SERC’s Off-grid Solar Testing Laboratory Gains International Recognition

ANAB-Test-Lab-2CSERC recently became accredited under ISO/IEC 17025, the single most important standard for testing laboratories around the world. This accreditation recognizes SERC’s technical competence to perform laboratory testing and produce precise and accurate test results. Specifically, SERC is accredited to carry out electrical and photometric testing of off-grid solar lighting products. This accreditation may be expanded in the future to include off-grid solar home systems and other technologies.

SERC leads the World Bank Group’s Lighting Global Quality Assurance program for off-grid solar lighting products, and tests dozens of these products each year. This new accreditation enables our test results for quality-assured, off-grid solar lighting products to be recognized by governments around the world, easing the importation of these products into countries that greatly need them. This in turn will increase access to these products for the many people in developing countries who currently rely on dangerous, unhealthy, expensive and dim kerosene lighting.

To become accredited under ISO/IEC 17025, we undertook a six-month process to formalize and update our laboratory quality management system. This included putting comprehensive policies and procedures and rigorous quality control practices in place, and training staff to follow these. All of our relevant equipment was also sent for calibration to ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratories to ensure that we produce the most precise and accurate results possible.

SERC was then assessed by ANAB, our ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation body. For two days in December, a visiting assessor audited our policies and procedures and witnessed testing conducted by SERC staff. After the visit, the assessor provided us with a list of non-conformities to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard, which we quickly addressed. As a result, our accreditation certificate was issued on January 8, adding SERC to the ranks of internationally recognized test laboratories.

Lighting Global Program Expands to Solar Home System Kits

Since 2008, we at SERC have worked with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Global programs to support the development of the off-grid lighting market. We currently manage the quality assurance program that has tested over 130 pico-solar lighting products, ranging from flashlights to lanterns to multi-light systems, from over 40 different manufacturers.

The Lighting Africa program has been a great success, with nearly eight million quality-verified pico-solar lights having been sold throughout Africa as of December 2014. This has inspired expansion of the effort to India and beyond through the Lighting Asia and Lighting Pacific programs. Bolstered by this success, the Lighting Global program is now focusing further along the electricity access continuum to support products that provide a wider range of energy services, beyond lighting and cellphone charging.

The decreasing costs of solar PV modules, rechargeable batteries, and LEDs have facilitated the development of larger plug-and-play solar home system kits at prices affordable to many in the off-grid market. Additionally, recent efficiency gains in DC appliances, such as reducing the power draw for a 20” color TV from over 20 W to less than 10 W, make it possible to power appliances with lower-cost solar home system kits. In response to these market trends and industry demands, the Africa Renewable Energy Access Program at the World Bank has tasked our team at SERC with expanding the existing test methods and quality assurance framework to cover these larger solar home system kits.

Plug-and-play solar home system kits can provide power for multiple appliances, such as lights, mobile phones, TVs and fans. The systems are often sold as complete kits (solar module, charge controller/battery box, lights and appliances) that can be assembled by the user. (Image credit Meg Harper and Peter Alstone).

Plug-and-play solar home system kits can provide power for multiple appliances, such as lights, mobile phones, TVs and fans. The systems are often sold as complete kits (solar module, charge controller/battery box, lights and appliances) that can be assembled by the user. (Image credit Meg Harper and Peter Alstone).

The systems covered by this extension will be plug-and-play direct current (DC) solar home system kits that can be installed by typical homeowners without the need to employ a technician. While products and kits with a peak power rating of less than 10 W are tested under the current quality assurance framework, the revised framework will cover kits from 10 W up to 100 W.

Over the past year, our team has worked with researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy Systems (ISE) to develop a modified version of the existing quality assurance framework for larger kits. Both of our teams are committed to using the same set of principles to balance affordability, innovation, and rigor in developing standards and test methods for the solar home system market.

SERC team members Tom Quetchenbach, Meg Harper, Kristen Radecsky, and Arne Jacobson with Fraunhofer ISE team members Martin Jantsch, Georg Bopp, Norbert Pfanner, and Friedemar Schreiber.

SERC team members Tom Quetchenbach, Meg Harper, Kristen Radecsky, and Arne Jacobson with Fraunhofer ISE team members Martin Jantsch, Georg Bopp, Norbert Pfanner, and Friedemar Schreiber.

To push forward on the development of the framework, members of the SERC team recently traveled to Freiburg, Germany to meet with our colleagues at Fraunhofer ISE.  We spent a week meeting and working with the team in Germany, and tackled some of the more difficult issues in the quality assurance framework, such as how to reliably measure system performance and assess appliances that are included with the kits.

We are currently pilot testing this extended framework on five solar home system kits and plan to test five more in the coming months. Once we have finalized the test methods, we will submit them for adoption by the International Electrotechnical Commission. Throughout the process, we are relying on stakeholder consultations with manufacturers, development organizations, test labs, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, financial institutions and others to improve the quality assurance framework.

If you are interested in our continued progress on this project, contact us at, or visit the Lighting Global stakeholder page.

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.

Lighting Lab: Solar a Dominant Power

For the past five years, SERC has helped lead the development of the Lighting Global quality assurance framework for small, solar-powered lights sold in countries ranging from Kenya to India. In 2009, a team of researchers from SERC, working with sponsorship from the Lighting Africa program (Lighting Global and Lighting Africa are associated programs of the World Bank Group), found that solar lamps represented a single-digit fraction of the off-grid lights available in markets in selected Kenyan towns. A follow-up visit in 2012 found that solar lamps had expanded to about a third of market share in these towns. This year when we returned to the same Kenyan towns, we discovered that solar products now represent a large majority (over 70%) of the total sales volume of off-grid lights in the market. Given that kerosene wick lamps and cheap, dry-cell battery flashlights had dominated the off-grid lighting market, the shift toward solar-powered LED lights represents a huge step forward in improving energy access for the rural poor.

SERC alum Peter Alstone (front) and UC Berkeley graduate student Dimitry Gershenson (back) interview retailers in Kericho, Kenya.

In partnership with the Energy Resources Group at UC Berkeley, the team broadened the scope of the research to include mapping the supply chain for solar lights in Kenya and investigating the growing potential for pay-as-you-go financing for solar home systems and small solar lights. Through dozens of meetings with distributors, micro-finance institutions, private companies, and NGOs in Nairobi, we were able to observe the positive impact of Lighting Africa’s engagement with key market stakeholders. The biggest decision-makers in the off-grid lighting supply chain are now dealing almost exclusively with products that meet the Lighting Global minimum quality standards. Looking forward, there is still much work to do. For example, many retailers still sell substandard off-grid lighting products, and there is a need to engage with these vendors and their customers to ensure they have information about product quality and performance when they look to buy an off-grid lighting product.

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.

Lighting Lab Update


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.

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.


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.

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.