- Sarah Burch
Renewable Energy Successes in Alaskan Communities
This January, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory published “Distributed Renewables for Arctic Energy: A Case Study.” The report focused on small Alaskan communities interested in transitioning to renewable energy, and some that already have, to understand needs, challenges, and lessons learned. The paper highlights the importance of human capital and proper socioeconomic development in these communities’ transition to renewables. Though technology and science are major aspects, working with the communities to customize their energy transition is just as, if not more, important.
Chris Rose, the Executive Director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) and an AMG associate agreed with NREL’s findings noting, “Renewable energy projects in remote Alaskan communities need local people to operate, maintain and, over time, optimize those hybrid systems. If communities are going to control their energy destiny, local training and education will play a key role in developing the human capacity necessary for the long-term success of energy projects.”
Kongiganak is a prime example where the community’s needs were integrated into a technological transition. As highlighted in the paper, local workforce development and community input were key to a successful transition: “Local technicians are well-paid and
have electric thermal stoves in their own homes, providing a double incentive to stay in the community,” the report states. Community leaders and the tribal council were also essential to keeping locals involved in the process, and a reduced combined heat and electric bill for homes helped as well. Kongiganak initially chose wind power because it was the most abundant option for the area, and a community member had experience with wind power, showing how internal input was greatly valued in the energy transition. While Kongiganak still has issues – for example two turbines were down at the time the piece was published – their diesel use has decreased 35%, and the community has a five-year plan to reach 100% renewables.
Along with Kongiganak, five other communities were featured in the study: Galena, Kotzebue, Shungnak and Kobuk, and Kodiak, all highlighting successful transitions to renewable energy.
Ideals outlined in the NREL report are inherent to Alaska Microgrid Groups’ mission of supporting the implementation of resilient, robust and affordable local energy systems. AMG seeks to support communities in technical assistance and technology development, while respecting the communities wants and needs.
AMG’s executive director, Peter Asmus, believes that NREL’s case studies showcase examples not only for the Arctic, but the world: “Successful projects need community buy-in from the get go, and ideally an ownership stake. While Alaska's decentralized network of utilities feature success stories, in order to scale up this success across Alaska and the rest of the Arctic, well-intentioned but now counterproductive subsidies for the status quo may need to be revisited. The case studies serve as inspiration not only for other Arctic communities but for emerging economies around the world seeking a more democratic and sustainable energy system."