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Making Wind Work for Alaska: Wind-Diesel Systems for Isolated Communities

  • Epscor 3
  • Epscor 1
  • Epscor 2

Project Summary

ACEP is proud to lead the first project in Alaska funded through a Department of Energy EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) implementation award. The EPSCoR program is intended to help Universities located far from DOE research facilities develop a Center of Excellence in a specific research area. The funding awarded to ACEP is intended to enhance research capacity related to diesel-renewable hybrid energy systems for islanded, non-integrated electric grids and their associated oil-based heating systems. Our long-term vision is to increase energy self-reliance in Alaska’s remote rural communities by reducing dependence on imported diesel fuel through strategies that can be replicated elsewhere.

Making Wind Work for Alaska: Video

Project Need

With over 30 installed systems throughout the state, Alaska is already considered a world leader in the development and deployment of wind-diesel hybrid systems. However, integration of high contribution wind energy on small, isolated microgrids has proved challenging and many of these systems are not performing as designed. Nonetheless, the high cost of energy, small population base, geographic isolation, limited infrastructure, and vulnerable supply chains associated with many of Alaska’s rural communities provide an impetus for perfecting strategies to reduce diesel fuel consumption for heat and power.    

Project Description

In developing our work plan, ACEP and its partners sought input from Alaska utilities, developers, and turbine manufacturers. We wanted to better understand the key challenges the industry is facing, and what topics could benefit from a more concerted University-led research effort.  The following areas were identified as priorities, and addressing them in a systematic fashion has been the major focus of this project.  

Data Management: A lack of high-quality data has been a significant impediment in Alaska, which has led our team to develop both a comprehensive database for Alaskan renewable energy systems (ISER), and robust data collection systems for remote sites (ACEP).

Engineering Challenges: Integrating intermittent renewables into a diesel microgrid requires addressing issues related to power stability, potential use of energy storage, and control strategies. With ACEP’s new Power Systems Integration Laboratory, which is capable of recreating an entire village energy grid, we are able to address these challenges not only in isolation or through modeling, but also through full-power and real-world testing and analysis.

Cold Climate Operation: Many of Alaska’s wind systems are operating in harsh climates. Understanding the effects of icing on operation and maintenance of wind turbines in the arctic, and developing new strategies for mitigating impacts on device performance has been the focus of researchers at UAA’s School of Engineering.

Social and Institutional Challenges: Some communities are highly effective in developing, operating, maintaining, and supporting hybrid renewable-energy systems, while others are not. In addition to addressing technical challenges, ISER is seeking to deepen understanding of these differences in “community capacity” to inform and develop evidence-based strategies and practices that can be shared with communities and decision makers, both locally and globally.

Next Steps

ACEP and its University of Alaska partners have applied for renewal funding to continue this work through the Department of Energy EPSCoR Program. We have made some changes from our original scope, including integration of other renewable energy resources in addition to wind for isolated electricity microgrids and fossil-fuel heating systems, while dropping a specific research emphasis on turbine performance in harsh climate conditions.

We have also deepened our emphasis on community engagement by inviting 5 Alaska communities to become our direct research partners.