Helping California Pursue Greenhouse Gas Reductions in the Transportation Sector

The State of California has set ambitious goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions:  a reduction to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.  According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), 28% of the State’s total greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to light-duty passenger vehicles. Understandably, the State has placed significant focus on reducing emissions in the transportation sector, with a key strategy being the widespread deployment of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). This includes both plug-in electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCVs), two technology areas where SERC has significant expertise.

As part of their policy analyses, CARB staff estimated that ZEV market penetration levels over the next three decades will need to reach dramatic levels in order for us to reach our greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. The figure below depicts a scenario where FCVs and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) make up a whopping 87% of the light duty auto fleet in 2050, with the remainder of the fleet being composed of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), and conventional vehicles.

Target Market Penetration Levels for Passenger Vehicles

State sponsored efforts to encourage and even require the widespread deployment of ZEVs include regulations requiring auto manufactures to sell a minimum number of ZEVs in the State; consumer rebates for ZEV purchases; funding to support local planning for ZEVs and associated fueling infrastructure; and funding to support the installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations.

Many of SERC’s projects over the last two decades have supported these efforts. In the early days (circa 1990), SERC developed a small fleet of FCVs and a hydrogen fueling station for SunLine Transit in Thousand Palms, CA. Later SERC provided technical support for AC Transit’s fuel cell bus program, and delivered hydrogen safety trainings for emergency first responders for FCV projects around the country. SERC designed and installed a hydrogen fueling station at Humboldt State University, which has enabled SERC to operate, test, and demonstrate a Toyota Highlander FCV for the last five years.

Participants check out EVs like this Nissan Leaf at the Upstate EV101 workshop in Redding, CA.

Participants check out EVs like this Nissan Leaf at the Upstate EV101 workshop in Redding, CA.

In the last few years, SERC has been involved in several California Energy Commission funded projects to support the deployment of ZEVs. These efforts have included Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness projects for the North Coast region (Humboldt, Trinity, and Del Norte counties) and the Upstate region (Shasta, Siskiyou, and Tehama counties). These two projects featured the development of plans to install EV charging stations throughout these regions. SERC’s work in these locales continues as we identify additional locations for EV charging stations and support the design and installation of many of these stations. In addition, we are working on a project to assess the opportunities and barriers associated with deployment of a wide array of alternative fuel vehicles in the North Coast region. This includes not only EVs and FCVs, but also biofuel and natural gas fueled vehicles.

SERC has also recently partnered with the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley and others to establish the Northern California Center for Alternative Transportation Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Technologies (NorthCAT).  NorthCAT will focus on education, training, demonstration, and deployment of alternative transportation fuels and advanced vehicle technologies in the Northern California region.

Watch future newsletters for updates on these projects as SERC continues to help the north state region move toward a low-carbon, sustainable transportation future.

Sustainable Futures: Preparing for Plug-in Electric Vehicles on the North Coast

We are pleased to have Matthew Marshall of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and Colin Sheppard of SERC as the next speakers in the spring 2014 Sustainable Futures series. They will speak on Thursday, March 13 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in Science B room 135 (SciB 135) on the HSU campus. The title of their talk is “Preparing for Plug-in Electric Vehicles on the North Coast.”

Matthew Marshall is the Executive Director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. Matthew has been involved in a variety of energy and sustainable development planning, policy, and implementation endeavors. Matthew previously served as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program Administrator for the City and County of Denver, where he was responsible for developing and managing greenhouse gas reduction projects and community partnerships in support of Denver’s Climate Action Plan. A graduate of Humboldt State University, Matthew’s work on innovative sustainable energy systems has been recognized and honored by the National Hydrogen Association, the U.S. Department of Energy, the California Hydrogen Business Council, and the United States Congress.

Colin Sheppard is a Research Engineer at SERC. Colin has been involved in a variety of regional energy planning projects for the North Coast and beyond.  His professional passion is to apply quantitative analysis to sustainable energy problems, exploring the dynamic interactions within complex energy, economic, and environmental systems.  Colin studied Symbolic Systems at Stanford University and Environmental Resources Engineering at Humboldt State and has been working at SERC since 2008.

Electric vehicles have great potential to contribute to an environmentally sustainable transportation system. Expanding the use of electric vehicles will require investments in public chargers and other supporting infrastructure. Matthew and Colin’s talk will provide insights into recent innovative work related to electric vehicle infrastructure development here on the the North Coast.

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.

SERC Continues Electric Vehicle Planning Work in Two New Regions

Earlier this year we reported on our plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) readiness planning work for Humboldt County. Building on this effort, SERC is now engaged in similar studies for New Delhi, India as well as the Upstate Region of California (covering the counties of Siskiyou, Shasta, and Tehama).

In partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SERC will be adapting our agent-based PEV model to simulate vehicle adoption and the need for public charging infrastructure in New Delhi, India. Among the many new challenges presented by this opportunity are capturing the impact of congestion on electric vehicle performance and simulating battery-swapping as an alternative to conventional charging. Like the Humboldt project, the Upstate Region readiness effort will involve a range of activities intended to prepare the region for the ongoing roll-out of plug-in electric vehicles. These tasks include adapting the infrastructure deployment model to evaluate the Upstate Region, streamlining permitting in the region, increasing public awareness about PEVs, and evaluating the challenges and opportunities associated with PEV adoption.

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.

SERC Completes Siting Analysis for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure on the North Coast

Over half of Humboldt County’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Nationwide, the transportation sector contributes 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Plug-in electric vehicle (PEVs) present a compelling opportunity for communities to dramatically reduce these emissions along with air pollutants responsible for a wide range of adverse health impacts.

To support the successful introduction of PEVs to the North Coast, SERC is serving as the technical lead on the North Coast Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Study. Funded by the California Energy Commission, this work is being done in partnership with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and local engineering firm GHD.

One of the key questions we have addressed is how to deploy PEV chargers throughout the region in a cost-effective manner. This is a complex question. Where will PEV drivers live? Where will they drive? How long will they spend at their destinations? How will drivers adapt when they need a charge but no station is available?

Our approach to answering these questions was to develop an “agent-based” simulation model of PEV drivers in Humboldt County. Individual PEV drivers (or agents) are simulated as they conduct their daily travel throughout the county and interact with a hypothetical charging network. Drivers begin a day with a vehicle, an itinerary of trips, and a set of rules for how to behave. An example of a rule would be that drivers seek out a charger if their battery doesn’t have sufficient energy to make their next trip. Another example would be that some drivers elect to charge their vehicle even if it’s not necessary.

The simulation evolves over the course of the day as drivers follow their rule sets, interact with the charger network, and respond to changing circumstances. At the end of a simulation run, we can summarize the day’s events in a multitude of ways. Where, when, and how often did drivers charge? How many drivers experienced inconvenience of some kind (e.g., experienced a delay while waiting for a charger)? By repeatedly running the simulation with different charger locations, we can use the model to evaluate the impact of any hypothetical infrastructure scenario on driver inconvenience.

For a given penetration of PEVs into Humboldt County, we used optimization to find the infrastructure scenario that provided the greatest benefit to drivers for the least cost. The map of Eureka below provides an example of the recommended infrastructure for 2% penetration of PEVs, or roughly 3000 vehicles. Maps of the whole county can be downloaded at

The recommended PEV charging infrastructure for the City of Eureka for 2% penetration of PEVs, or roughly 3000 vehicles. The estimated cost of this scenario is $130k.

The recommended PEV charging infrastructure for the City of Eureka for 2% penetration of PEVs, or roughly 3000 vehicles. The estimated cost of this scenario is $130k.

We also developed some general conclusions about the optimal siting of PEV chargers in Humboldt, which are likely transferable to other rural communities:

  • Overall, relatively few chargers are needed to support a large number of PEV drivers.  Approximately 45 public chargers were sufficient to support about 3000 drivers in the 2% penetration scenario. Drivers will be able to accomplish most of their travel needs (~90%) just by charging at home.
  • Chargers tend to be sited in and around population centers and major regional corridors.
  • Level 2 chargers (which can charge a Nissan Leaf in ~5-6 hours) provide a more cost-effective means of supporting PEV drivers than DC fast chargers (which can charge a Leaf in less than 1 hour). This is primarily because DC fast chargers are about 10 times more expensive to install and only charge batteries to 80% of full capacity.
  • Exact siting of chargers is flexible. Chargers can be sited in one zone or a neighboring one and the overall impact on PEV drivers will be about the same as long as the total need for chargers in that region is satisfied.

Our deployment guidelines wouldn’t be complete without an estimate for when the infrastructure should be in place. To answer this question, we looked at the historic adoption of the Toyota Prius and other hybrids in Humboldt. If we assume that drivers will adopt PEVs at the same rate as hybrids, then we would expect that 1% of the light duty vehicles in Humboldt will be PEVs by approximately 2018 and 2% by 2025. In other words, there’s little time to spare in rolling out PEV chargers.

Fortunately, the North Coast PEV Readiness team is already working on a near-term implementation plan. Critical to this plan is identifying specific sites where the first wave of PEV chargers might be installed. This process involves soliciting input and feedback from a variety of municipalities and local stakeholders to ensure that the final sites reflect the needs and priorities of the whole community. If you’d like more information, or want to participate in this process, contact the Redwood Coast Energy Authority.

RePowering Humboldt with Community Scale Renewable Energy


In March of this year, along with our partner, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), we completed the three-year RePower Humboldt project funded by the California Energy Commission (CEC). A key deliverable, the RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan, identified future energy scenarios for Humboldt County in which local renewable energy resources could provide over 75 percent of local electricity needs and a significant portion of heating and transportation energy needs by 2030. The plan pinpoints biomass and wind energy as key resources. In addition, large-scale adoption of plug-in electric vehicles and heat pumps was found to be critical to the cost-effective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the RePower Humboldt team is looking for opportunities to put the plan into action.

At our final project review meeting in Sacramento, CEC project manager Mike Sokol mentioned how impressed the CEC has been with the quality of our work. Now they have backed up this praise with a proposed award to begin implementing the RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan.  The follow-on grant, a $1.75 million award, again partners SERC with RCEA and also includes the Blue Lake Rancheria as a new project partner. Our proposal was ranked third among 30 submissions and was one of only four awards in our research area.

The new project, called Repowering Humboldt with Community Scale Renewable Energy, is expected to begin in June of 2013 and will run through March of 2015. The purpose of the project is to demonstrate and validate key aspects of the RePower Humboldt Strategic Plan.  The project will include two main elements: SERC will lead the design and installation of a first-of-its-kind woody biomass gasifier and fuel cell power system, and RCEA will implement a community-based energy upgrade program.

The biomass energy system will be installed at the Blue Lake Rancheria casino and hotel where it will supply about a third of the electric power needs. It will feature a Proton Power gasifier that turns sawdust-sized woody biomass into hydrogen fuel, and a 175-kW Ballard fuel cell that generates electricity from hydrogen. Waste heat from the system will be used to meet hot water needs. We aim to achieve a biomass-to-electricity efficiency double that of a comparable-scale, conventional steam power plant. If successful, this project could open up a new market for distributed-scale, biomass combined heat and power systems.

The energy upgrade component will focus on services for residences and businesses in the Mad River valley community (City of Blue Lake, Blue Lake Rancheria, and surrounding areas), including energy efficiency, solar energy systems, heat pumps, and the installation of two electric vehicle charging stations. This energy upgrade will demonstrate a comprehensive, community-based energy services model that can be replicated throughout the state.

The RePowering Humboldt with Community Scale Renewable Energy project is an exciting effort that will help move Humboldt County toward a secure energy future. Watch for updates in future newsletters as the project unfolds.

All project documents for the RePower Humboldt project, including the strategic plan, a regulatory and policy guide on renewable energy and energy efficiency, and other technical reports and memos can be accessed on SERC’s web page here.

Photo credit: Malene Thyssen (wave) and Bin vim Garten (vehicle).

SERC Begins Electric Vehicle Planning Study for the North Coast

SERC has teamed up with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and GHD (formerly Winzler and Kelly) to conduct a plug-in electric vehicle planning study for our North Coast community.  The California Energy Commission has provided $200,000 in funding for the study as part of the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (also known as AB 118).  The goals of this program are to reduce dependency on petroleum and greenhouse gas emissions while improving energy security.  The North Coast was one of nine regions funded throughout the state.

The aim of the North Coast Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Project is to prepare Humboldt County for the successful adoption of electric vehicles.  Project activities will include the development of a plan to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure throughout the region, preparation of a permitting and installation guide, efforts to assist fleet vehicle operators in adopting plug-in electric vehicles, and education and outreach to the general public.  We expect to be complete the project by the first quarter of 2014.