A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3We have completed the transition from summer to fall here in far northern California, and – while it has been clear and sunny for the past few days – we recently had the first heavy rainstorm of the season. As the seasons change, we remain busy at SERC with a diverse portfolio of clean energy projects. The selection of articles in this newsletter reflects this diversity.

In the lead article, Richard Engel reports on a project that is in line with our broader work aimed at enabling energy access in off-grid areas ranging from South Asia to East Africa. We are also happy to report on recent progress in our biomass energy collaboration with Renewable Fuel Technologies (RFT). We look forward to deepening our work with RFT and others in the field as we expand our efforts in this arena.

Several other articles reflect our long tradition of work related to clean transportation. We were pleased to be in a position to fuel the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that SERC alum Anand Gopal and his wife Liz Pimentel drove up from the Bay Area. We hope this event will be the first of many such occurrences made possible by our hydrogen vehicle fueling station.

We are also pleased to extend our plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charging infrastructure planning work from California to India. The work in New Delhi, which involves collaboration with Anand Gopal and colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will require analysis in a new and complex setting involving very different driving patterns and electricity infrastructure. We at SERC always like to get involved in new and challenging work, and we hope to contribute meaningfully to the wider effort to enable cleaner transportation systems in New Delhi and beyond.

I will close by welcoming several new members to the SERC team. This August, Nick Bryant of Washington state and Amit Khare of New Delhi, India started work at SERC. They are also pursuing master’s degrees in the Energy Technology and Policy (ETaP) program here at HSU. We also have three additions to our docent team, including Yaad Rana, Onomewerike “Robo” Okumo, and Jake Coniglione. All are undergraduate students in the Environmental Resources Engineering program. It is great to have these students on board.

Solar Mini-Grids Put India’s Villages in a New Light

India article photo

Project team member Brendon Mendonça leads a focus group discussion with villagers.

As we reported in our spring issue, SERC is part of an international team assessing opportunities to use solar power for rural electrification in India. Providing solar power via a central PV array and a village distribution system, or mini-grid, can be more cost-effective and durable than providing independent solar electric systems for each household.

This approach is already being used widely in rural India, but in most cases implemented by government agencies that provide heavy subsidies. Recent financial turmoil and growing public sector deficits in India demonstrate that these subsidies are not sustainable for the long term. Our team’s client, Indian company Azure Power, is interested in learning whether a for-profit firm can provide mini-grid service at a price that even lower income villagers can afford. Financial assistance for the study comes from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

We have now completed nearly all of our work on the three tasks we led: a literature survey of similar projects in other developing countries; an assessment of how Indian energy policy and regulations might affect such projects; and field studies to estimate energy demand and willingness to pay for electricity in candidate villages Azure Power has selected.

SERC staff including Tom Quetchenbach and Meg Harper made important contributions to the first two tasks. For the third task, I traveled to India for two weeks in June, accompanied by the project lead, Priya Sreedharan, from the San Francisco energy consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) and former HSU graduate student/SERC student assistant Brendon Mendonça. In New Delhi, we met up with principals and staff of India-based consultant Varesh Energy, completing our field team. After a meeting with Azure Power staff, the team headed out to the two field sites in Eastern and Northern India.

After orienting ourselves and meeting with village leaders, we set to work conducting house-by-house surveys and holding focus group meetings. We collected demographic data, inquired about people’s expectations and desires for household electrification, and asked the villagers to respond to hypothetical electrification scenarios and associated costs. The two villages we focused on are not “greenfield” sites without previous electrification experience. One of them had previously been electrified with a mini-grid that was later removed, while the other village has partial grid electrification. The desire for electricity and willingness to pay were encouraging in both cases although the details and conditions varied between the villages. These field findings will be integrated into the engineering and economic analysis that remains to be conducted in the project to thoroughly assess the feasibility of solar minigrids for these two sites.

We have delivered our task completion reports to Azure Power, and they have responded with special enthusiasm to the field study, calling it “useful, thorough, well-done, and enjoyable.” In the coming months, SERC will continue to provide support to other project partners as they complete the remaining tasks on this important feasibility study. Upon completion of the entire project, the USTDA will make the main findings of this field study and the overall feasibility project accessible to the public through a publicly available report.

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.

Renewable Energy Mini-Grids

Over the past year, SERC has been collaborating on the Renewable Energy Mini-Grids for Improved Energy Access project with researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Energy and Resources Group (ERG) at University of California at Berkeley, Prayas Energy Group and Palang Thai. These efforts are in support of the Global Lighting and Energy Access Partnership (Global LEAP) initiative associated with the Clean Energy Ministerial.

Renewable energy-based mini-grids offer a significant opportunity to increase access to reliable electricity services for rural populations throughout the developing world. A mini-grid is a village-scale electrical distribution system served by an isolated generator of up to a few hundred kW in capacity. Power on these grids is often provided by diesel generators, but can be supplied by local, renewable resources such as microhydro, solar, biomass or wind. Mini-grids offer an intermediate solution between stand-alone individual home power systems and main grid connection, and often prove to be more cost-effective and beneficial to the community than either of those alternatives.

Our team recently produced three documents to help inform delegates participating in the Mini-Grid Development roundtable discussion at the fourth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM4) in New Delhi in April. CEM4 brought together energy ministers from 23 of the world’s leading economies, along with business leaders, NGOs and academia to discuss policies, technologies, investment, and skills needed to achieve the CEM’s goal of “accelerating the transition to a global clean energy economy.” Our team’s contributions included:

A biomass mini-grid in India.

A biomass mini-grid in India.

 

SolarMiniGridJP

A solar mini-grid in India.

  • Sustainable Development of Renewable Energy Mini-Grids for Energy Access: A Framework for Policy Design, which provides a review and critique of mini-grid policies from several countries and offers recommendations for national policy design to support the development of mini-grids.
  • A Guidebook on Grid Interconnection and Islanded Operation of Mini-Grid Power Systems Up to 200 kW, which is intended to help meet the widespread need for guidance, standards, and procedures for interconnecting mini-grids with the central electric grid as rural electrification advances in developing countries.
  • Review of Strategies and Technologies for Demand-Side Management on Isolated Mini-Grids, which discusses different measures available to help with load management on isolated mini-grids.

These documents are available on the SERC website at www.schatzlab.org/projects/developingworld/minigrids.html.

GridShare Success in Bhutan

We’re excited to report on the successful installation of GridShares on a small microhydro mini-grid in Bhutan. In our Summer 2011 newsletter, we wrote about our upcoming fieldwork in the Bhutanese village of Rukubji, and we can now share our results and the feedback we’ve received from the village. The GridShare is a demand-side management device designed by our group of HSU students and advisors and is intended to reduce the occurrence of brownouts on power-limited mini-grids. The GridShare device encourages load-shifting in two ways: by using red and green LED lights to indicate the state of the grid to the user and by preventing residents from using large appliances, like rice cookers and water boilers, during brownouts.  After winning a grant to support the project through the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Student Design Contest in 2010, we improved upon our original prototype and tested the GridShare devices in a village-scale pilot installation in Rukubji, Bhutan.

View of Rukubji, Bhutan           A Bhutan Power Corporation technician installs a GridShare           Red and green indicator lights and how the system works signage
Left to right: The main village of Rukubji is located in the center of Bhutan in Himalayan Asia. BPC electrician Sangay Phuentsho installs a GridShare circuit near the electricity meter on the outside of a home near Rukubji, while the red and green indicator lights are installed inside the house near the cooking appliances.

Rukubji, a village of approximately 90 households connected to a 40 kW-rated microhydro system, suffered from daily brownouts and served as an excellent location to evaluate the potential of the GridShare technology to reduce brownouts in village scale renewable energy systems. To perform the pilot installation, our team, with the help of many volunteers, designed, tested and manufactured 120 GridShare devices here at SERC. In collaboration with the Bhutan Power Corporation and the Department of Energy of Bhutan, we installed 90 devices in Rukubji and the surrounding villages of Sangdo, Tsenpokto and Bumiloo in June of 2011.

We assessed the GridShare installation with three main methods: electrical data logging, household surveys and community meetings. We have used HOBO data loggers to continuously monitor the current and voltage of the system since June of 2010, which provides us a year of data before and after the GridShare installation. Household surveys were conducted before the installation and again in January of 2012 to assess the effectiveness and reliability of the GridShares and the degree of user satisfaction. Community meetings before and after the installation offered opportunities to discuss the GridShare and receive system feedback.

We were thrilled when the community of Rukubji decided by consensus to keep the GridShares installed and the Bhutan Power Corporation agreed to continue to support the effort. Though several improvements to the design and implementation strategy would be useful before performing additional installations, this pilot project provides evidence that user-interactive demand-side management strategies, such as the GridShare, are effective at reducing brownouts on mini-grids.

To learn more about the GridShare project in Bhutan visit www.schatzlab.org/projects/developingworld/gridshare.html.

Installing data loggers           Meeting with community members           Community meeting where decision was made to keep GridShare installations
Left to right: The three main methods of evaluation of the GridShare project included electrical data logging, household surveys and community meetings.

HSU Students Install GridShare Devices in Bhutan

Gridshare Team in Bhutan

Chhimi Dorji (left), Nathan Chase, and Meg Harper present GridShare education and outreach to Rukubji schoolchildren. Photo credit Arne Jacobson.

For over two years, a dedicated group of HSU students and advisors has been working on the design of a “GridShare” device intended to reduce the occurrence of brownouts on power-limited mini-electric grids. Last year, after winning a grant through the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Student Design Contest, three of us traveled to Bhutan to assess the village of Rukubji as a site to perform a pilot installation of our GridShares.

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A Smart Grid Solution to Prevent Brownouts in Bhutan

P3 Gridshare Awardees

The Phase I project team displays the Phase II funding award. l to r Kyle Palmer, James Apple, Meg Harper, Chhimi Dorji, Jenny Tracy, Joey Hiller, faculty advisor Dr. Arne Jacobson, James Robinson, and Nathan Chase.

Students from SERC and the Renewable Energy Student Union (RESU) won a $75,000 EPA grant to implement a Smart Grid device to reduce brownouts on village-scale electrical grids in developing countries. We developed the device, known as GridShare, with support from the EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program. In April, we demonstrated GridShare technology at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. and we were among fourteen teams to receive P3 Phase Two funding. During the next year, we will travel to Bhutan to implement GridShare technology in the remote village of Rukubji.

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