Beginning with the development of smaller products, such as solar lanterns to replace kerosene lighting, the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University is expanding its efforts to produce energy alternatives with a new program to test larger scale renewable energy-powered consumer products.
The Lighting Global, Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia initiatives continue the work being done since 2007 to bring safe, reliable, and inexpensive light sources to the roughly 1.3 billion people globally lacking access to electricity. New projects are designed to support the development of commercial markets for solar charged off-grid lighting products that are affordable to low income people in developing countries.
The Center employs a testing and verification program that enables buyers to distinguish between poor and higher quality products.
"The original focus was on off-grid lighting products with retail prices ranging from about $8 to $150," said SERC Director Arne Jacobson. "(Additional funding) allows us to expand the program to cover larger scale products, like solar home systems that can power a number of electrical appliances."
SERC has served as technical lead for the program since 2009, two years after its initial involvement with the Lighting Africa initiative was first funded by the World Bank Group. Humboldt State’s responsibilities have grown as the team has built trust based on accurate evaluations and careful management of proprietary information about the solar lighting products tested through the program.
Quality assurance testing and verification work starts when a commercial entity submits an item for testing. Each off-grid lighting product is evaluated using test methods that are specified by the Swiss-based International Electrotechnical Commission. The test results allow the team at SERC, which includes Jacobson, six staff members and three graduate assistants, to determine if a product meets the Lighting Global Minimum Quality Standards.
If the item passes the test, it’s listed on the Lighting Global website and the manufacturer receives a letter verifying the product meets the requirements. If it doesn’t, the team at Schatz provides feedback to the manufacturer, who might decide to resubmit the item at a later date.
The continuing work is funded through a three-year, $1.6 million grant from the International Finance Corporation. An additional $450,000 secured from the World Bank will be focused on the expansion to larger-scale systems.
Along with the Arcata-based staff, the Schatz group works closely with associates located in Washington D.C., India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Canada and the San Francisco Bay area. Several personnel are HSU alumni who first became interested in the process as students.