Alaska Center for Microgrid Technologies Commercialization
The University of Alaska Fairbanks received a competitive i6 grant through the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to establish the Alaska Center for Microgrid Technologies Commercialization. An Office of Naval Research grant is also contributing funds to this competition.
About the EDA
The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) aims to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting competitiveness and preparing the nation's regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA makes investments in economically distressed communities in order to create jobs for U.S. workers, promote American innovation, and accelerate long-term sustainable economic growth.
The Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program, run by the EDA’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is a new initiative designed to advance innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country through three different types of grants: i6 Challenge Grants, Cluster Grants for Seed Capital Funds, and Science and Research Park Development Grants.
The i6 Challenge was launched in 2010 as a national competition that makes small, targeted, high-impact investments to support startup creation, innovation, and commercialization. Funding supports Proof-of-Concept Centers, as well as later-stage Commercialization Centers, which help innovators fine-tune and scale their innovations to bring new products and services to the market. Grants are awarded through a competitive process based upon the application’s merit and eligibility, and the availability of funds. Total 2015 funding for the i6 Challenge is nearly $8 million.
Given the economic plight in its rural areas, the State of Alaska has developed programs to reduce the extremely high cost of energy in rural Alaska. With Alaska’s significant investment in renewable energy technologies, coupled with the high cost of energy in rural communities, the state is especially well suited for the testing and implementation of microgrid technologies.
In fact, Alaska’s remote communities, spread across the state’s geographically and environmentally diverse regions, have spurred a small industry based on developing and supporting microgrids. Alaska boasts between 200 and 250 permanently islanded microgrids ranging from 30 kW up to 30 MW in size. These microgrids, many with more than 50 years of operation, provide electricity to isolated, rural communities. Alaska’s total installed microgrid capacity generates over 2 million hours of operating experience every year.
Over the last decade, Alaska has emerged as a global leader in development and operation of microgrids. The State of Alaska has invested over $250 million in developing and integrating renewable energy projects to serve these microgrids.
This EDA investment will establish the Alaska Center for Microgrid Technologies Commercialization. To improve the affordability and reliability of microgrid energy systems, the Center will provide the technical and business assistance required for accelerating commercialization and implementation of relevant technologies. The market includes both domestic and export opportunities, with nearest term applications in remote and/or isolated regions characterized by high energy costs, such as those in Alaska, the circumpolar North, and developing regions of the world. In addition, there is a growing market opportunity for urban applications of microgrid technologies, due to the improved resilience they can provide in times of natural disaster and human-caused challenges to larger grid structures.
The Center will access its experience base and relationships with the utilities and companies operating the 200+ remote, isolated energy grids distributed across Alaska. It will document the critical issues, operational and environmental attributes, integration requirements, and logistical challenges that technology innovators will encounter. By leveraging the higher cost of energy in Alaska, technology developers will accelerate investment recovery and learn lessons to support expansion into the domestic microgrid market and export to the global one. The Center will also conduct a microgrid technology demonstration competition and provide business plan and entrepreneur support.