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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-12-21 22:00:35
  • Article ID: 687144

Alaskan Microgrids Offer Energy Resilience and Independence

Microgrids offer an enticing approach for local, sustainable energy generation by building flexibility into existing electrical grids.

  • Credit: Chris Pike, the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, University of Alaska Fairbanks

    Wind turbines supply renewable energy to microgrids across Alaska.

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 21, 2017 -- The electrical grid in the contiguous United States is a behemoth of interconnected systems. If one section fails or is sabotaged, millions of citizens could be without power. Remote villages in Alaska provide an example of how safeguards could build resilience into a larger electrical grid. These communities rely on microgrids -- small, local power stations that operate autonomously. Nine articles in the recent issue of the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, from AIP Publishing, provide the first reviews of energy technologies and costs for microgrids in Alaska.

“The integration of renewable resources into microgrids is an active area of research,” Erin Whitney, a researcher at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, University of Alaska Fairbanks said. “Alaskan communities are at the forefront of thinking about integrating sustainable, local, and often renewable, energy into their power generation portfolios.”

Unlike the Lower 48, Alaska’s terrain makes it difficult and cost prohibitive to establish a large-scale electrical grid. Instead, microgrids provide permanent, self-sufficient islands of electricity that can produce up to 2 megawatts of electricity for remote communities. Alaskan microgrids provide electricity for more than 200 communities and generate more than 2 million hours of operating experience annually.

Reducing energy costs is the driving factor for implementing renewable energy in remote grids. According to Whitney, many Alaskan communities are motivated to find local energy solutions to reduce the cost of shipping expensive diesel fuel to power their microgrids.

“Some communities are so remote that they can only get fuel delivered once or twice a year when the ice melts and a barge can move up the river,” Whitney said. “This situation translates into some of the highest energy costs in the nation.”

Whitney explains that oil and local, renewable resources can work in tandem to supply electricity to microgrids. A diesel generator typically provides base power generation, while renewable energy sources reduce the load on the generators and save fuel, lowering energy costs.

Even above the Arctic Circle, where the region is cloaked in darkness for a portion of the year, communities harness seasonal renewable resources by switching between solar power during summer months and wind power during the winter months.

During the past decade, Alaska has invested over $250 million to develop and integrate renewable energy projects to power microgrid systems.

Whitney hopes the information compiled in the collection of papers will help educate other communities about the value of integrating microgrid technology into a larger system to build resilience. Furthermore, Whitney hopes that microgrids will become a power source for smaller remote communities around the globe.

“Alaska is its own place,” Whitney said. “We [would love to share our] expertise with microgrids and data from microgrid systems with communities whether they are in the Arctic or not, and we hope to learn from others experience as well.”

Researchers at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, University of Alaska, Fairbanks conducted the review. This project received support from the Alaska Energy Authority.

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The article, "Technology and cost reviews for renewable energy in Alaska: Sharing our experience and know-how," is authored by E. Whitney. The article will appear in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Dec. 26, 2017 [DOI: 10.1063/1.5017516]. After that date, it can be accessed at http://aip.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/1.5017516.

ABOUT THE JOURNAL

Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal covering all areas of renewable and sustainable energy that apply to the physical science and engineering communities. See http://jrse.aip.org.

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Power to the People

The University of Utah College of Engineering has received a $2 million grant to create a laboratory and develop new technology for communities with backup power sources, known as microgrids, so they can quickly and more securely operate in the event of a massive power outage due to a natural disaster or cyberattack.

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PNNL Part of a New National Center for Near-Atomic Resolution of Biological Molecules

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SLAC Will Open One of Three NIH National Service Centers for Cryo-Electron Microscopy

The National Institutes of Health announced today that it will establish a national service and training center for cryogenic electron microscopy research at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Planck Collaboration Wins 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize

The Planck Team--including researchers in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (Berkeley Lab's) Computational Research and Physics divisions--have been awarded the 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize.


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Cracking the Code of Superconductivity and Magnetism

Neutron probes and theory reveal how electrons cooperate at lower temperatures.

The Secret to Measuring an Antineutrino's Energy

Scientists are developing better models that describe both neutrino and antineutrino data, which can offer insights into the nature of the universe.

How to Cope with Cases of Mistaken Identity: MINERvA's Tale of Pions and Neutrinos

Neutral pion production is a major character in a story of mistaken identity worthy of an Agatha Christie novel.

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Scientists use new X-ray technique to see how water moves at the molecular level.

Magnetized Plasmas That "Twist Light" Can Produce Powerful Microscopes and More

A non-twisting laser beam moving through magnetized plasma turns into an optical vortex that traps, rotates, and controls microscopic particles, opening new frontiers in imaging.

Whistling While You Work: Fusion Scientists Find Inspiration in Atmospheric Whistles

Just like lightning, fusion plasmas contain odd electromagnetic whistler waves that could control destructive electrons in fusion reactors.

Zero Tolerance in Tokamaks: Eliminating Small Instabilities Before They Become Disruptions

Energetic ions and beam heating cause or calm instabilities, depending on the tokamak's magnetic field.


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