A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3Spring is a time of renewal and celebration. Here at SERC, we have much to celebrate as we reach our 25th anniversary. I joined SERC as a graduate student in 1993, a few years after it was founded. When I look back, I am amazed at all that this Center has accomplished. It is especially gratifying to review the list of SERC alumni and to reflect on where they are now. To date, 145 people have either worked or volunteered at SERC, and many are now working in the clean energy field. Their collective activities and accomplishments have made a real difference in the world. It will be great to see all of the alumni who can make it to the anniversary party on May 16.

Speaking of SERC alumni, two key SERC staff members are about to make the transition. Robert Hosbach, an integral member of our energy access and off-grid lighting team, has accepted a position working in the energy efficient appliance standards group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Richard Engel, a senior research engineer who has been with SERC for over 14 years, is also moving on. Both will be deeply missed, and we wish them well on the next steps in their journey.

Although they cannot be replaced, we are in the process of hiring several new team members. We are excited to be able to announce that Dave Carter has accepted our offer to join SERC as a senior research engineer. Dave is a licensed civil engineer with almost a decade of professional experience. He is also an alumnus of SERC, having worked here as a student and just after his graduation back in 2004 and 2005. We are also in the process of hiring for four other positions. We are selecting candidates for two staff positions and one student position associated with the Lighting Global program and other activities related to energy access for low-income people living in off-grid areas. We are also reviewing applications for a position focused on alternative fuels for transportation.

I will close by thanking our Advisory Board for their input during a very productive meeting on April 11. This year’s meeting was our second on-campus session, and we are very pleased with the support and guidance that the board is providing. We are already looking forward to the next meeting.

Goodbye until next time.

SERC to Celebrate Our 25th Anniversary

On the afternoon of Friday, May 16, Schatzers from far and wide will gather at Freshwater Park outside Eureka to commemorate the silver anniversary of the Schatz Energy Research Center. Catered food and general merriment will help us celebrate 25 years of clean and renewable energy work.

It all began with a phone call in May of 1989. Mr. Schatz called me up to ask questions about a proposal I had sent him to build a system to demonstrate using hydrogen to store solar energy. He had solicited ideas about hydrogen research from HSU and when I heard about the possibility, I sent him a proposal the next day.

Mr. Schatz didn’t waste words. He started the conversation by saying, “This is Mr. Schatz. You sent me a proposal. I have questions.” Our call lasted over an hour and when it was over, I suggested sending him a revised proposal based on our conversation. He agreed and I did. Less than two weeks later, a small envelope with a check for $75,000 appeared in my mailbox and the great adventure that has become the Schatz Center had begun.

The first thing I did was to knock on Charles Chamberlin’s door. Charles and I had collaborated on several projects before and I knew he was just the partner I needed. Our partnership has been a cornerstone for the lab ever since.

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Directors Peter Lehman and Charles Chamberlin pose in front of the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project in 1995.

That first project, the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project at HSU’s marine lab in Trinidad, turned out to be just the beginning. When the fuel cell we bought for the project didn’t work, Mr. Schatz told me, “Build your own.” So Charles and I wrote a proposal to build a fuel cell lab and begin work to develop our own fuel cell. Along came another small envelope, this time with a check for $300,000 and a small handwritten note that said, “Get to work!”

Directors

Director Arne Jacobson with Charles and Peter at SERC’s 20th Anniversary party.

That experience led us to many more hydrogen projects and to many places. We introduced America’s first PEM fuel cell car and built the first hydrogen fueling station in the late 1990s, near Palm Springs in southern California. We built fuel cell power systems for remote use in Alaska and for a radio telephone system in Redwood National Park. We’ve installed fuel cell test stations in a number of universities, including most recently in Abu Dhabi. Four corporations have licensed our fuel cell patents, seeking to commercialize the technology.

Fast forward to today and our energy work has broadened considerably. We’re involved in developing standards for LED lighting products and in providing energy access in Africa and Asia. We’ve branched out into bioenergy, with projects to install a biomass-fired fuel cell power system here locally and another to characterize technologies such as biochar and torrefaction, in an effort to reduce the cost of getting energy rich biomass to market.  We’re also involved in helping to plan electric and alternative fuel infrastructure here in northern California and in India. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.

It’s the people at SERC who have made this happen. Over these 25 years, 145 people have contributed their efforts to our enterprise.  We’re lucky that one of them, Arne Jacobson, returned to SERC after getting his PhD to become our director and to lead our international work. Many more have gone on to interesting and important energy careers around the world.

We have much to celebrate as we look back over a quarter of a century. And we can be proud that we’re continuing our work to make this a greener planet.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3We have completed the transition from summer to fall here in far northern California, and – while it has been clear and sunny for the past few days – we recently had the first heavy rainstorm of the season. As the seasons change, we remain busy at SERC with a diverse portfolio of clean energy projects. The selection of articles in this newsletter reflects this diversity.

In the lead article, Richard Engel reports on a project that is in line with our broader work aimed at enabling energy access in off-grid areas ranging from South Asia to East Africa. We are also happy to report on recent progress in our biomass energy collaboration with Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT). We look forward to deepening our work with RFT and others in the field as we expand our efforts in this arena.

Several other articles reflect our long tradition of work related to clean transportation. We were pleased to be in a position to fuel the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that SERC alum Anand Gopal and his wife Liz Pimentel drove up from the Bay Area. We hope this event will be the first of many such occurrences made possible by our hydrogen vehicle fueling station.

We are also pleased to extend our plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charging infrastructure planning work from California to India. The work in New Delhi, which involves collaboration with Anand Gopal and colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will require analysis in a new and complex setting involving very different driving patterns and electricity infrastructure. We at SERC always like to get involved in new and challenging work, and we hope to contribute meaningfully to the wider effort to enable cleaner transportation systems in New Delhi and beyond.

I will close by welcoming several new members to the SERC team. This August, Nick Bryant of Washington state and Amit Khare of New Delhi, India started work at SERC. They are also pursuing master’s degrees in the Energy Technology and Policy (ETaP) program here at HSU. We also have three additions to our docent team, including Yaad Rana, Onomewerike “Robo” Okumo, and Jake Coniglione. All are undergraduate students in the Environmental Resources Engineering program. It is great to have these students on board.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3The last few months have been busy ones at SERC. As outlined in this issue, we continue to be active on several efforts related to hydrogen and fuel cells. One especially notable milestone, led by Senior Research Engineer Greg Chapman, was completion of an upgrade to our hydrogen fueling station. It is now capable of fueling vehicles to 700 bar pressure. This is an exciting step forward that will allow us to drive fuel cell powered vehicles back and forth to Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.

We have also been busy with several efforts related to access to energy for people in off-grid areas of Africa, Asia, and beyond. Research Engineer Tom Quetchenbach writes about recent work related to renewable energy mini-grids, and Research Engineer Meg Harper describes our participation in the 3rd International Off-Grid Lighting Conference and Trade Fair, held from November 13 to 15 in Dakar, Senegal. The conference was organized and sponsored by Lighting Africa, a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank. I was on the conference organizing committee, and many of us from SERC were involved in preparations for the meeting.

In many ways, the conference was a reunion for SERC staff, alum, and long-time collaborators who have worked on energy access and off-grid lighting over the past several years. The SERC crew included Kristen Radecsky, Patricia Lai, and me. SERC alumni in attendance were Peter Alstone, Jennifer Tracy, and Chris Carlsen. Many long-time collaborators (too many to mention) from Lighting Africa, the Lumina Project, the U.S. Department of Energy, and a host of private sector firms and government agencies were also there.

What drew us all together in Dakar for a few days of intense conversation and networking? As many of you know, rechargeable LED lamps have emerged as an affordable alternative to fuel-based lighting in many off-grid areas of Africa, Asia, and beyond. Commercial sales of quality assured off-grid lighting and energy systems have skyrocketed as the products have gotten better, prices have dropped, and companies have become increasingly successful at reaching low-income off-grid customers. The meeting in Dakar was aimed at sustaining and accelerating this progress through information exchange, strategic discussions, and networking.

There was a buzz in the halls at the conference, and the attendees had good reason to be excited. The rapid emergence of LED-based off-grid lighting has some very positive implications. Solar-charged LED lights typically save off-grid families and businesses money from reduced expenditure on lighting fuel. Many of the products also charge mobile phones, which can lead to additional savings. In addition, the health benefits of a transition away from kerosene lighting are large. A new report sponsored by the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) details kerosene lighting’s role in hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries annually from fires, explosions, indoor air pollution, and accidental ingestion by infants. Additionally, it seems that the climate change mitigation benefits of measures to reduce kerosene are much larger than previously understood. A recently published study out of UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois indicates that the climate forcing effect of black carbon (soot) emissions from kerosene wick lamps is about 20 times larger than the warming effect of carbon dioxide emissions from the lamps. This provides good motivation to press forward with efforts like Lighting Africa, Lighting Asia, and Global LEAP.

For now, though, we are all looking forward to a little end-of-year rest. Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year.

Lighting Global 2012 Outstanding Product Awards

SERC’s yearlong effort coordinating the Lighting Global 2012 Outstanding Product Awards culminated in the announcement of the award winners at the 3rd International Off-grid Lighting Conference and Trade Fair in Dakar, Senegal in November. This marks the second time SERC has led the Outstanding Product Awards effort; the first was at its inception in 2010. Lighting Global, which is closely associated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs, is a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank. The Outstanding Product Awards recognize exceptional off-grid lighting products and seek to encourage the development of quality, affordable lights for the estimated 1.6 billion people in the world who lack access to electricity.  Providing access to quality lighting enables people to reduce their use of expensive fuel-based lighting, such as kerosene lamps, which in turn lowers their exposure to air pollutants, minimizes fire hazards and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions.

Lighting manufacturers entered 25 different products in this year’s competition.  Products were divided into three price-based categories: ‘Budget’ products under $30; ‘Mid-range’ products between $30-$72; and ‘Premium’ products from $72-$135.

An initial screening based on preliminary tests narrowed the candidates down to 16 finalists.  All award finalists underwent a rigorous assessment process involving detailed laboratory testing, evaluation by people living in off-grid areas of Senegal, Kenya, and India, and final judging by a panel of experts. The entire process took over seven months to complete and not only informed the judges, but also provided valuable feedback in the form of test reports and end-user evaluations to the lighting manufacturers.

Focus group participants examine the Sun King™ Pro.

Focus group participants examine the Sun King™ Pro.

SERC played a substantive role in all phases of the assessment.  SERC’s lighting test lab coordinated with the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (FISE) to test the technical performance of the finalist lamps according to the Lighting Global Quality Test Methods.

Concurrently, SERC team members and SERC alum Jennifer Tracy coordinated the field evaluations in which 18 focus groups of 10-12 people in India, Kenya, and Senegal provided end-user perspectives about the products. Each focus group member was able to try out one of the candidate lamps in their home for 1-2 weeks. Following the in-home trials, each group met for a feedback session in which participants reported on and demonstrated their lamps as part of a group discussion. This field feedback was a key part of the judging process.

Finally, SERC served as part of the expert judging panel, which also included experts from the UN Foundation, the German development agency GIZ, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), and the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs. In making their final selections, the judges considered overall design, technical performance, environmental impacts, truth in advertising, ease of use, special features such as mobile phone charging, end-user perspectives and price.

Several members of SERC’s lighting lab team attended the awards ceremony in Senegal and were thrilled to congratulate the winning manufacturers. All the winning lamps (see photo, below), aside from the winner in the budget category, offer the ability to charge a cell phone in addition to providing high-quality lighting service. The awards ceremony and gala dinner were sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy under the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP). Visit the conference website for a list of product award winners and to view photos from the event.

Graduate Student Research Assistant Patricia Lai looks over this year’s winning products: (from left to right) Marathoner Beacon MB2 380/SooLED B3, Marathoner Beacon MB2 090/SooLED B1, Trony Sundial TSL01, Greenlight Planet’s Sun King™ Pro and Barefoot Power Firefly 2.5. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Graduate Student Research Assistant Patricia Lai looks over this year’s winning products: (from left to right) Marathoner Beacon MB2 380/SooLED B3, Marathoner Beacon MB2 090/SooLED B1, Trony Sundial TSL01, Greenlight Planet’s Sun King™ Pro and Barefoot Power Firefly 2.5. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Following the excitement of the Outstanding Product Awards, SERC’s off-grid lighting team continues to work with the Lighting Global program to promote clean off-grid lighting in the developing world. In the coming months, SERC and the Lighting Global team will expand their efforts beyond Africa to support quality assurance activities related to the IFC’s Lighting Asia program, which launched activities in India in May of 2012 and is planning future work in additional countries including Bangladesh.