CAL-RAE hosts Microgrid Student Research Poster Session

Following suit with the nascent nature of microgrids and decentralized renewables, on May 2nd, California Renewable and Adaptive Energy (CAL-RAE) held the first-ever poster session on UC Berkeley’s campus explicitly concerning the topic.


The student research-based poster session attracted audiences from various corners of campus.

CAL-RAE hosted the event in partnership with ERG 190/290: “Microgrids and Decentralized Renewables for Global Energy Access”, a course in its inaugural semester funded by the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute (BECI) and taught by now-Professor Duncan Callaway, and ERG Postdoctoral Fellow and CAL-RAE Director Jalel Sager. The event served as a platform for students of the class to showcase and garner feedback on their final projects – proposed microgrid systems complete with technical designs, financial models, and social contextualizations for real sites – as well as a conduit for diffusion of their work into the greater Berkeley community.

Though they each consisted these three main components, projects ranged in focus from solutions to social challenges such as energy theft in urban slums, technological innovations to improve rural DC microgrid architecture, and alternative metering schemes. The complete list of group projects consisted of:

  • Hybrid Microgrids in Rural Haiti: Proposed Design and Impacts
  • SOLAR+WATER: Solar PV-based Community Microgrid with Desalination

  • Electrifying Vanuatu: Economic, Social, and Technical Perspectives on DC Microgrids for Rural Energy Access

  • Adapted, Co-operatively Monitored Microgrid Appropriate for San Mariano, Nicaragua

  • Renewable Safe And Reliable Electricity Access for Urban Slum Communities

Although this was the first semester the class was taught, it drew in students from all departments and of all degree levels: ranging from masters students in architecture, to undergraduates in conservation and resources, to PhD candidates in electrical engineering. Yet what makes microgrids such an alluring topic over such a large range of interests?

Callaway’s experience as a Faculty Scientist at the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory allows him to bring various research expertise and technical know-how to the table in modeling and control of aggregated storage devices, power management, and system analysis of energy technologies and their impact. Sager, with research exploring climate goals, resource peaks, economics, and sustainable housing, also offers on the ground experience being a microgrid enterprise developer himself. New Sun Road, his California technology company allied with CAL-RAE, now works with local partners to operate their original solar microgrid on Kitobo island, Ugandan Lake Victoria,  to provide microgrid service to over 50 users. Truly following the interdisciplinary roots of ERG, class lectures alternated speaker based on the material being presented – some more technically based, others with a socio-economic focus – to address the multi-faceted concerns microgrid development raises.


New Sun Road’s second-generation solar microgrid system in action on Kitobo.

By self-organizing into teams of roughly three for final projects, students formed teams with complementary members. By having ‘experts’ on each team, groups were able to collaborate to create well-informed, thorough proposals.

Why is research similar to the projects produced by classes like Sager and Callaway’s 190/290 vital to furthering the sustainable development agenda? Other than being appealing to proponents of the Small is Beautiful, ‘appropriate technologies movement’, these emission-reducing microgrids provide a pathway to revolutionizing energy access.

The International Energy Agency predicts from current trends that 400 million of the global energy poor in 2030 will most effectively be served by renewable microgrids, with attendant benefits in health, education, and economic resilience.

With an estimated 1.2 billion people – 17% of the global population – not having access to electricity as of 2013, and 84% of those people residing in predominantly rural areas, these innovative, climate-friendly, decentralized rural electrification methods are key in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

After its first semester, “Microgrids and Decentralized Renewables for Global Energy Access” has equipped students across Berkeley’s campus with the tools, knowledge, and resources to advance research in the field, if not become developers themselves.

If your microgrid interests have been sparked – some pun intended – please contact CAL-RAE learn more about becoming involved in their microgrid research.