Designing Solar Mini-Grids for Rural India

In rural India, despite decades of electrification programs, about 400 million people making up half of all households still do not have access to electricity. SERC has recently joined a consortium of U.S.- and India-based energy experts to assess the feasibility of building solar photovoltaic mini-grids as a solution to the high cost of electrification in remote areas. These systems would each consist of a single solar generation station per village with a distribution network to provide power to all nearby homes and businesses. If successful, this model could be widely replicated at lower cost than providing each home with a stand-alone solar system.

SERC’s role in the project will include performing a literature survey of similar projects that have been installed in other developing countries, an assessment of how Indian energy policy and regulations affect the project, and field studies to estimate energy demand and willingness to pay for electricity in the participating villages. We will provide technical assistance to the rest of the team on several other project tasks.

The project is jointly funded by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and Azure Power of India. San Francisco firm Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) is the lead consultant.

SERC Advisory Board

This spring we brought to fruition our long-discussed plan to convene a SERC advisory board. The inaugural meeting was held at SERC on April 5. The board is made up of the following leaders in the energy field:

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SERC directors and advisory board members listen to faculty research associate Dave Vernon discuss the newly funded aqueous phase reformation project.

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SERC directors and advisory board members gather for dinner after a productive day.

  • Rick Duke, Associate Director of Energy and Climate Change, White House Council on Environmental Quality
  • Shannon Graham, Associate Director for Energy Consulting, Navigant Consulting
  • Dan Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy, Energy and Resources Group & Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley
  • David Katz, founder of Alternative Energy Engineering, a leading renewable energy supply firm
  • David Rubin, Director of Service Analysis, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
  • Jeff Serfass, President of Technology Transition Corp., Washington, D.C., Managing Director, California Hydrogen Business Council
  • Andrea Tuttle, former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and consultant for forest and climate policy

The advisory board’s purpose is to help SERC with strategic planning and fundraising. We appreciate the time all of these SERC allies are taking out of their very busy schedules to gather and help us plan a long and successful future for the center.

SERC Helps HSU Tackle Campus Energy Use

SERC is in its third year of providing technical mentoring to HSU’s Humboldt Energy Independence Fund (HEIF). This innovative program collects a small fee from each HSU student every semester and uses this pool of funding to implement energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on campus. Among the many projects completed to date are a photovoltaic system on a campus rooftop and a retrofit of playfield lighting in the Redwood Bowl stadium. HEIF projects include student participation from initial idea development to full design and implementation. Students also participate actively alongside faculty and staff in HEIF program governance.

SERC engineers Richard Engel and Tom Quetchenbach currently oversee two teams of paid student HEIF interns. This year’s projects include:

  • a comprehensive inventory of campus lighting. Results are being shared with campus building maintenance staff, who will use the data to set lighting retrofit priorities.
  • development of energy-efficiency standards for campus remodels. Students are working with the campus Facilities Planning office to ensure such standards are used to specify new equipment, starting with energy-saving light fixtures.
  • creation of computer models to design indoor and outdoor retrofit projects for stage lighting in the music department’s main recital hall and roadway lighting for a campus entrance.

Tom and Richard support these projects by meeting regularly with the students, helping them plan their work, take field measurements, learn to use software, and solve other engineering problems.

HEIF interns and SERC mentor pore over campus building drawings.

The HEIF building standards team includes (left to right) interns Eric Sorensen and Danielle Burkhart and SERC mentor Tom Quetchenbach. Photo credit Michael Fisher.

Lighting Lab: TERI Solar Lighting Laboratory

Over the past several months, SERC has worked closely with the Solar Lighting Laboratory of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, India to support their effort to join the network of test laboratories affiliated with the Lighting Global Quality Assurance Program. Lighting Global, which is affiliated with the Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia programs, is a joint initiative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank. The program supports the development of commercial markets for affordable, quality-assured lighting products for use in off-grid areas of Africa and Asia. Most products evaluated under the program are solar-charged LED lights for rural applications. A strong network of product testing laboratories is the backbone of the Lighting Global effort.


SERC research engineer Kristen Radecsky answers questions about solar module testing during the technical training session at TERI University in New Delhi, India.

In March, SERC director Arne Jacobson and research engineer Kristen Radecsky traveled to New Delhi to complete a hands-on training with the Solar Lighting Laboratory. They worked alongside HSU graduate and SERC alum Brendon Mendonca and Lighting Global team member Kevin Gauna. The training covered all aspects of the Lighting Global Quality Test Methods. The methods verify the quality of products by checking product ratings, and measure product parameters such as daily hours of operation, lighting output, and solar power production. They also evaluate parameters related to product durability such as LED life, shock resistance, and workmanship of electrical and mechanical parts. The training’s success will be an asset to the Lighting Global Quality Assurance Program, as the laboratory’s strategic location at the TERI University in New Delhi, India will facilitate testing of products made and sold in India.

Speaker Series: Sheri Woo and Carol Rische on Mad River Water Use Options

We are pleased to announce Carol Rische and Sheri Woo as the next presenters in the spring 2013 Sustainable Futures Speaker Series. Carol and Sheri will speak on Thursday, April 11 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in the Behavior and Sciences Building room 166 (BSS 166) on the HSU campus. The title of their talk is “Evaluating Mad River Water Use
Options: A Local Issue with Regional Impacts.”

Sheri Woo is a licensed civil engineer who writes environmental science content. She prepares permitting documents with HT Harvey & Associates, is a Board Director of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, holds shares in a local environmental firm, and is chair of the ArMack Orchestra parent committee (because, she says, in Humboldt
County, one can’t have too many jobs).

Carol Rische is a registered professional engineer who joined the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD) in 1996. She was appointed General Manager in March 2000. Prior to working at HBMWD, she was employed at PG&E for 12 years, initially in engineering and then in management.

Carol and Sheri’s talk focuses on a critically important set of water resource issues for Humboldt County and the wider region. Economic changes in the Humboldt Bay Region, including the closure of some high water consumption industries such as pulp mills, are forcing planners and the broader community to rethink water management in the Mad River watershed. As Carol and Sheri will explain, decisions made over the coming years could have far reaching implications. If you are interested in resource issues and economic development in Humboldt County, this is not a talk that you will want to miss.