SERC Display Illuminates Efficient Solar Home Power Systems

SERC’s Lighting Lab recently finished testing efficient DC lighting products for use with off-grid solar home systems, as part of a competition administered by the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) Awards program. To highlight the awards program, SERC incorporated some of the winning products into a tabletop display illustrating the difference between a solar-powered system with inefficient lighting and one that uses state-of the-art LED lighting and super-efficient appliances. The display was then presented at the Fifth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) conference in Seoul, South Korea, on May 12 and 13, where ministers, energy officials, and observers from more than 21 countries and the European Union were in attendance. This year’s slogan was “Act Together, Think Creative.”

Each system includes a 40 watt (W) solar panel, a charge controller, and a 70Ahr battery. In the “inefficient” system, these power a single 25 W incandescent bulb for five hours a day. In the “super-efficient” system, the same solar panel and battery can power two LED lights, each brighter than the 25 W incandescent, for five hours a day; one radio for five hours a day; one 13 W super-efficient flat panel television for over three hours a day; one 6 W super-efficient fan for four hours a day; and one cell phone charger.

Clearly, the use of high efficiency appliances can greatly enrich people’s lives.

CEM5 display

Efficient solar home power system tabletop display.Photograph courtesy of IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

This project was a collaboration between the US Department of Energy (US DOE), the Collaborative Labeling and Appliance Standard Program (CLASP), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and SERC. Our team at SERC designed and built the portable display, while Carolyn McGregor of the US DOE, Matt Jordan of CLASP and Won Young Park of LBNL attended the CEM5 conference and manned the booth.

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.

P&CatTdad-touchup

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.

Lighting Lab Update

TERI-opening

Director Arne Jacobson at the TERI grand opening in March. Photo credit Sanjay Kumar.

The Solar Lighting Laboratory of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, India is open and ready for business.  Last year, SERC director Arne Jacobson and I traveled to New Delhi to complete a hands-on training for the Solar Lighting Laboratory and have since evaluated the laboratory’s work testing off-grid lighting products. Through SERC’s support and the Solar Lighting Laboratory’s hard work, TERI has established the first Asian laboratory within the Lighting Global Quality Assurance Program test laboratory network.

TERI’s Solar Lighting Laboratory will be evaluating off-grid lighting products using the International Electrotechnical Commission’s standard TS 62257-9-5. The test methods verify products by checking product ratings; measuring key product parameters such as daily hours of operation, lighting output, and solar power production; and evaluating parameters related to product durability such as LED life, shock resistance, and workmanship of electrical and mechanical parts.

In other news, in response to demand from the off-grid lighting market, the Lighting Global program has decided to extend the existing quality assurance framework to include larger solar home system kits. Compared to the lighting products we currently test, these plug-and-play direct current kits can provide more power for lighting as well as other uses, such as mobile phone charging, radios, fans and even TVs. Over the next two years, SERC will partner with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems to adapt existing test methods and standards to reliably assess and report the quality of these larger systems.

While expanding our scope, we are also working with our wide range of stakeholders to refine our current test procedures and ensure a reliable and rigorous quality assurance framework that can be sustained for years into the future. As part of this process, Arne and other team members presented to stakeholders at the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association quality assurance symposium in Cologne, Germany in April.

We also remain committed to better promoting and communicating information about the products that have met our Quality Standards in the off-grid lighting market. As part of this ongoing effort, we have re-designed the Lighting Global website to enable interested parties to more easily view and compare 48 solar lighting products produced by over 20 different manufacturers that have met the Lighting Global Minimum Quality Standards.

Lighting Lab: TERI Solar Lighting Laboratory

Over the past several months, SERC has worked closely with the Solar Lighting Laboratory of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, India to support their effort to join the network of test laboratories affiliated with the Lighting Global Quality Assurance Program. Lighting Global, which is affiliated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs, is a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank. The program supports the development of commercial markets for affordable, quality-assured lighting products for use in off-grid areas of Africa and Asia. Most products evaluated under the program are solar-charged LED lights for rural applications. A strong network of product testing laboratories is the backbone of the Lighting Global effort.

TERI-trng

SERC research engineer Kristen Radecsky answers questions about solar module testing during the technical training session at TERI University in New Delhi, India.

In March, SERC director Arne Jacobson and research engineer Kristen Radecsky traveled to New Delhi to complete a hands-on training with the Solar Lighting Laboratory. They worked alongside HSU graduate and SERC alum Brendon Mendonca and Lighting Global team member Kevin Gauna. The training covered all aspects of the Lighting Global Quality Test Methods. The methods verify the quality of products by checking product ratings, and measure product parameters such as daily hours of operation, lighting output, and solar power production. They also evaluate parameters related to product durability such as LED life, shock resistance, and workmanship of electrical and mechanical parts. The training’s success will be an asset to the Lighting Global Quality Assurance Program, as the laboratory’s strategic location at the TERI University in New Delhi, India will facilitate testing of products made and sold in India.

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.

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.
—Peter—

LED Lighting Africa

Student research assistant Patricia Lai demonstrates the “multiplane distribution” test method that was developed at SERC and allows low-cost measurement of luminous flux. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Student research assistant Patricia Lai demonstrates the “multiplane distribution” test method that was developed at SERC and allows low-cost measurement of luminous flux. Photo credit Kellie Jo Brown.

Here at SERC we are continuing our work supporting the Lighting Africa program, a joint IFC-World Bank initiative to catalyze markets for good quality off-grid lighting in the developing world. Over the last year, SERC has played a key role coordinating the Quality Assurance portion of the program, including generating and interpreting product test results, writing test methods, meeting with international policy-makers, and too many other tasks to list here. Some key breakthroughs and activities over the last few months have been:

  •  Developing a new method for measuring total lumen output for lighting devices that only requires $2,000 in equipment – compared to the $30,000 often required for the necessary hardware. This will allow startup manufacturers and low-budget laboratories (like the ones in some developing countries) to measure the true light output of their devices without needing to send them out for expensive testing.
  • Contributing to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change “Small-scale methodology AMS-III.AR,” which allows off-grid lighting systems to receive credit for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helps reduce the up front cost of improved lighting to end-users.
  • Traveling to Munich and Nairobi to meet with policymakers and representatives from other international programs and harmonize their activities with the Lighting Africa Quality Assurance framework, which is becoming a global model in the off-grid lighting world.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

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.

Continue reading