News Archive:

Op Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle

Green energy is gold for Cal­i­for­nia and the US 

Daniel M Kammen

For the arti­cle pdf, click here.

I am a physi­cist, and an energy and sus­tain­abil­ity sci­ence researcher, and I live in Cal­i­for­nia because of its pen­chant for not just set­ting but actu­ally achiev­ing big goals and adopt­ing bold visions oth­ers may con­sider too ambi­tious. What Cal­i­for­nia pro­poses, we research, debate and then accom­plish. In fact, we often exceed the goals skep­tics have deemed unmeetable. This is why I believe that Cal­i­for­nia should — and ulti­mately will — pass into law the “100 Per­cent Clean Energy Act” (Sen­ate Bill 100), which would estab­lish a bold goal of 100 per­cent clean, zero-​​carbon elec­tric­ity by 2045.

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To fully appre­ci­ate the mul­ti­fac­eted ben­e­fits of SB100 for Cal­i­for­nia and the coun­try, a bit of his­tory is needed.

Thanks to a law Cal­i­for­nia passed in 2002 (the Renew­ables Port­fo­lio Stan­dard), the state has nearly tripled its use of elec­tric­ity pro­duced from renew­able resources. Today, solar, wind, bio­mass, and geot­her­mal power (the “renew­ables”) meet more than a third of the state’s elec­tric­ity demand — up from 12 per­cent in only a decade.

Just last month, the Cal­i­for­nia Air Resources Board announced that the state has met its goal of reduc­ing green­house gas emis­sions below 1990 lev­els in 2016 — a full four years ahead of its 2020 dead­line. Our sys­tem of renew­able elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion is a key dri­ver of that success.

In fact, the state Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion has esti­mated that Cal­i­for­nia will prob­a­bly meet its goal of pro­duc­ing 50 per­cent of elec­tric­ity from renew­able resources well ahead of the 2030 dead­line. Cal­i­for­nia and New York state have emerged as national lead­ers in energy effi­ciency and in set­ting and meet­ing clean energy tar­gets that together have kept util­ity rates low. Finan­cial ben­e­fits fol­low directly: The major­ity of all U.S. “clean tech” invest­ment has come through these two states.

This tran­si­tion has been a net job gen­er­a­tor: Cal­i­for­nia now has more peo­ple employed in the solar energy indus­try than in tra­di­tional util­i­ties. For 15 years, I have been track­ing job cre­ation in the clean energy sec­tor, where today we find two to four times more jobs in solar, wind, sus­tain­able bio­mass, effi­ciency and energy stor­age than in any fossil-​​fuel sec­tor. The price of wind– and solar-​​generated energy has dropped faster than expected and is cost-​​competitive or cheaper than the cost of build­ing new fossil-​​fuel-​​powered plants. The fact that the best solar and wind energy projects are actu­ally cheaper than nat­ural gas has been an enor­mous sur­prise to many not fol­low­ing the sec­tor closely.

Next up is for Cal­i­for­nia to estab­lish the bold new goal to power our state with 100 per­cent zero-​​carbon energy by 2045. SB100 would man­date that 60 per­cent of our elec­tric­ity demand be met with renew­able sources, and allows flex­i­bil­ity for how the other 40 per­cent might be met via addi­tional renew­ables, exist­ing large hydropower, or other clean energy sources — includ­ing new tech­nolo­gies. Some crit­ics note that SB100 does not explic­itly pro­hibit car­bon emis­sions if we also cap­ture the car­bon. This is less use­ful — and more expen­sive — in my analy­sis than a mix­ture of zero car­bon sources and energy stor­age, but per­mit­ting the flex­i­bil­ity is a broader, more inclu­sive man­date that does not try to pick spe­cific win­ners and losers.

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More syn­er­gies between clean energy and jobs for Cal­i­for­ni­ans exist here, too. The same wave of inno­va­tion we saw in solar energy — where Cal­i­for­nia played key research and deploy­ment roles — we now are see­ing in the energy stor­age indus­try. Cal­i­for­nia is lead­ing this charge, too, and stands to profit in rev­enue and more jobs.

Big trans­for­ma­tional goals are proven dri­vers of inno­va­tion. In 2005, the Leg­is­la­ture passed leg­is­la­tion that set a tar­get of 1 mil­lion solar rooftops by 2020. At the time, the typ­i­cal response was that it was too ambi­tious, and more details were needed. Today, Cal­i­for­nia has close to 700,000 solar rooftops, well on the way to the goal. Each rooftop saves the home­owner money, too, as solar power costs pen­cil out at under 5 cents per kilowatt-​​hour, while utility-​​generated power retails at more than four times that cost. Despite some legal and reg­u­la­tory bat­tles, res­i­den­tial rooftop solar saves util­i­ties money, too, as rooftops are gen­er­at­ing power dur­ing the day — i.e., dur­ing the time of the peak of power demand. Any extra gen­er­a­tion can be put into storage.

Since 1999 I have served as a coor­di­nat­ing lead author for the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, where sci­en­tists have rec­og­nized that clean and renew­able energy sources must become the dom­i­nant source of elec­tric­ity pow­er­ing build­ings, indus­try and trans­porta­tion if we are to avoid the worst cli­mate change effects that threaten Cal­i­for­nia. As the world’s fifth-​​largest econ­omy, Cal­i­for­nia will gain eco­nom­i­cally as we develop new tech­nolo­gies and ser­vices that oth­ers will need as they work toward global cli­mate goals. Cur­rent polit­i­cal trou­bles aside, this is where the United States must go.

As the world will see at the Global Cli­mate Action Sum­mit that Cal­i­for­nia will host Sept. 12–14 in San Fran­cisco, we have demon­strated the capac­ity and lead­er­ship needed to achieve big goals. SB100 sets a new goal for a clean, healthy and prof­itable energy sys­tem. With the global clean energy mar­ket grow­ing far faster that the fossil-​​fuel sec­tor, what Cal­i­for­nia is doing is a good busi­ness deci­sion for the state and the nation.

In The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle, August 17, 2018.  Click here for the direct link.

To access from the RAEL pub­li­ca­tions ages, click here.

Daniel M. Kam­men is the found­ing direc­tor of the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Envi­ron­men­tal Pub­lic Pol­icy at UC Berke­ley. Kam­men has served as the chief tech­ni­cal spe­cial­ist for renew­able energy at the World Bank, and sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment. Twit­ter: @dan_kammen To com­ment, sub­mit your let­ter to the edi­tor at SFChron​i​cle​.com/​l​e​t​t​ers.


General Electric reconsiders investment in Lamu coal plant

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From The Star (Kenya), July 19, 2018.

The future of the pro­posed Lamu coal plant was cast into doubt on Wednes­day when 56 insti­tu­tional and indi­vid­ual investors with $713 bil­lion (Sh71.3 tril­lion) in assets under man­age­ment asked Gen­eral Elec­tric to pull out.

In May, GE, for­merly Gen­eral Elec­tric, agreed to buy a Sh40 bil­lion stake in Amu Power and to man­age and main­tain the Lamu coal plant. The GE invest­ment is how­ever still sub­ject to reg­u­la­tory, board and lender approval.

GE’s invest­ment would pri­mar­ily be in the form of new steam tur­bines and boil­ers for the refur­bished coal plant from China. China decom­mis­sioned over 100 coal power sta­tions last year.

GE has appar­ently agreed to recon­sider their sup­port and invest­ment in the Lamu coal plan,” said pro­fes­sor Daniel Kam­men, Direc­tor of Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

He was the Sci­ence Envoy to the US State Depart­ment under Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Kam­men said: “From my pub­lished analy­sis, the absurdly costly eco­nom­ics of the Lamu coal-​​fired power plant have been clear for years.”

That analy­sis is avail­able here from his work devel­op­ing and using the SWITCH-​​Kenya model.

The investor let­ter claimed that the Lamu coal plant would raise elec­tric­ity costs in Kenya.

This plant will affect not only Lamu but also all Kenyans as its con­struc­tion and oper­a­tion will cause an increase in elec­tric­ity rates for every­one,” said the investor letter.

Amu Power has been mis­lead­ingly mar­ket­ing the price of elec­tric­ity from the plant as $0.078/kWh, while out­side ana­lysts cal­cu­late that the price of elec­tric­ity from the plant will range from $0.11 to $0.26/kWh depend­ing on the capac­ity factor.”

Sci­en­tists believe that the cost of coal power in Kenya is dou­ble the cost of geot­her­mal power.

The let­ter to GE chief exec­u­tive John Flan­nery was sent by As You Sow pres­i­dent Danielle Fugere and Proxy Impact chief exec­u­tive Michael Pas­soff on behalf of the investors.

They said the coal plant will release toxic pol­lu­tion into the air and leaves behind ash that can con­t­a­m­i­nate ground­wa­ter sup­plies. They said that this is “at odds with GE’s pub­lic posi­tion­ing on cli­mate change and the company’s stated sup­port of the 2015 Paris Agreement.’’

They added that tremen­dous amounts of water will be needed for cool­ing and hot water dis­charge will dam­age marine ecosys­tems and the liveli­hoods of fishermen.

Kam­men wel­comed GE’s sec­ond thoughts on its invest­ment in Amu Power.

This deci­sion opens the door for what Kenya really needs, invest­ment and part­ner­ship to take advan­tage of the geot­her­mal, wind (on– or off-​​shore) energy resources that are both cheaper than coal in the long run, and pro­vide greater job cre­ation,” said Kammen.

The African Devel­op­ment Bank is report­edly also reluc­tant to pro­vide a credit guar­an­tee for Amu Power for the Lamu coal project.

Read: US Sen­a­tors ask AfDB not to finance ‘dan­ger­ous’ Lamu coal plant

The Lamu coal plant was orig­i­nally con­ceived to exploit coal from the Mui basin in Ukambani.

How­ever, at some point, it was decided that it would enter into a pur­chase agree­ment for South African coal for the next 30 years.

In 2017 in Bei­jing, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta wit­nessed the sign­ing of the Sh205 bil­lion agree­ment between Power China Resources and Gulf Energy for the Lamu coal-​​fired power plant.

Amu Power is a con­sor­tium of Gulf Power and Cen­tum, a Kenyan invest­ment group whose largest sin­gle share­holder is busi­ness­man Chris Kirubi.

Two weeks ago, activist Okiya Omtatah filed a peti­tion at the High Court seek­ing tem­po­rary orders block­ing GE from imple­ment­ing the project. He argued that the plant will not use clean coal tech­nol­ogy as it claims.

Pro­fes­sor Kam­men and his team devel­oped and pub­lished the SWITCH-​​Kenya model in 2017 using state of the art tech­ni­cal and eco­nomic data from East Africa, and have iden­ti­fied a range of clean energy invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties in Kenya that are far cheaper than the Amu Coal-​​fired power plant for Lamu

Strathmore-​​UC Berkeley Energy Access Workshop … and some wildlife safari time.

The Strath­more Energy Research Cen­ter (SERC) and the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley held a joint work­shop on energy research, gov­er­nance, and the role of the pri­vate sec­tor in build­ing an inclu­sive clean energy econ­omy.  This joint activ­ity was sup­ported by both Strath­more Uni­ver­sity and a National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Cyber-​​Physical Sys­tems Pro­gram grant to Pro­fes­sors Call­away and Kam­men.

The slides from Pro­fes­sor Kammen’s talk are here.


The SWITCH-​​Kenya model of the Kenyan power grid is avail­able here.

Isa Fer­rall and Dun­can Call­away also spoke at the event.


Before the work­shop, the RAEL team spent time Mpala Research Cen­tre look­ing at high-​​voltage trans­mis­sion projects and the wildlife.  A few images are below.

Turkana wind on Mpala

Trans­mis­sion line to Lake Turkana Wind Farm that Kam­men worked on financ­ing and locat­ing while at the World Bank, 2010 — 2011.




RAEL team at Mpala Resdearch Centre-July 8-2018


RAEL team at the Mpala Research Cen­ter front gate.  An all-​​Berkeley shot:

L to R: Kam­men, Isa Fer­rall (ERG PhD stu­dent), Den­nis Nyamu (Beahrs Envi­ron­men­tal Lead­er­ship Pro­gram, 2017 & Man­ager, Human Needs Project), Ser­ena Patel (RAEL under­grad­u­ate), Dr. Rebekah Shirley, Akol Akol Kuan (RAEL undergraduate).




RAEL at the hippo pools at Mpala Research Cen­ter.  To check out the action at the pools right now day or night, take a look at MpalaLive!




RAEL team at the pre­his­toric human shel­ter caves on Mpala.



DSCN9495Mpala has the largest herd of ele­phant on pri­vate land in Kenya.


How to keep the lights on without burning the planet

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By Peter Fair­ley

TO STAND any chance of halt­ing run­away cli­mate change, we need to squelch car­bon emis­sions down to near zero by mid-​​century. That means get­ting off filthy fos­sil fuels – and fast. Few sci­en­tists would dis­agree with that, but there is pre­cious lit­tle con­sen­sus on how to do it. Nuclear fis­sion power is expen­sive and mired in con­tro­versy. Nuclear fusion, directly har­ness­ing the kind of reac­tions that power the sun, remains a dis­tant dream. Mean­while, renew­able energy is too unre­li­able to meet all our power demands.

Or is it? Clean energy tech­nolo­gies have come on leaps and bounds in the past decade or so. More recently, an impas­sioned debate has bro­ken out among energy experts as to whether “100 per cent renew­ables” is now within our grasp and, if so, how we get there. “We can really mess this up,” says Dan Kam­men, an energy researcher at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. “Just because we can make the shift doesn’t mean we will.” But the path we need to take – and the hur­dles we face – are increas­ingly clear.

The renew­ables rev­o­lu­tion has gath­ered momen­tum in recent years thanks to free-​​falling prices. And as clean becomes cheap, instal­la­tion is surg­ing. The world added 98 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy last year – more than any other energy source. Over half of that, 53 GW, was in China, which has long been the world’s biggest con­sumer of dirty coal.


To access the entire arti­cle online, click here.

From physics to environmental science: a natural evolution?


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Physics and envi­ron­men­tal research are more com­pat­i­ble than you might first think. Kate Rav­il­ious talks to three lead­ing physicists-​​turned-​​environmental researchers, to find out about their jour­ney.  For the orig­i­nal arti­cle, click here.

How many peo­ple study physics and then go on to forge a career in envi­ron­men­tal sci­ences? Per­haps not a huge num­ber, but those who have a “physics mind­set” often bring a fresh per­spec­tive to envi­ron­men­tal research. Today an increas­ing num­ber of physi­cists are help­ing to tackle some of the world’s most press­ing envi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges. For Daniel Kam­men, a self-​​confessed Star Trek fan and direc­tor of the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, US, the migra­tion from physics to envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence was serendipitous.

My path was very ran­dom, dri­ven by a love of physics and way too many inter­ests,” he says. Ini­tially, Kammen’s dream was to be an astro­naut. “I learned to fly planes, took acro­batic and sea-​​plane land­ing lessons, but I was ulti­mately screened out of the NASA astro­naut qual­i­fi­ca­tion on the basis of vision,” he explains. How­ever, Kammen’s infec­tious enthu­si­asm for under­stand­ing the world around him soon opened many other doors.

While study­ing physics at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity, Kam­men learned about astron­omy and cos­mol­ogy, worked in the low-​​temperature physics lab­o­ra­to­ries and in solid-​​state physics, where he pub­lished his first papers on solid-​​state masers, and eagerly absorbed courses on elec­tro­dy­nam­ics, quan­tum mechan­ics and quan­tum field the­ory. Then at grad­u­ate school, first at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity and then at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, he was drawn towards cos­mol­ogy, com­pu­ta­tional physics and neural networks.

How do we ditch fos­sil fuels?

But it was while doing a post­doc in neural com­put­ing at Cal­tech that Kam­men real­ized he could apply his tal­ents to envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. “Dur­ing my sum­mers I vol­un­teered on an energy project, intro­duc­ing solar ovens to com­mu­ni­ties in Nicaragua (the US was blockad­ing the coun­try at the time), and as a result I pub­lished my first paper on energy in Nature,” he says.

Access­ing all energy

That chance vol­un­teer work set Kammen’s career on the path of both aca­d­e­mic and activist. For the last 25 years his focus has been find­ing solu­tions to the energy needs of devel­op­ing coun­tries. Today his pas­sion is “energy access” and he works largely with com­mu­ni­ties in East Africa, Cen­tral Amer­ica – includ­ing the coun­try that orig­i­nally inspired him, Nicaragua – and on Native Amer­i­can lands in the US. “Physics has pro­vided me with the most amaz­ing train­ing, and I con­sis­tently use it today in work on solar cells, net­work stud­ies of energy grids, and in dynam­i­cal sys­tems meth­ods applied to all sorts of things,” he says.

- “Physics has pro­vided me with the most amaz­ing training”

Dan Kam­men

Step­ping side­ways from physics into envi­ron­men­tal sci­ences has required a flex­i­ble and open-​​minded approach, but Kam­men rel­ishes the chal­lenge of learn­ing new things. “I am keen to keep work­ing in ana­lyt­i­cal meth­ods and I always want to learn more in the human­i­ties and social sci­ences, where I am just a baby,” says Kam­men, who is editor-​​in-​​chief of the open-​​access jour­nal Envi­ron­men­tal Research Let­ters (pro­duced by IOP Pub­lish­ing, which also pub­lishes Physics World).

Kammen’s unusual career tra­jec­tory led him to con­tribute to the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) in its early days; work which was rewarded in 2007 when the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize. These days his goal is to “de-​​carbonize” soci­ety. Last year he joined a list of emi­nent sci­en­tists, busi­ness lead­ers, econ­o­mists, ana­lysts, influ­encers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of non-​​governmental orga­ni­za­tions to set up Mis­sion 2020 – a col­lab­o­ra­tive cam­paign that aims “to bend the greenhouse-​​gas emis­sions curve down­wards” by 2020. Over time Kammen’s research inter­ests have taken many twists and turns, but his enthu­si­asm for Star Trek is one thing that hasn’t changed. “I still own Spock ears and gen­er­ally win the game ‘iden­tify the Star Trek episode with the short­est quote’,” he laughs.

Down to Earth

For Anny Cazenave – direc­tor for earth sci­ences at the Inter­na­tional Space Sci­ence Insti­tute in Bern, Switzer­land and senior sci­en­tist at the Lab­o­ra­toire d’Etudes en Géo­physique et Océanogra­phie Spa­tiales at the French space cen­tre (CNES) in Toulouse, France – the jour­ney to envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence began with an inter­est in what lies beyond Earth. While doing her first degree in math­e­mat­ics and physics, Cazenave, like Kam­men, was fas­ci­nated by space, and had ambi­tions of becom­ing an astronomer. Grad­u­ally her inter­ests evolved towards geo­physics, and she did a PhD at the Uni­ver­sity of Toulouse on the rota­tion of the Earth. This led to a per­ma­nent posi­tion at CNES to develop satel­lite geo­desy – the use of satel­lites to study the shape of the Earth, its grav­ity field and its rota­tion, solid Earth tides and so on.

environments illustration

When Cazenave accepted the posi­tion, she had no inkling of how her work might trans­form envi­ron­men­tal research. “At that time [the 1970s] envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence was not at the fore­front of space activ­i­ties,” she explains.

It wasn’t until the mid-​​1990s, when satel­lite tech­nol­ogy was far more advanced, that sci­en­tists began to fully explore the use of satel­lites for envi­ron­men­tal appli­ca­tions. In par­tic­u­lar altime­ter satel­lites – which send a microwave pulse down to Earth and mea­sure alti­tude from the time it takes the pulse to return – started employ­ing two dif­fer­ent wave­lengths, mas­sively increas­ing the res­o­lu­tion at which they could map the Earth’s surface.

Sci­en­tists, includ­ing Cazenave, spot­ted the poten­tial of high-​​resolution satel­lites for map­ping the peaks and troughs of the sea sur­face, and real­ized that they rep­re­sented a new way of mon­i­tor­ing sea level changes and ocean cir­cu­la­tion. “Although I was not an oceanog­ra­pher, I learned about it while work­ing,” says Cazenave. “At the begin­ning of the 2000s, I also started to develop hydrol­ogy from space – the study of ter­res­trial waters using space techniques.”

- “Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research needs hard work but it is highly moti­vat­ing too, and I’m pas­sion­ate about learn­ing new things”

Anny Cazenave

Today Cazenave’s focus is using satel­lite data to mon­i­tor cli­mate change, for exam­ple, sea level rise, land ice melt, ocean ther­mal expan­sion and changes in the global water cycle. She feels that her orig­i­nal back­ground in maths and physics has been a use­ful tool, but flex­i­bil­ity and will­ing­ness to learn have also been key to enabling her to move into a new field. “Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research needs hard work, to gain expe­ri­ence in the field in which we are a new­comer, but it is highly moti­vat­ing too, and I’m pas­sion­ate about learn­ing new things,” she says.

Nat­u­rally outdoors

Unlike Kam­men and Cazenave who came to envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence via curios­ity about space, Jen­nifer Bur­ney of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego, US, found her enthu­si­asm for the envi­ron­ment to be a con­sis­tent thread through­out her life. “I’ve always been an out­doorsy per­son, and grow­ing up in New Mex­ico always had a strong inter­est in the nat­ural world,” she explains.

How hur­ri­canes replen­ish their vast sup­ply of rainwater

Fol­low­ing a degree in his­tory and sci­ence, Bur­ney began a physics PhD at Stan­ford, devel­op­ing a super­con­duct­ing cam­era that cap­tures images of cos­mic bod­ies such as pul­sars or exo­plan­ets. Part­way through her stud­ies, Bur­ney decided to defer for a year, so that she could vol­un­teer with rebuild­ing efforts in Nicaragua after 1998’s Hur­ri­cane Mitch. “It was excit­ing to be in the field devis­ing cre­ative solu­tions,” she says.

After fin­ish­ing her PhD, Burney’s desire to bring pos­i­tive change to other people’s lives resur­faced and she fol­lowed a non-​​academic route, work­ing for non-​​governmental orga­ni­za­tion the Solar Elec­tric Light Fund on rural elec­tri­fi­ca­tion around the world. “One project was solar-​​powered drip irri­ga­tion in West Africa,” she says. “They needed some­body to fig­ure out how to eval­u­ate the tech­nol­ogy. That required assess­ing the design and how to make it cost-​​effective and sustainable.”

Over time Bur­ney became intrigued by how energy and cli­mate affect food secu­rity, water avail­abil­ity and agri­cul­ture, and in 2008 she tran­si­tioned back into acad­e­mia via a post­doc at Stan­ford on food secu­rity and the envi­ron­ment. Her research has con­tin­ued in this vein ever since. These days Bur­ney inves­ti­gates the cou­plings between human activ­ity and the envi­ron­ment. How­ever, her physics mind­set is still at the fore­front of every­thing she does.

- “I fun­da­men­tally see the world as a physi­cist, and ulti­mately most of my projects have that kind of ‘flavour’”

Jen­nifer Burney

I fun­da­men­tally see the world as a physi­cist, and ulti­mately most of my projects have that kind of ‘flavour’ – for exam­ple, in our projects try­ing to under­stand what role air pol­lu­tants play in impact­ing both cli­mate and humans, I tend to think about how they change the radia­tive prop­er­ties of the atmos­phere and much less about the bio­log­i­cal or chem­i­cal processes for exam­ple,” she says.

But Bur­ney rel­ishes the cross-​​disciplinary nature of her work. “You learn to see the world in a new way,” she says. And it is this will­ing­ness to see things from other people’s point of view, com­bined with a thirst for knowl­edge, that seems to have enabled Bur­ney, Cazenave and Kam­men to slide smoothly between physics and the envi­ron­men­tal sci­ences. “Physics pro­vides a fan­tas­tic toolkit, but envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems are the biggest chal­lenge we have,” says Bur­ney. “It will take all hands on deck.”

  • Enjoy the rest of the March 2018 issue of Physics World in our dig­i­tal mag­a­zine or via the Physics World app for any iOS or Android smart­phone or tablet. Mem­ber­ship of the Insti­tute of Physics required

ERG Graduation — Congratulations!

A won­der­ful ERG and RAEL grad­u­a­tion, for sure.

But with five (!) RAEL PhD grad­u­ates the lab sure feels depleted!

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Dr. Anne-​​Perrine Avrin, Dr. Noah Kit­tner, Dr. Nikky Avila & Dan



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Dan, Dr. Anne-​​Perrine Avrin, & Prof. Zechun Hu, vis­it­ing from Elec­tri­cal Engi­neer­ing at Tsinghua Uni­ver­sity (infor­mal advi­sor to Anne-​​Perrine and co-​​author on elec­tric vehi­cle inte­gra­tion papers).


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Diego Ponce de Leon, Kater­nia Geor­giou and their families.



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And Isa Fer­rall, ERG MS grad­u­ate and fam­ily, — and big thanks because she is stay­ing for the PhD with the grad­u­a­tion of so many 0thers!


New Report: How UC Can Meet Its Ambitious 2025 Carbon Neutrality Goal

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The Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia believes it can go car­bon neu­tral by 2025. That means zero car­bon emis­sions from pow­er­ing its build­ings and vehi­cles on all ten cam­puses. But accord­ing to a recent report and related com­men­tary by experts from across the sys­tem in the jour­nal Nature, it could be a tough goal to reach. That’s a posi­tion shared by Berke­ley pro­fes­sor and energy expert Dan Kam­men, who was not affil­i­ated with the report. “We’re not actu­ally on pace for our 2025 goal,” he said—more like 2035 or 2040. “We need to accel­er­ate. That’s one of the key things.”

To be fair, the goal—like the Kyoto Pro­to­col, the Paris Agree­ment, and AB 32 before it— is an ambi­tious one. The uni­ver­sity is specif­i­cally look­ing to light the way for large insti­tu­tions the world over as well as the entire state of Cal­i­for­nia, which is con­sid­er­ing its own car­bon neu­tral­ity tar­get of 2045.

UC has a long way to go. From 2009 through 2015, the report shows, the uni­ver­sity reduced elec­tric­ity demand sys­tem wide through effi­ciency retro­fits to offices, restau­rants, res­i­dences, and more, net­ting UC more than $20 mil­lion a year. But it barely moved the nee­dle on car­bon emis­sions: 1.3 mil­lion met­ric tons of car­bon diox­ide annu­ally in 2009 to 1.1 mil­lion in 2015.

Fig­ure 1.4 from Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Strate­gies for Decar­boniza­tion: Replac­ing Nat­ural Gas

To bring that num­ber down to zero over the next seven years, the uni­ver­sity will need to “bend the curve,” the report con­cludes. Even with renew­able energy com­ing online that wasn’t avail­able a few years ago, the uni­ver­sity must ramp up its efforts—rapidly.The authors of the report and com­men­tary sug­gest a three-​​step approach. First is mak­ing build­ings and other facil­i­ties even more effi­cient, which could net another $20 mil­lion in sav­ings per year by 2025, the authors project.

Next is an interim mea­sure, switch­ing to bio­gas for cam­pus power plants. Pro­duced through the break­down of plant mat­ter in an oxygen-​​controlled envi­ron­ment, bio­gas is chem­i­cally iden­ti­cal to nat­ural gas yet con­sid­ered carbon-​​neutral. Although the fuel is already in use to a small extent on some cam­puses and more is planned, the authors note that due to sup­ply lim­i­ta­tions, it isn’t a solu­tion that can scale up to national use. And while the move to bio­gas could put a huge dent in UC car­bon emissions—almost all of which are cur­rently asso­ci­ated with nat­ural gas combustion—the fuel isn’t with­out risk. Leak­age from gas infra­struc­ture could sig­nif­i­cantly hin­der UC’s efforts by releas­ing methane directly into the atmos­phere, Kam­men says.

The final step requires phas­ing out gas alto­gether. That means elec­tri­fy­ing every cam­pus from top to bottom—from the heat­ing sys­tem in Dwinelle Hall to the main­te­nance truck parked out back—and pur­chas­ing power from only zero-​​emissions sources like solar, wind, and geothermal.

Cam­pus elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is straight­for­ward enough for new build­ings and domes­tic water heat­ing, says Karl Brown, deputy direc­tor of the Berkeley-​​based Cal­i­for­nia Insti­tute for Energy and Envi­ron­ment and one of the report’s 27 authors. It’s much more dif­fi­cult with exist­ing build­ings and high-​​temperature end uses, such as ster­il­iza­tion of lab equip­ment in, since that requires com­plete retro­fits and likely removal of gas-​​burning facilities.

Camille Kirk, who directs UC Davis’ Office of Sus­tain­abil­ity and was not involved in the report, says the 2025 goal is still fea­si­ble as long as the uni­ver­sity makes the proper finan­cial invest­ments; receives full sup­port from fac­ulty, alumni, and the gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly around infra­struc­ture renewal; and doesn’t insist on full elec­tri­fi­ca­tion by 2025.

And while the authors of the report cau­tion that UC’s lead­er­ship in this arena won’t mean much if oth­ers don’t fol­low suit, the specifics of its approach “[don’t] need to directly trans­late to spur other insti­tu­tions’ think­ing and cre­ativ­ity about solu­tions that might be bet­ter for them,” Kirk said.

Ulti­mately, the authors note, “bend­ing the curve more sharply requires both aca­d­e­mic and prac­ti­cal insights,” which is exactly what the uni­ver­sity hopes to bring to the problem.

For the orig­i­nal arti­cle, click here.

Dr. Rebekah Shirley provides a roadmap for energy access in “The Conversation”

For the orig­i­nal piece, click here


by Dr. Rebekah Shirley is Research Direc­tor at Power for All and Vis­it­ing Research Scholar, at the Strath­more Energy Research Cen­ter (SERC) at Strath­more Uni­ver­sity and both alumni and Post-​​doctoral Fel­low at RAEL.

At least 110 mil­lion of the 600 mil­lion peo­ple still liv­ing with­out access to elec­tric­ity in Africa live in urban areas. Most are within a stone throw from exist­ing power grid infrastructure.

In Nige­ria, Tan­za­nia, Ghana and Liberia alone there are up to 95 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in urban areas. All in close prox­im­ity to the grid. In Kenya about 70% of off-​​grid homes are located within 1.2km of a power line. And esti­mates for “under-​​the-​​grid” pop­u­la­tions across sub-​​Saharan Africa range from 61% to 78%.

Besides energy access being cru­cial for many basic human needs, these under­served pop­u­la­tions rep­re­sent a mas­sive com­mer­cial oppor­tu­nity for cash-​​strapped sub-​​Saharan African util­i­ties. Elec­tric­ity providers could reach tens of mil­lions of densely packed cus­tomers with­out the cost of a last-​​mile rural grid extension.

So, why aren’t these poten­tial con­sumers con­nected to the for­mal grid?

Urban com­mu­ni­ties often face many chal­lenges in obtain­ing elec­tric­ity access. These range from the pro­hib­i­tively high cost of a con­nec­tion, to the chal­lenges of infor­mal hous­ing, the impact of power theft on ser­vices and socio-​​political mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion. In many cases, these obsta­cles are dif­fi­cult to address successfully.

How­ever, recent advances in dis­trib­uted renew­able energy tech­nolo­gies mean a more afford­able, faster to deploy, cleaner alter­na­tive is at hand in Africa. One that can step in where pol­icy and util­ity reforms are wanting.

Bar­ri­ers to grid connections

One of the major bar­ri­ers to elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is the cost of a grid con­nec­tion. A grid con­nec­tion in Kenya, for instance, is esti­mated at USD $ 400 per house­hold. This is nearly one-​​third of the aver­age per capita income of a Kenyan.

Beyond pure cost bar­ri­ers, urban com­mu­ni­ties often can’t access energy ser­vices for other socio-​​economic rea­sons. For instance, not being metered because they don’t have a for­mal address. Or liv­ing in in an area that is dif­fi­cult to ser­vice – such as near flood plains or in infor­mal hous­ing settlements.

Cor­rup­tion among elec­tric­ity ser­vice providers, power theft by cus­tomers and the estab­lish­ment of elec­tric­ity car­tels also com­pli­cates and lim­its elec­tric­ity access.

Finally, the util­i­ties them­selves face many chal­lenges in imple­ment­ing reforms to get more peo­ple con­nected. Take the exam­ple of the Kenya Power and Light­ing Com­pany, which owns and oper­ates most of the elec­tric­ity trans­mis­sion and dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem. In 2015 it intro­duced a sub­sidised con­nec­tion fee of US $150. This was done through the Last Mile Con­nec­tiv­ity Project. In one year, this installment-​​based pay­ment plan led to a 30-​​fold increase in legal elec­tric­ity con­nec­tions in impov­er­ished neighbourhoods.

But the project was marred by cost over­runs and inflated and mis­re­ported new con­nec­tion num­bers. On top of this, newly con­nected house­holds often have very low con­sump­tion lev­els and low-​​income cus­tomers were often unable to make pay­ments, even at sub­sidised rates.

With­out the nec­es­sary infra­struc­tural devel­op­ment, experts argue that the pro­gram puts a strain on the tech­ni­cal, com­mer­cial and finan­cial resources of the util­ity. This means that the pro­gramme may find it dif­fi­cult to gen­er­ate rev­enue, recover costs or pro­vide the ser­vice intended to new customers.

Decen­tralised renewables

Decen­tralised renew­able energy tech­nolo­gies offer an impor­tant solu­tionfor “under-​​the-​​grid” elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. They are sim­ple, fast and agile. They have short instal­la­tion times, and offer a reli­able elec­tric­ity ser­vice for infor­mal settlements.

Pay-​​as-​​you-​​go solar sys­tems and appli­ances, for exam­ple, can pro­vide a much lower bar­rier to entry. Com­pared to the high upfront con­nec­tion costs noted ear­lier in Kenya, a 15-​​watt solar home sys­tem costs on aver­age USD $9 per month for 36 months after which point the house­hold owns its system.

The renew­able energy sec­tor recog­nises this under-​​the-​​grid mar­ket. In fact, about 35% of solar light­ing prod­uct sales in Kenya are made in peri-​​urban areas. And it’s a good bet. Evi­dence shows that the will­ing­ness to pay for decen­tralised renew­ables is much higher than a grid con­nec­tion because they are seen as more reliable.

Poli­cies to sup­port decen­tralised tech­nolo­gies include: inte­grated energy plan­ning that incor­po­rates these solu­tions, adopt­ing and enforc­ing prod­uct qual­ity con­trol stan­dards and pro­vid­ing finan­cial incen­tives – like reduced import duties for prod­ucts or local loan and grant programs.

These solu­tions show that with the right approach, and sim­ple inno­va­tions, Africa’s prospec­tive urban cus­tomers can finally get access to electricity.

Ben Attia, a Research Con­sul­tant with Green­tech Media, con­tributed to the writ­ing of this article

New RAEL publication highlights Carbon Footprint Planning: Quantifying Local and State Mitigation Opportunities for 700 California Cities

In a new study Chris Jones, Steve Wheeler of UC Davis, and Dan Kam­men detail how consumption-​​​​based green­house gas (GHG) emis­sions inven­to­ries have emerged to describe full life cycle con­tri­bu­tions of house­holds to cli­mate change at coun­try, state and increas­ingly city scales. Using this approach, how much car­bon foot­print abate­ment poten­tial is within the con­trol of local gov­ern­ments, and which poli­cies hold the most poten­tial to reduce emis­sions? In a new study in the jour­nal Urban Plan­ning we  quan­ti­fy the poten­tial of local poli­cies and pro­grams to meet aggres­sive GHG reduc­tion tar­gets using a consumption-​​​​based, high geospa­tial res­o­lu­tion plan­ning model for the state of California.

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We find that roughly 35% of all car­bon foot­print abate­ment poten­tial statewide is from activ­i­ties at least par­tially within the con­trol of local gov­ern­ments. The study shows large vari­a­tion in the size and com­po­si­tion of car­bon foot­prints and abate­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties by ∼ 23,000 Cen­sus block groups (i.e., neighborhood-​​​​scale within cities), 717 cities and 58 coun­ties across the state.  These data and com­pan­ion online tools can help cities bet­ter under­stand pri­or­i­ties to reduce GHGs from a com­pre­hen­sive, consumption-​​​​based per­spec­tive, with poten­tial appli­ca­tion to the full United States and internationally.Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 2.09.38 AM


For the arti­cle link, click here.

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