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.

A Message from the Director

Christie Goldfuss, Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, at the technology showcase during the White House Forum on Catalyzing Markets for Off-Grid Clean Energy Access in Washington, DC.

Christie Goldfuss, Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, at the technology showcase during the White House Forum on Catalyzing Markets for Off-Grid Clean Energy Access in Washington, DC.

Hello from Washington, DC, where I just attended the White House Forum on Catalyzing Markets for Off-Grid Clean Energy Access. The session involved a lively round table forum with participation from government, industry, investors, foundations, and development agencies. It also included a technology showcase attended by high-level administration officials. It is exciting to see off-grid energy access receive this attention. The fact that the event was held is a testament to the growing recognition of the linkage between energy access and poverty alleviation and to the recent growth of the off-grid solar sector.

Round Table Discussion in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House Forum on Catalyzing Markets for Off-Grid Clean Energy Access in Washington, DC.

Round Table Discussion in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House Forum on Catalyzing Markets for Off-Grid Clean Energy Access in Washington, DC.

I am now headed to Dubai for the 4th International Off-Grid Lighting Conference and Exhibition, which will be attended by over 450 delegates from around the world. SERC will be well represented at the conference, with three current staff members and three SERC alumni joining me at the event. Our collective work will be featured at the conference, including presentations on quality assurance for off-grid solar, the market implications of key technology advances in the sector, and the role of super-efficient DC appliances in enabling cost reductions for off-grid products. It will be a busy week.

Back at SERC, we have been busy on a number of fronts, including the kickoff of our microgrid collaboration, the Waste-to-Wisdom biomass project, and a host of clean transportation efforts. Over the past few months, we also added six new team members, including Pramod Singh, Steve Harrison, Jake Rada, Julie Groff, Lukas Kennedy, and Jeff Mosbacher. I am very pleased to be able to welcome them to SERC.

Goodbye until next time.

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 shs@lightingglobal.org, 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.

A Message from the Director

AJ headshot 3We were pleased to welcome HSU’s new president, Lisa Rossbacher, to SERC last week for a tour and meetings with some of our staff. We look forward to working under her leadership in the years to come.

During President Rossbacher’s visit, SERC Founding Director Peter Lehman and I provided a brief account of SERC’s 25-year history and a summary of our current portfolio of projects. She then met with faculty and staff associated with SERC during her tour. My thanks go to everyone from our team who participated in the session for their professional and engaging presentations.

While preparing remarks for the meetings with the President, I was – once again – struck by the scope and diversity of SERC’s clean energy project work. That same diversity is represented in this newsletter, which includes coverage of wave energy on the North Coast, electric vehicle infrastructure planning for the city of Delhi in India, field research about off-grid solar lighting and energy systems in Kenya, and alternative fuels for transportation in Northern California.

As we expand our work, we also need to bring in new team members. I am happy to welcome Kyle Palmer, Malini Kannan, and Asif Hassan to SERC. Kyle and Malini were both hired to work on the lighting lab team, where they will engage in testing off-grid lighting and energy products in the context of SERC’s role as technical lead for the Lighting Global Quality Assurance program. Kyle, an alumnus of the Environmental Resources Engineering (ERE) program at HSU, is re-joining SERC after several years of independent work. Malini came to us from UC San Diego, where she earned a BS in environmental engineering. Asif, who came to HSU this fall as a master’s student in the Energy Technology and Policy (ETaP) program, is the Schatz Energy Fellowship recipient for 2014. He has a BS in electrical and electronic engineering from Islamic University of Technology in Bangladesh. It is great to have all three of them on our team.

I will close with a reminder that SERC and the ERE department at HSU are jointly conducting a search for a new tenure track faculty position. The selected candidate will divide time between teaching in the ERE department and conducting research at SERC. Applications are due on October 31, 2014. The expected start date is August 2015. Additional details are available here. Please pass this announcement on to anyone who might be interested to apply.

Goodbye to you all until next time.

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.

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!”

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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.

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.