The Pico Power Revolution: Off-Grid Energy Services for Low Income People in Africa, Asia, and Beyond

SERC Director Arne Jacobson will kick off HSU’s Sustainable Futures Speaker Series spring lineup with a free, public presentation on Thursday, February 26 at 5:30pm in the Behavioral & Social Sciences Building room 166 on the HSU campus.

Jacobson is a professor in the Environmental Resources Engineering Department and Director of SERC. He serves as the technical lead for product quality assurance for Lighting Global, which is associated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs. Collectively, these programs have helped enable sales of over six million quality assurance solar lighting systems to people in off-grid areas of Africa and Asia.

Jacobson has a Ph.D. from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree focused on Environmental Resources Engineering from Humboldt State University, and a bachelor’s degree in physics from Earlham College. In 2010-11 he served as Senior Advisor in the Office of Policy and International Affairs at U.S. Department of Energy. His areas of research and work interest include renewable energy technologies, energy access in off-grid areas, and clean energy deployment policy.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3Happy New Year! I hope that 2014 is off to a good start for you all. The year promises to be a busy and productive one for the team at SERC. We have an exciting lineup of clean energy projects and activities across a number of subject areas.

In the energy access arena, we are in the final stage of negotiating a three-year, $1.6 million contract with the International Finance Corporation to continue our work as the technical lead for quality assurance for the Lighting Global initiative. Lighting Global is associated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs, which support the development of markets for modern off-grid lighting and energy products. Under our contract, we will continue to manage the program’s quality assurance testing and verification program for off-grid lighting products. We will also lead a strategic effort to update and expand the program, conduct laboratory and field research related to the effort, and engage with key industry stakeholders. Our work to date for IFC has helped support rapid expansion of the use of solar charged off-grid lighting and energy systems. For example, over 2.7 million off-grid LED lights that were quality assured through the program have been sold in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2009, and sales have been doubling annually. Sales in South Asian countries such as India are also high. We look forward to our continued participation in the effort to expand access to clean and affordable energy for people without access to grid power in the years to come.

We will be similarly busy in the biomass energy arena. First, we are working closely with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) and the Blue Lake Rancheria on a project involving the development of a cutting edge biomass-fueled power system to be installed at the Rancheria. The system involves a gasifier that converts woody biomass fuel into a hydrogen-rich syngas, which is, in turn, processed for use in a proton exchange membrane fuel cell. This year is a pivotal one for the effort, as we aim to make considerable progress toward the goal of having an operational system in 2015. We will also continue work on the conversion of biomass into useful fuels and other valuable products using technologies such as gasification, torrefaction and densification. We are currently finishing up one project in this area, and anticipate starting a significant new project in the coming months (details forthcoming).

We also have several projects in hand on the clean transportation front, including analyses related to electric vehicle infrastructure planning for Humboldt County, several other counties in the northern Central Valley of California, and the city of New Delhi. We learned in December that a $300K alternative transportation planning project (including electric vehicles and other alternative fuels) that we are conducting in partnership with RCEA and other regional partners was funded by the California Energy Commission. Special thanks go to Jim Zoellick, Colin Sheppard and Kevin Fingerman of SERC and Matthew Marshall, Dana Boudreau, and Jerome Carman of RCEA for leading that proposal development effort. We may have even more work in this area soon, as we learn the outcome of additional submitted proposals.

Last, but certainly not least, we will participate in a feasibility analysis for the development of a wave energy technology test site in California in collaboration with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a number of additional partners, including local partners RCEA, the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, and HT Harvey and Associates. The analysis, which is a $750K effort funded by U.S. Department of Energy, involves consideration of sites near Humboldt Bay and San Luis Obispo.

I can say with confidence that 2014 will not be a dull one here at SERC. We are holding on to our hats. Goodbye until next time.

Lighting Laboratory Conducts Testing for Global LEAP Competition

With 1.3 billion people globally still living without access to reliable electricity, there remains an acute and persistent need for affordable, efficient, and quality off-grid appliances. For over five years, engineers at SERC, along with other independent consultants, have worked to support the quality assurance of off-grid lighting products through the Lighting Africa, Lighting Asia, and Lighting Global projects, jointly funded by the IFC and World Bank Group.

Due to our background in quality assurance testing and research for off-grid lighting appliances, SERC was approached to become the lead testing laboratory for the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) Off-Grid LED Lighting Awards. The Awards Competition is a Clean Energy Ministerial energy access program that “recognizes the highest quality, most energy-efficient products, and then promotes those products to off-grid market stakeholders.” The Collaborative Labeling and Appliance Standards Program is the Awards Operating Agent and Administrator conducting the competition.

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Left to right: SERC Director Arne Jacboson and Research Engineers Kristen Radecsky and Robert Hosbach use an integrating sphere to measure the light output of a lighting product.

The Awards Competition consists of two judging rounds, the first of which was completed in November. Our team is preparing to thoroughly test the LED lighting products that passed the first judging round—a process that will take the next few months to complete. The results generated at SERC will be evaluated by an independent, expert judging panel to determine the best LED products in each nomination category. The Awards will culminate with the announcement of the winners at the fifth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) gathering in Seoul, Republic of Korea in May 2014.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3Activities on the Humboldt State campus have slowed down for the summer, but we are still very busy here at SERC. The articles in this newsletter highlight some of our current activity. As Colin Sheppard’s article indicates, we have been engaged in analysis related to planning for plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) infrastructure development in Humboldt County. We are also working on a similar analysis for three other northern California counties and are exploring other project possibilities.  All of this work fits into SERC’s longstanding tradition of enabling expanded use of clean transportation technology in the U.S. and beyond.

In this issue we also describe two new biomass energy efforts at SERC. One of these projects, involving torrefaction technology, is motivated by a desire to reduce the cost of transporting biomass fuel from the forest to end-use sites. The second effort explores conversion of biomass-derived sugars into hydrogen, which can then be injected into engines to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. These projects represent important progress in SERC’s bio-energy research, and, in both cases, we are grateful for funding support from the California Energy Commission (CEC).  We will start additional bio-energy work soon on a $1.75M CEC-funded project involving collaboration with the Blue Lake Rancheria, Redwood Coast Energy Authority, and Ballard Power Systems.

We also remain busy on the international front. Our work with the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs continues to involve laboratory, field, and policy activities. In the lab this summer, we are grateful to have participation by student assistants Melissa Lancaster and John Hunter. Recent activities have taken team members to Kenya, Tanzania, India, and Bangladesh. Additionally, last month I attended meetings hosted by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) in Munich, Germany on the sidelines of Intersolar-Europe. As reported in our last newsletter, we are also working on a feasibility analysis and design for solar powered mini-grids in India. Two members of our team, Richard Engel and Brendon Mendonça, traveled to India last month as part of this effort.

Last but not least, we recently received good news related to the cost of education for some of our graduate students. Over the years, a number of graduate students from the Energy Technology and Policy (ETaP) and Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) options of the Environmental Systems (ES) Graduate Program have worked at SERC. The ES Graduate Program was recently accepted by the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which means that students from eligible states will be able to attend HSU at a cost equivalent to the rate for California residents. This makes the ETaP and ERE graduate program options much more affordable for students from these states. This is great for SERC, as it will help us recruit talented students from western states such as Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, and others. More information is available on the ETaP and ERE graduate program websites. Goodbye until next time.

Lighting Lab Welcomes New Student Assistants

Research Engineer Kristen Radecsky (right) explains to John Hunter and Melissa Lancaster how to measure a solar module’s IV curve to capture its maximum power point.

Research Engineer Kristen Radecsky (right) explains to John Hunter and Melissa Lancaster how to measure a solar module’s IV curve to capture its maximum power point.

We are pleased to have two undergraduate Environmental Resources Engineering students, John Hunter and Melissa Lancaster, working in the lighting laboratory this summer.  John and Melissa will conduct various testing procedures to assess the quality of solar off-grid lighting products.  The tests include checking product ratings, measuring product parameters such as run time and solar power, testing product durability, and examining a product’s lighting service in terms of longevity and total light output.  The test results support the Lighting Global Quality Assurance Program, which is closely associated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs.  The goal of Lighting Global is to support the entry of quality solar off-grid lighting products into rural markets around the world. It is a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank.

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.

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.

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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.