A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3On April 5th, SERC hosted the first meeting of its new Advisory Board. The formation of the board represents an important milestone for our center. The board is a dynamic group with deep experience in the clean energy sector, and they are well positioned to help us enhance our ability to achieve our mission of promoting clean and renewable energy.

If renewable energy is to make a difference in addressing the major environmental problems of our times, it must continue to move from the margins into the mainstream. During the board meeting, the SERC team reported on the recently completed RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan, which confirms that Humboldt County is well positioned to play a leading role in this effort. As senior research engineer Jim Zoellick reports in this issue, the strategic plan includes an analysis of the potential to dramatically scale up the use of renewable energy in Humboldt County.

The results are interesting and promising. They indicate that Humboldt County can meet 75% or more of its electricity needs and a substantial percentage of its transportation and heating requirements by 2030 using renewable energy at only a modest increase in cost. Meeting these targets would result in reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are on the order of 35% to 45% relative to the expected business-as-usual trajectory.

If successful, an effort to achieve these goals would have significance that goes well beyond Humboldt County. Back in 2009, President Obama set a target of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 83% by 2050 (relative to 2005 baseline emissions).  For the country to have a chance to meet that target, some regions need to lead the way by achieving substantial reductions much earlier. The challenge is a big one, and Humboldt County has the renewable energy resource base, prior track record, and environmental ethic to play a leadership role. The RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan provides a vision and a roadmap that we can use to move forward. And, as Jim explains, some next step activities are already underway in the form of a CEC funded project involving collaboration between SERC, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, and the Blue Lake Rancheria.

The board also heard about SERC’s education and outreach work. Over the past year, SERC’s clean energy education programs have reached over 1,000 students and community members. In addition to activities in schools and university classes, SERC provides mentorship to students working to reduce the environmental impact of energy use on the Humboldt State campus through projects funded by the Humboldt Energy Independence Fund (HEIF).  In this issue, senior research engineer Richard Engel writes about our work to support HEIF projects, one of the latest efforts in SERC’s longstanding tradition of training and mentoring students.

The board was very interested in SERC’s international project portfolio, including our work in support of quality assurance for off-grid lighting in Africa and Asia.  In this newsletter, research engineer Kristen Radecsky recounts the recent successful technical training workshop that she helped lead for the Solar Lighting Laboratory at TERI University in New Delhi, India. This work is part of a broader effort associated with the Lighting Asia and Lighting Africa initiatives to develop a network of laboratories which can evaluate the quality and performance of off-grid lighting and energy systems that provide critical energy services to people in rural areas of Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

Also in this issue, Richard reports about a new international project related to the use of solar powered mini-grids for rural electrification in India. The effort involves collaboration with partners including E3 and Black & Veatch.

I will close by extending a special thanks to our Advisory Board for taking the time to serve on our behalf. It was a pleasure having them here at SERC, and I look forward to more productive sessions over the coming years. Goodbye until next time.

SERC Helps HSU Tackle Campus Energy Use

SERC is in its third year of providing technical mentoring to HSU’s Humboldt Energy Independence Fund (HEIF). This innovative program collects a small fee from each HSU student every semester and uses this pool of funding to implement energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on campus. Among the many projects completed to date are a photovoltaic system on a campus rooftop and a retrofit of playfield lighting in the Redwood Bowl stadium. HEIF projects include student participation from initial idea development to full design and implementation. Students also participate actively alongside faculty and staff in HEIF program governance.

SERC engineers Richard Engel and Tom Quetchenbach currently oversee two teams of paid student HEIF interns. This year’s projects include:

  • a comprehensive inventory of campus lighting. Results are being shared with campus building maintenance staff, who will use the data to set lighting retrofit priorities.
  • development of energy-efficiency standards for campus remodels. Students are working with the campus Facilities Planning office to ensure such standards are used to specify new equipment, starting with energy-saving light fixtures.
  • creation of computer models to design indoor and outdoor retrofit projects for stage lighting in the music department’s main recital hall and roadway lighting for a campus entrance.

Tom and Richard support these projects by meeting regularly with the students, helping them plan their work, take field measurements, learn to use software, and solve other engineering problems.

HEIF interns and SERC mentor pore over campus building drawings.

The HEIF building standards team includes (left to right) interns Eric Sorensen and Danielle Burkhart and SERC mentor Tom Quetchenbach. Photo credit Michael Fisher.