Summer Field Season in Kenya

As the spring semester drew to a close the signs of summer crept in:  fewer cars parked on the streets of Arcata, foggy mornings, and SERC staff packing for field work on our international projects.  In early June, we embarked on a trip to Kenya to support our ongoing work with the World Bank / IFC Lighting Africa program, which supports the growing market for clean, efficient, affordable solar lighting in the developing world.

Conducting Product Awards Focus Groups

2012 marks the second time that SERC is coordinating an Outstanding Product Awards Competition for Off-grid Lighting (the first was in 2010).  The awards will be given in November in Dakar, Senegal.  Eighteen groups of 10-12 people in India, Kenya, and Senegal have been selected as field judges and their feedback is a key part of the judging process.  The field judges participate in an initial focus group, and then they try out a product in their home for about a week.  Following the in-home trial, they report back at a final focus group.  The judges in Kenya shared their enthusiasm for the project by welcoming us with songs (that we couldn’t understand well) and dance (that was universally understood) to the initial focus groups.  So far, the process has been a success.  We are coordinating the judging in Kenya along with SERC alum Jennifer Tracy, who is leading the overall field judging process.  SERC Engineer Brendon Mendonca is helping coordinate the judging in India, and Chris Carlsen (another SERC alum) is helping in Senegal.

Research assistant Daniel Koech surveys a shop in Kericho.

Surveying the Market for Off-grid Lighting

In between focus groups, we led a survey of shops that sell off-grid lighting products in three Kenyan towns: Kericho, Brooke, and Talek.  This study is an update to a survey that was completed in 2009.  The new survey shows how the market has changed, and preliminary results suggest that many more good quality, affordable lighting products are available today than were three years ago.

Participants in the “train the trainer” session held at the University of Nairobi.

Training Off-grid Lighting Technicians

As the market for good quality off-grid lighting grows, it is inevitable that some will break, but hopefully not too many.  To help ensure that people with broken lights do not slide back to dirty, expensive, unsafe kerosene lighting, it is critical that service and maintenance technicians are able to fix their lights.  Lighting Africa has begun to train technicians to do just this, and plans to hold a number of trainings over the next year in Kenya.  On June 13, we led a “train the trainer” session to build training capacity that Lighting Africa can deploy.  We prepared for the session by developing a comprehensive training package based on the initial trainings held by Lighting Africa.

A shopkeeper in Talek (100 km off the grid) displays two off-grid lighting products he offers for sale. The one on the right (Sun KingTM) has been tested and met Lighting Africa’s Quality Standards.

Looking Forward

These three activities highlight SERC’s diverse engagement in clean off-grid lighting in the developing world.  Our team’s reach goes from the test lab downstairs at SERC in Arcata all the way to the sitting rooms of off-grid homes in Kenya.  Looking forward we will continue to expand our activities with Lighting Africa, and we are in the early process of similar engagement in India.  We’ll keep you apprised of our continued off-grid lighting work in future posts.

A Message from the Director: Passing the Torch

This is my last director’s column.  After 7 years of newsletters and 23 years at the helm of the Schatz lab, I’ll be entering the faculty early retirement program in mid-August and passing the torch on to Arne Jacobson who will become the lab’s director.

We’re fortunate to have Arne stepping in.  He was one of the first grad students to work at the lab; his master’s thesis concerned work with the electrolyzer at the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project.  He went on to earn his Ph.D. at the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley and now is my colleague in the Environmental Resources Engineering department.  Arne’s long time connection with the lab, his service as co-director for five years, and his strong leadership skills will serve us well for many years to come.  And starting next issue, you’ll get to read his thoughts in this space.

Meanwhile, I’m not going away.  Working here is way too interesting and fun to stop now.  During the five years of my early retirement program, I’ll be known as the Founding Director and share leadership duties with Arne.  I look forward to being busy and involved; maybe I’ll even have a chance to get back into the lab and turn a wrench or two.

In this issue of our newsletter, Peter Alstone and Meg Harper keep us up to date on summer activities in Kenya as part of the Lighting Africa project and Richard Engel writes a tribute to our benefactor Mr. Schatz on the 100th anniversary of his birth.  Jim Zoellick describes a project with local partners to plan for an electric vehicle infrastructure in Humboldt County, Allison Oakland describes our continuing effort to bring fuel cell topics into science education with a teacher workshop, and Greg Chapman describes progress in upgrading our hydrogen fueling station to 700 bar operation.

I’m writing this on the summer solstice as the sun shines its warmth and light on our hemisphere.  I want to thank all you faithful readers and send a fond farewell.  It’s been a joy and a privilege to communicate with you through this column; let’s all keep working to improve the health of our beautiful planet.  Goodbye, thank you, and best wishes.

Lighting Africa’s Product Awards

Lighting Africa Awards

Representatives of the award-winning companies after receiving the awards at the ceremony on May 18th, 2010 at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.

LED lighting products, many of which are solar charged, are streaming into the African market and displacing incandescent flashlights and fuel-based lighting. They hold the promise to improve peoples’ lives and reduce global warming emissions that are associated with fuel-based lighting. Unfortunately, the quality of the products is highly variable; many of them fail in a matter of weeks or months and threaten to spoil the market for improved lighting systems. To help differentiate between better quality products and the rest, SERC worked with the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa Program over the last year to administer the Lighting Africa 2010 Outstanding Product Awards–the first awards program of its kind for off-grid lighting products in the African market. On May 18th, 2010, five products were given honors at the Lighting Africa 2010 Global Business Conference and Trade Fair in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Off-Grid Lighting Adventure Continues

Flashlights in Kenyan Market

Flashlights, along with other goods, available from hawkers on the street in central Kericho, Kenya. (Photo credit SERC).

This article was written by Jennifer Tracy.

Despite dust storms stirring up eye-stinging grits of dirt, downpours that filled 50 gallon barrels and donkeys that reverberated piercing 6 AM wake up calls, it was impossible for us not to smile with gratitude and joy. For the second summer running SERC personnel traveled to Kenya to continue our ongoing field research on off-grid, efficient lighting for low income rural people. With help from our Kenyan research colleague Maina Mumbi and the hospitality of his family, SERC Co-director Arne Jacobson, Research Engineer Peter Johnstone and myself, Graduate Student Research Assistant Jenny Tracy, had a successful trip that was never short of excitement–within 15 meters of two full-grown lions we got a flat tire!

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Efficient Off-Grid Lighting in Kenya

Kenyan street vendor "before"

“Before”: M.J., a vendor in the Kenyan town of Maai Mahiu, poses with his hurricane-type kerosene lamp inside his kiosk. (Photo credit SERC).

Kenyan street vendor "after"

“After”: M.J. with his LED lamp that he obtained through our research effort. (Photo credit SERC).

We continued our research on efficient lighting for sub-saharan Africa in winter 2009 as a continuing partner in the Lumina Project, a collaboration between SERC Co-director Arne Jacobson and Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Over a month-long trip in summer 2008, Dr. Jacobson, Kristen Radecsky, and I traveled in the Rift Valley region of Kenya doing market field testing of small, rechargeable LED lighting products. In January 2009, I returned to the field for two weeks to follow up with the study participants and wrap up the year’s data collection effort. The January tasks included a follow-up survey for night market vendors who participated in the study, surveying the demand threshold for illumination for the vendors, and gathering samples of
LED products that are available in the Kenyan marketplace.

Between July 2008 and January 2009 our research participants had 6 months to work with the LED lamps they purchased through our project, and their response to the technology has been very positive. M.J., a research participant in the town of Maai Mahiu says, “I stay open longer now than before. I’ve noticed more customers are attracted to my business in the evening compared to before, and they can see my goods more clearly. Continue reading

Off-Grid Lighting Research in Kenya

Kristen in Kenya with Hurricane Lamp

Kristen Radecsky measures a vendor’s hurricane lamp to calculate the lamp’s burn rate. (Photo credit SERC).

SERC co-director Dr. Arne Jacobson and graduate student research assistants Peter Johnstone and Kristen Radecsky traveled to Kenya this past summer to collect data for the off-grid lighting project. Lighting is often a large fraction of the operating costs for small, off-grid businesses in Kenya. Because they are not connected to the grid, they use a variety of off-grid lighting technologies to illuminate their shops– including candles, kerosene lamps, and battery powered LED lamps. Kerosene lamps are most popular, but can be expensive due to high kerosene prices. Kerosene lamps can also release tiny particulate matter that causes health problems. A number of manufacturers world-wide are designing off-grid lighting products with the goal of making them more affordable in locations like Kenya, often using LED technology.    SERC researchers will use the collected data to inform manufacturers of the costs for small businesses of using off-grid lighting products in actual field conditions and make recommendations for how lights can be better designed to make them more affordable.

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LED Technology for Off-Grid Lighting in Africa

Article written by Arne Jacobson

Testing off grid lighting projects

Graduate Students Ranjit Deshmukh and Stephen Kullmann and Professor Arne Jacobson measuring LED lighting performance at SERC. (Photo Credit Kellie Brown)

Battery powered lanterns that use white LED technology are emerging as a potential substitute for kerosene lighting in unelectrified areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Dozens of LED-based off-grid lighting products are now available, with most selling at prices ranging from $2 to $60 per unit.

Over the past two years, SERC has been involved in research related to the quality, performance, economics, and end-uses of LED lights. The effort, dubbed the Lumina Project, is a collaboration headed by Evan Mills of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Arne Jacobson of SERC. The work is funded by Richard C. Blum Center for Developing Economies through a donation from Art Rosenfeld. To date, the research has included laboratory testing of existing LED lighting products, as well as fieldwork in Kenya.

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Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in Kenya

Article written by Arne Jacobson

Arne Jacobson with WLED product

Arne Jacobson of SERC helps Daniel Buyu of Yala, Kenya troubleshoot a problem with an LED flashlight. (Photo credit Evan Mills)

Kenya is a world leader, on a per capita basis, in the utilization of solar photovoltaic systems. Solar power provides the main source of electricity for more than 5% of Kenya’s rural population, and sales of solar products in Kenya continue to grow.

Although these high use levels indicate a robust renewable energy sector, quality issues have long been a concern in the Kenya solar market. As is true in many Sub Saharan African countries, market institutions for ensuring quality are weak in Kenya. As a result, while most solar products sold in the country perform adequately, some of the products sold in the market perform well below advertised levels. This persistent presence of low quality goods is a problem not only for rural Kenyans unlucky enough to purchase the “wrong” PV module or battery, but also for the reputation of the solar industry.

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Building Institutions for Renewable Energy Markets: Quality Assurance Testing of Solar Modules in Kenya by Arne Jacobson

amorphous silicon PV panel test results

Average Stabilized Maximum Power Output for Five Brands of 14 Watt Rated Amorphous Silicon Solar Modules Sold in Kenya. (Maximum Power at Standard Test Conditions of 1000 W/m2 and 25°C).

Renewable energy can be a pillar of a sustainable future in industrialized and developing countries alike. Over the past decade renewable energy has moved from the margins into the mainstream, as commercially viable markets have emerged in a number of countries around the world. However, the sustainability of these new markets is not guaranteed. Market institutions that ensure quality and protect consumer interests are critical to support and expand renewable energy markets.

Kenya has one of the largest markets per capita for solar electric systems among developing countries, but it has been plagued by quality problems and even fraud. For example, while many of the solar module brands sold in Kenya perform adequately, some companies have sold low quality products that produce only a fraction of their rated power output. See the graph above showing test results for five competing brands of 14 Watt rated solar modules sold in Kenya for an illustration of these problems.

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