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Director, Daniel M. Kammen


Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) is a unique new research, development, project implementation, and community outreach facility based at the University of California, Berkeley in the Energy and Resouces Group and the Department of Nuclear Engineering. RAEL focuses on designing, testing, and disseminating renewable and appropriate energy systems. The laboratory's mission is to help these technologies realize their full potential to contribute to environmentally sustainable development in both industrialized and developing nations while also addressing the cultural context and range of potential social impacts of any new technology or resource management system.

Today, over one billion people obtain most of their energy services from wood, charcoal, agricultural wastes and dung (biomass fuels), over two billion people have no access to electricity, and several hundred million more only have recourse to a limited, unreliable, or impossibly expensive supply. Despite the tremendous social, economic, health, and environmental benefits of widespread access to environmentally clean energy, many nations are unable to maintain even their current electrical grids, let alone afford the cost of extending electrical capacity to service the majority of their populations. The lack of basic energy resources and inefficient and unsustainable energy practices are perhaps the largest contributors to human, environmental, and global health problems today.

To address these energy and development issues, there is a pressing need for a university-based but outreach-oriented facility dedicated to innovative laboratory and field-project programs that advance our understanding of the use of energy systems in stand-alone, mini-grid or decentralized, and large-grid applications. There is an exciting and critically under-investigated potential to meet the energy needs of the global population with innovative energy production, sales, distribution and management solutions. Our research effort at RAEL will draw on ongoing work in a variety of fields, including: energy engineering; independent power generation and sales; centralized and decentralized grid management; energy infrastructure and commercialization; environmental and resource economics; microcredit and development; the social analysis of knowledge systems and technology; and environmental risk analysis.

Despite the fundamental importance of energy systems, university laboratories devoted to this issue are rare, and RAEL is essentially alone in its focus on renewable and appropriate energy technologies and applications. A university laboratory focused on use-inspired basic and directly applied energy research is crucial, however, if renewables are to become a mainstream energy option. Only a handful of research or outreach centers with a focus on energy alternatives exist today, including the U. S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Asia Alternative Energy Program (ASTAE) supported by the Power Sector of the World Bank, the Energy and Development Research Centre at the University of Cape Town, and the Brace Research Institute at McGill University. These centers are far too few in number, and are tremendously limited in their available resources, and as a result their capacity to integrate laboratory and field work as well as technical and social issues to address the range of energy and social needs as we enter the 21st Century. RAEL, supported by ERG and the College of Engineering and Applied Science at Berkeley will be in a unique position to address this constellation of issues and opportunities and provide training courses and projects.

Many talented individuals wishing to work on renewable energy and environmental issues have little or no opportunity to train, examine and innovate with these energy systems. RAEL will be the launching point for a variety of laboratory projects that will also provide the practical foundation for Professor Dan Kammen's course Renewable Energy (ER 120). His other core courses will be Energy and Society (ER 100/200) and Energy and Development (ER 290). Examples of the teaching exercises that will be developed for ER120 in RAEL include: battery performance and energy storage for stand-alone, micro-grid, and grid-connected renewable energy systems; efficiency and emissions optimization from biomass stoves and biogas digestion systems; design of vertical versus horizontal-axis wind turbines; management of solar concentrator systems for small-scale industrial applications; and the design of fuel cell vehicles.

RAEL will be a hub for training, public-private sector collaboration, and the development of tools and materials to support sustainable energy policies and practices. RAEL will facilitate research and development (R&D), as well as demonstration and commercialization (D&C) projects in addition to wider work on the sociology of energy management. The laboratory will emphasize research on the 'practical' questions surrounding grid extension and the integration of renewable energy sources that will be of interest to a range of groups. The emphasis will be on integration, and not isolation of renewables, and will therefore be of use to electric utilities as well, both in providing new services in developed nations, and in increasing the type and diversity of energy services in developing nations. The focus will be on applications in both developing and industrialized nations, including collaborative work with the Native American Renewable Energy and Education Program (NAREEP), which is based at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Dan Kammen, Director of RAEL serves on the advisory group for NAREEP, and directly advise several of the MA/MS and Ph.D. students working on NAREEP Projects.

The laboratory will initially undertake research projects on small-scale wind energy systems and photovoltaics in both grid-connected and stand-alone applications, and projects on biomass energy, decarbonized and appropriate fossil fuels, and other emerging energy systems. An ongoing research program on the health, environmental, and socioeconomic impacts and opportunities for high-efficiency wood and charcoal stoves for rural areas in Latin America and Africa has transfered with Dr. Kammen from Princeton University to the Energy and Resources Group and RAEL at Berkeley. A second project on renewable energy technologies for the provision of potable water in Mexico has also moved to the RAEL.

A range of other projects are planned, including: developing training multi-language training materials for the installation, maintenance, and economic assessment of solar, wind, and biogas energy systems characteristics hybrid renewable-fossil fuel energy systems for stand-alone and grid-connected application; flexibility analysis and adaptability of renewable energy systems to provide mechanical services and electricity generation; energy services, health impacts and the economics of alternative cookstove/fuel designs and combinations; and the potential for income generation and clean energy as a tool for ecological conservation.

RAEL will also be a nexus of international training, with an active visiting scholars and practitioners program that will include 'sabbatical research' opportunities for people working at national utilities, federal, state, and local energy offices, and private-sector companies.

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The University of California has made a substantial commitment to the area of renewable energy and sustainability research, and to the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory in particular. Last year the university authorized the
Energy and Resources Group (ERG) to hire a senior faculty member in the area of Energy and Society. Professor Kammen joined the ERG faculty in this capacity.

The Energy and Resources Group generates and transmits knowledge needed to chart a course toward a future in which human needs and the prerequisites of a healthy environment are mutually and sustainably satisfied. Global and local threats to human well-being stem from the glaring inequity in resource access, the specter of resource scarcity, our technological capacity to disrupt natural environments, and from the inadequacies of existing social institutions. Therefore ERG students and faculty draw upon the disciplines of engineering and the natural and social sciences to meet these diverse challenges and contribute to their solutions. ERG consists of six-core faculty with backgrounds in physics, engineering, economics, sociology, public health, and global change science and policy. The program boasts an equally diverse administrative and support staff, and a network of over 100 faculty affiliates from across the Berkeley campus. ERG offers both Masters (MA and MS) and Doctoral degrees, and has a student population of about 60. As of spring l998 more than two hundred degrees have been awarded.

At Berkeley Professor Kammen is a core faculty member within ERG (one of only two faculty positions fully within the ERG program) and a faculty member of the Department of Nuclear Engineering in the School of Engineering. In addition, he is a faculty associate of the Berkeley Committee on African Studies, the Center for Risk Analysis, and the Health, Environment and Development (HED) Program.

The initial laboratory space for RAEL consists of 700+ square feet of fully supported space in Etcheverry Hall, home of the Departments of Mechanical, and Nuclear Engineering, as well as a solar test laboratory on the the roof of Wurster Hall. The Department of Nuclear Engineering will be the host and collaborating department for RAEL. Additional space for outdoor testing of some larger energy systems is available at the Richmond Test Facility, a research and teaching campus of the University of California that is seven miles from Berkeley, and potentially at the PVUSA facility in Davis, California. The University of California has also allocated laboratory renovation, equipment, and other start-up funds to RAEL.

ERG students are the greatest resource for RAEL. The ERG student body is remarkable in its quality, and their exceptional commitment to energy and resource research and activism. Among the research topics of my ERG student advisees are: the use of photovoltaic and wind energy systems in integrated stand-along and mini-grid connected applications in Nepal, Latin America, Kenya, and on Native American Indian Reservations. Many of the new projects that will grow at RAEL will result from student initiatives and interests.

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Training and Human Resource Development

RAEL serves as a point of integration and collaboration of a diverse group of scholars and practitioners. In addition to faculty and students from UC Berkeley and neighboring universities, a number of specific programs to foster collaborations will be established with the private power sector, and with an international set of colleagues.

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Partner Institutions

The Energy and Development Research Center in South Africa

One aspect of the evolution of RAEL, and the wider support of researchers and practitioners in the area sustainable energy, is the development of collaborative partnerships with other groups interested in similar topics. To begin this process, RAEL and the Energy and Development Research Center (EDRC) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, are building a joint program to train and exchange students, develop collaborative projects, and facilitate wider 'North-South' research and implementation network. Collaborative RAEL-EDRC projects on biomass energy for community development and national power generation in Eastern Zimbabwe as well as work on solar and wind systems for household energy and microenterprise development are planned.

To expand our capacity building and research activities beyond a collaboration between RAEL and EDRC, we jointly hosted a Workshop, June 1 - 5, 1999, in South Africa on Distributed Energy Services in Africa. This workshop is supported by the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) of Japan, and will support 35 - 50 energy and development students and scholars, with the participants largely drawn from Africa and ERG. This workshop is an example of the activities we hope to use to support a wide range of sustainable energy projects and capacity building through this collaborative proposal.

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Laboratory Organization

"Laboratory" is used to describe RAEL only in that a component of the work will be based at the University of California facility. Central to the work of RAEL will be field performance studies, research on the infrastructure base needed to commercialize and support a particular energy system in a local context in Africa, Asia, Latin American, or in a promising context in an industrialized nation. It is anticipated that the bulk of the RAEL work will, in fact, take place off-campus, with the laboratory serving as a resource base.

The laboratory will be managed by a director, D.M. Kammen, and a research fellow/director of field programs. There will be a part-time support staff and web-resource manager along with a changing number of post-doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, and the mix of Visiting Scholar/Practitioners and Sabbatical Fellows. The RAEL will have a board of six to eight advisors that will meet regularly, and who will provide feedback, and help to identify opportunities for projects and program support

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Last updated 3/31/2000

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