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  • Monday, August 01, 2022
  • Alaska’s Innovative Arctic Shared with ARENA Cohort

The 2022 Arctic Remote Energy Networks Academy convened in Fairbanks last week for the first of three onsite visits. This year’s cohort includes 11 participants from as far away as Nuuk, in Greenland; Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay in Canada’s Nunavut province; Montreal and Ottawa in Canada; and closer to home — Anchorage, Fort Yukon and Solomon. The group spent six days in Alaska undergoing interactive trainings, visiting successful energy projects and exchanging lessons learned with local project managers and community members.

“They are such a dedicated, curious and engaging group” said Carolyn Loeffler, the Alaska onsite coordinator based at UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power. “Between meetings, in the hallways, during van rides — all you can hear are excited conversations about energy challenges in their communities. The chemistry in the group is so strong. I'm eager to see how it builds over the next seven months.”

Alaska communities have been a real-world test bed for innovative renewable integration, due in part to the state’s decentralized energy landscape and natural economic incentives, including the high cost of shipping and burning fuel. Sharing the challenges, successes and lessons learned from developing renewable energy projects in the North is the backbone of the ARENA program. 

Designed for individuals living and working in remote northern communities, ARENA seeks to equip energy project managers with the skills, professional networks and support needed to catalyze successful renewable energy integration. The cohort will reconvene in Iceland in late October this year and again for a third and final time in Old Crow, in Canada’s Yukon, in January 2023.

Due to the soaring costs of fuel and concerns over climate impacts, many ARENA participants are interested in helping their communities integrate renewable energy into their microgrids. In Fairbanks, Jeremy VanderMeer, David Light and Tawna Morgan showcased ACEP’s Energy Technology Facility, including a live demonstration of the diesel-powered microgrid with wind, solar and battery energy storage. Another highlight in Fairbanks was a tour of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center.

“The reason I applied to the ARENA program was to collaborate with people across the Arctic,” said Heather Shilton, director of Nunavut Nukkiksautiit Corp. in Iqaluit, Nunavut. “I’ve been working on a few renewable energy projects in Nunavut for about three years now. The biggest barrier we are seeing is on the utility regulation side.”

Shilton noted that whenever she travels into the smaller communities in Nunavut, there is always a lot of interest in renewables. “I think people really understand the economic, environmental and social benefits of renewables. But we're really struggling with the utility side and getting anything going in that conversation,” she said.

To help navigate these challenges working with utilities, ARENA organizers paired Shilton with mentor Meera Kohler who recently retired from serving 21 years as the president and CEO of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative. This match is one of 15 hand-selected mentor-participant matches designed to broaden the knowledge network.

In Kotzebue, the participants toured Kotzebue Electric Association’s power plant, including the battery energy storage system, and the wind and solar farm. KEA, a pioneer in northern community-scaled energy systems, installed its first wind turbines in 1990 and has continued to successfully expand and refine the integration of renewables in Kotzebue over the years. The cohort conversed with KEA’s Matt Bergan and Martin Shroyer about the challenges and successes of pioneering the integration of renewables in the Arctic. 

Because energy intersects with all the critical infrastructure in a community, they also toured Kotzebue’s new and soon-to-be commissioned water treatment plant and a self-contained hydroponic crop box located on the University of Alaska Fairbanks Chukchi Campus designed as an experiment to address food security in the Arctic. 

Kotzebue also provided time for the cohort to share among themselves their own challenges and successes.

“There’s a whole bunch of us gathered around renewable energy, and we have been learning from each other,” said Shivani Chotalia, director of development and partnerships at NRStor Inc. in Toronto, Ontario. “As someone who works on remote renewable projects in Canada, I was really excited to see this program, to be able to join and share some of my stories from Nunavut in Canada and connect with others in this space.” 

“We’ve seen quite a lot of similarities between the Arctic communities here in Alaska and in northern Canada. Nunavut, for example, is all isolated, fly-in, barge-in communities, and that’s quite similar to here in Alaska,” Chotalia said. “Just thinking about renewable energy, the challenges of logistics — how do you get equipment in, how well does it operate in harsh climates and very cold winter seasons? How well does it integrate with diesel generation in a microgrid setting and maintain reliability and stability of power? We’ve had a lot of those conversations here and have seen operating projects.”

The cohort has now headed home, with some attending the Isolated Power Systems Connect conference in Cordova. In October, the cohort will travel to Reykjavik, Iceland, for the second onsite program exploring the industrial and manufacturing applications of geothermal energy, and in January, the cohort will convene again in Old Crow, Yukon Territory, Canada for the third and final onsite program where the participants will travel to and learn from other remote communities in Northern Canada.  

ARENA is held in partnership with Canada, Gwich’in Council International, the United States and Iceland. The Alaska onsite is sponsored and organized by members of UAF's Alaska Center for Energy and Power with funding support from the Office of Naval Research, National Renewable Energy Lab and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Arctic Energy Office. ARENA is designed for individuals living and working in remote circumpolar Arctic communities. For more information, please contact UAF-ARENA@alaska.edu.

 

Kotzebue Public Works director Dennis Jennings leads ARENA participants on a walk along the sea wall which has protected the community from erosion since 2012. Photo by Amanda Byrd.