Microgrids producing energy for remote arctic communities

Microgrids are producing energy for remote arctic communities in the Northwest Arctic Borough, and more will be in use soon.
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 7:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For some living north of the Arctic Circle, a path toward sustainability is largely about survival.

Kotzebue Electric Association chief executive officer and general manager Tom Atkinson spoke about sustainable living Thursday at the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference.

“We’re working on a more modern version of, how do they continue to survive in the Arctic,” Atkinson said.

One solution for reliable energy needs is the use of microgrids.

“At this point, it’s a survival case,” Northwest Arctic Borough Energy Manager Ingemar Mathiasson said.

The Northwest Arctic Borough has four of these microgrids now. They are isolated power sources running on diesel fuel, but will be transitioned to cleaner technology sources like wind, solar and hydropower.

“We are at $15 fuel in four of our communities and the electric rate is $1.14. If it goes much higher, it will be almost impossible for households to be able to deal with that,” Mathiasson said.

The grids in use now are located in Kotzebue, Shungnak, Deering and Buckland, and a fifth is coming this summer to Noatak. They will still rely on diesel generators for the foreseeable future.

“Shungnak for example will produce 10% to 20% of its electricity now from renewables. In Kotzebue, they are reaching 40% to 60% renewables for electricity. And all of us are aiming for the highest we can get. Kotzebue is going to try to get towards 100% by adding more wind and more solar,” Mathiasson said.

The Kotzebue grid was a focus at the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference on Thursday.

“It’s one of the most successful clean energy microgrids in Alaska. And due to its rural Arctic location, it’s arguably one of the most important clean energy microgrids in the world, due to its history and what it’s been able to achieve and the challenges it’s gone through,” Emergya Wind Technologies’ Brett Pingree with Emergya Wind Technologies said at the conference.

In the next five years, Mathiasson said the hope is to have 11 microgrids in the Northwest Arctic.