First Northern California Retail Hydrogen Refueling Station Now Open for Business

The Sacramento area has its first retail hydrogen refueling station! Located in West Sacramento, it is the 10th retail hydrogen station in the state and one of 51 slated to open before the end of 2015.

The California Energy Commission is cofunding the station through the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. The state’s goal is to build 100 hydrogen refueling stations in convenient locations across California.

“California is committed to zero-emission vehicles and an infrastructure that will help build consumer confidence in them” said Commissioner Janea A. Scott at the station’s grand opening December 10. About 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, making our air unhealthy and contributing to climate change.

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Advancing Energy Research and Development

Two of the nation’s leading government energy research and development agencies are taking bold steps forward as their partnership enters its second year. The California Energy Commission and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), the energy innovation branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, both provide millions of dollars in funding to innovators who are advancing science and energy technologies. Supported innovators are chosen because they have bold ideas for developing new technologies from concept to market. The two entities held their second collaboration session last week after signing a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013.


The session was led by Cheryl Martin, the deputy director of ARPA-E and Robert Weisenmiller, the chair of the Energy Commission. It focused on creating new mechanisms of collaboration between the two agencies and enhancing coordination to target promising energy technologies. “It’s critical that our two agencies work closer together to advance innovative energy technologies,” said Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller. “Achieving California’s ambitious energy and environmental goals demand it.”

The Energy Commission and ARPA-E support many innovators, but their collaboration has extended to three recent projects:

  • This month the Energy Commission provided follow-on funding ($1.5M each) for ARPA-E funded Halotechnics ($3.3M ARPA-E award) and the University of California, Los Angeles ($2.4M ARPA-E award) to advance their thermal energy storage technologies. These technologies will help reduce costs and improve the efficiency of thermal energy storage, leading to increased capacity and distribution of concentrated solar electric generation.
  • In June, the Energy Commission provided follow-on funding ($1.2M) for ARPA-E funded BlackPak Inc. to build a natural gas storage tank prototype for light-duty vehicles. The Energy Commission’s funding will enable BlackPak to create a prototype of the innovative sorbent-based natural gas tank it developed through its initial $5.4 million ARPA-E award. BlackPak is building the storage system from carbon materials that allow natural gas to be stored at a lower pressure. If successful, the storage system will reduce cost and can be added into a vehicle’s design without sacrificing passenger space.

The Energy Commission runs several energy research and development programs to advance energy efficiency, renewable energy and other energy-related subjects, including the new Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program that invests in improvements to the state’s electricity systems. The Energy Commission plans to showcase these programs to the energy research and development community at the 2015 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in February.

Look for opportunities by visiting the websites of ARPA-E and the Energy Commission.

Advancement of residential solar water heaters

About 35 percent of natural gas used in California homes is used to heat water. To reduce the use of natural gas the California Energy Commission has funded research to increase the effectiveness of residential solar water heating systems and reduce the price tag.

Researchers at the University California, Merced are developing an aluminum solar mini-channel collector that is showing promise. Now the UC Merced campus is interested in installing these collectors as it pursues the goal of zero-net-energy by 2020.

The “channels” found in mini-channel solar water heating panels have a much smaller “hydraulic diameter” (the area that water flows through in a pipe) than the copper tubes found in traditional solar water heating panels. This smaller diameter allows for a much greater number of tubes or “channels” to be fitted on to a similar sized solar panel. The increased number of channels translates to an increase in the surface area that can absorb solar energy and result in an increase in the amount of solar energy that can be absorbed by water or other fluids. Because of the significant increase in solar energy absorbed, researchers were able to use aluminum (a metal much less expensive than the copper used in traditional solar water heating panels) as the material to build the solar panels.

The price of a traditional solar water heating system is significantly more than the typical natural gas water heating system. Solar water heating can cost about $6,700 for a typical California home. Natural gas systems are typically at prices of about $1,000. Yet the operating cost of solar systems can be less than natural gas systems. It is estimated that if only 20 percent of potential solar water heating savings were realized, California homeowners would save nearly $200 million a year. Experts consider home solar water heating systems as the home feature with the highest potential to reduce the use of natural gas.

Mini-channel technology has been successfully utilized in the automotive, air conditioning, and electronics cooling industries due to improved performance and compact size compared to round-tube heat exchangers. The transition to mini-channel technology, however, has not taken place yet in the solar industry.

For more information about this project and other innovations funded by the Energy Commission please see the recently released Natural Gas Research and Development 2014 Annual Report.

Grant turns sunlight into hot water for winery

Turning sunlight into hot water was the focus of a recent California Energy Commission grant. Now, the demonstrated system is ready for the marketplace.

It is a simple concept that has been used by homeowners to warm-up water for swimming pools. It is more complex in a commercial environment where the demand for hot water can be constant and the hot water is used for cleaning cookware, bottles and other items used in food processing.

With this grant the Gas Technology Institute and Solar Usage Now demonstrated a solar-assisted gas water heating system at Courtside Cellars, a small winery in San Miguel. The major water use was during harvest, but bottling needs were year-around. For similar food processing activity, it was determined the solar-heating system could reduce hot water costs by 40 to 80 percent, depending on the existing type of gas boiler used. The cost of the system could be recaptured in about seven years.

The industrial, agriculture and water sectors in California use 30 percent of all natural gas consumed in the state. The Energy Commission’s research and development helps reduce energy use and cost, meet environmental challenges, address future energy needs and accelerate the use of renewable resources.

Learn more about this project and other innovations in the recently released Natural Gas Research and Development 2014 Annual Report.

Air Force conducts large-scale testing of electric vehicles at Los Angeles Air Force Base

The U.S. Air Force has replaced its non-tactical vehicle fleet at Los Angeles Air Force Base with plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) as part of a test program of the vehicles’ reliability and their ability to support the electric grid.

Commissioner Scott with Maj General Robert McMurry, Vice Commander of the Space and Missile Center
The 42-vehicle fleet will be the first all plug-in fleet used by the Department of Defense. It will also be the largest vehicle-to-grid charging project in the United States. With vehicle-to-grid charging, electric vehicles are able to send electricity back to the power grid when they are not being used. The PEV fleet includes both electric and hybrid vehicles ranging from sedans to trucks and a 12-passenger van.

The project includes federal, state and private partners, including the California Energy Commission, and will test the vehicles’ capacity as a low-cost mobile power source, allowing the base to continue functioning during electrical blackouts.

Commissioner Scott looking at engine of Ford E350 hybrid electric bus 
"The Energy Commission is excited to partner with the Air Force to test these vehicle-to-grid technologies," said California Energy Commissioner Janea A. Scott. "By investing $3 million in this project, we are supporting the demonstration of the potential and value of PEVs as grid integration and energy storage resources."

Scott is the lead commissioner for Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, which is funding the demonstration. In a recent announcement the California PEV Collaborative, a public-private organization focused on accelerating the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles to meet California’s economic, energy and environmental goals, announced that Scott will become its chair in 2015-2016.

From Landfill to Solar Park

Conergy and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) dedicated a 1.5 megawatt solar installation project at Sutter’s Landing Park October 26 that will provide enough energy to deliver electricity to more than 400 average-size homes. Partial funding for the project was provided by the California Energy Commission.

The solar installation project is built atop a former landfill that was deemed un-useable. The project includes a field of solar modules, a solar panel covered carport and elevated panels that provide shade for visitors at the adjacent dog park. Mike Gravely, with the Energy Commission’s Research & Development program, participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Conergy says Sutter’s Landing’s renewable power source  will provide a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equal to removing 350 passenger vehicles from the road for a year. Revenue from the power generated will be re-invested to fund park preservation and maintenance.

Climate Change Knows No Borders

Just as trade winds cross the Pacific Ocean, so do good ideas about combating global climate change. Come this December, California Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller will join a trade mission to China with clean energy companies from California and across the U.S. this mission is being organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce, China-U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance, China San Francisco, U.S.-China Clean Tech Center and the California-China Trade and Investment Office. It follows Governor Edmund G. Brown’s 2013 gubernatorial trade mission to China. The goal of that trip was, to gain support for addressing climate change and further encourage trade and investment opportunities in clean energy technology.

Governor Brown and Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua (left) sign climate change agreement September 2013.

Last September, Chair Weisenmiller and Matt Rodriquez, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, attended the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between California and the China National Development and Reform Commission to fight climate change through low-carbon development. This past June, they were part of a roundtable hosted by the China-U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance on the role of clean energy and energy efficiency in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and harmful air pollutants from the energy sector.

Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller (center) joins discussion at California-China Cooperation on Climate Change.

The focus of the December trade mission is to facilitate partnerships between U.S. and Chinese clean energy companies and provide guidance to American companies looking to enter or expand operations in China’s market. Given the rapid expansion of China’s energy sector; how China builds its energy future will have global economic and environmental implications. The good news -- China is prioritizing investments in clean transportation, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

California’s experience fostering a clean energy industry through landmark policies, investing in energy research and development, providing incentives for zero-emission vehicles, and developing appliance and building energy efficiency standards has established the state as a global environmental leader. These experiences can serve as a model for other jurisdictions to imitate.

In December, the U.S. delegation will visit half a dozen cities in China's Northeast region, including Beijing and Qingdao. Cities chosen have specific needs for clean energy and supportive officials who have the ability to organize meetings geared toward the U.S. delegations' interests.

For more information, click here

Unseen Energy Savings

Pumping insulation into a newly constructed home.
 As fall arrives we notice the house gets colder and is not as comfortable without a sweater. One can chalk this up to the change in seasons, but more likely it could be that there are small places where the warm air escapes. 

Drafty homes are caused by a number of factors one may not see or even think about. Wall and attic insulation are among those unseen items that can increase or decrease energy savings. The California Energy Commission is the state agency that encourages builders and developers to incorporate energy efficiency into designs. 

The Energy Commission sets the state building codes for energy efficiency in residential and nonresidential buildings. Currently the Energy Commission is evaluating proposals for the 2016 Building Energy Standards (Title 24). These proposals include having high performance attic and walls – basically increasing insulation to keep the house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. 

Adding insulation to the roofline
can help regulate home temperatures.
Some builders are already embracing these practices to keep eventual homeowners more comfortable year round. For example, Shea Homes and KB Home have partnered with Owens Corning to create an attic insulation system installed at the roofline of the building.

Summer attic temperatures can be up to 40 degrees higher than the outside air; adding additional insulation at the roofline can lower that temperature and result in significant energy savings. According to Shea Homes, the benefits of a reduced temperature in an attic means better performance and efficiency in a cooling system resulting in a possible reduction of one’s energy bill by 25 percent.

This improvement and others the Energy Commission are considering could mean lower energy bills and greater comfort while protecting our environment!
The Energy Commission will have a 2016 Standards draft language workshop November 3 and release draft language in early 2015.