. We plan to initiate activities in March with a preliminary field visit to Uganda. The research initiative is jointly managed by UNCDF’s CleanStart Programme and Kat Harrison, Associate Director of Impact at Acumen, and is supported by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, GSMA and the World Bank Group.