Building microgrids and parsing “clean coal” – dispatches from BERC communities

Are you interested in how solar power can help rural communities leapfrog dirty power production technologies? Curious whether “clean coal” is an oxymoron? Want to know why California is investing $45 billion to build some (big) water pipes?

BERC’s communities talked about all of these topics last year!

Many readers know about the BERC Energy Summit, but fewer are aware of the breadth of activities taken on by BERC communities. They put on more than two dozen events in 2017, from presentations by water policy experts to China-focused venture capitalists. In total, community events had more than 500 attendees! The most active communities last year were focused on:

  • Renewable and adaptive energy
  • Water
  • Engineering
  • China-related environmental issues
  • Environmental activism

What were they doing? A bit of everything, really! These communities met to chat, hear from speakers, work on shared projects or put on BERCShops and conferences. We highlight the activities of three communities below, in the words of community leaders.

Cal-Renewable and Adaptive Energy (Cal-RAE)

Piloting energy access technology through hands-on research

We are creating a place where industry can help solve shared problems with undergraduate and graduate student researchers, and where we can test novel technologies.

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This fall, Cal-RAE began construction on a test bed for an Energy Access Research Hub at the Berkeley Global Campus in Richmond.  We are using donated solar panels, battery chargers, and inverters to establish a working testbed that we can use to evaluate optimal control algorithms, determine efficient load management schemes, and develop communication protocols to increase interoperability between components in a solar power system.  We are creating a place where industry can come to open up shared problems to undergraduate and graduate student researchers, and where we can test novel technologies.  We hosted our first visiting scholar over the summer, and are laying the groundwork for more students to get involved.

-Jonny Lee, Energy and Resources Group graduate student

Berkeley Water Group

Interdisciplinary policy and science around all things water

We hosted a five-person panel on the Twin Tunnels project, Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial $15 billion ($45 billion-lifetime) proposal to transport water from the Sacramento River to Southern California under the Delta.

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The Berkeley Water Group hosted a panel on November 6, 2017 on the controversial California Water Fix and its goals, hurdles, and controversies. The Water Fix, or Twin Tunnels, is Governor Brown’s controversial $15 billion ($45 billion-lifetime) proposal to transport water from the Sacramento River to Southern California under the Delta in two 40-foot diameter tunnels to improve water reliability. The proposed project has passed through a number of environmental hurdles and is now waiting on approval from water agencies who will be funding the project through water contracts.

The event covered an array of perspectives, emphasizing the importance of water reliability for urban and agricultural areas, examining water supply alternatives (storage, land fallowing, conservation, recycling), and discussing the cost of the project. A downscaled version of the project was discussed as a potential option moving forward.

According to Mark Pruner, of the Delta Protection Commission and North Delta C.A.R.E.S., the Water Fix continues to be a pressing issue and “one of the greatest public policy suite of decisions ever to face the residents of California.”

-Liz DaBramo, Environmental Engineering and Public Policy graduate student

BERC Engineering (BERC-e)

Discussions of cutting-edge technology—and it’s repercussions—over La Val’s pizza

We discussed papers on new halide perovskite solar cell architectures, “Clean Coal” technologies, piezoelectric energy harvesters, and the anomalous photovoltaic effect.

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BERC-e had a range of great events this year. Some of the larger events we put on were a speaker on the funding cycles for research within the DOE, a speaker on scientifically quantifying corporate accountability for carbon emissions (co-hosted event with the Union of Concerned Scientists) and a “lighting round” session on three innovative research topics being explored for next generation batteries up at LBNL. In addition to these larger events, we continued to meet in more informal sessions to discuss a paper over pizza at La Val’s. Some of the topics included new halide perovskite solar cell architectures, “Clean Coal” technologies, piezoelectric energy harvesters, and the anomalous photovoltaic effect.

-Danny Broberg, Materials Science graduate student