National labs to field test microgrid tech in Cordova

Panelists spoke about microgrid innovation in Alaska at a U.S. Senate Energy Committee field hearing in Cordova, June 10, 2017. From left, Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin, Abraham Ellis of the Sandia National Laboratories, Gwen Holdmann of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, Meera Kohler of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, and Geoff Larson of the Alaskan Brewing Co. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Several national labs and universities will partner with the Alaska community of Cordova to field test new technologies on the city’s power grid.

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The goal is to find innovations that could help the rest of the country avoid the kind of widespread power outages that have followed Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $6.2 million for the project.

Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin, who’s also CEO of the city’s electric cooperative, called the grant a win-win.

“The project works both ways,” Koplin said. “Cordova Electric is going to learn a lot about this technology, but the labs are going to learn a lot about actual microgrid environments and what does and doesn’t (work).”

Microgrids, or stand-alone electric grids, are a necessity in much of rural Alaska, where there’s no larger grid to connect to.

But there’s growing interest in the Lower 48, especially after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – and now Hurricane Irma – left millions of people without power for days or weeks. Hospitals, military bases and whole towns want to be able to disconnect from the larger grid and generate their own power in an emergency.

Cordova currently runs on a combination of hydro power and diesel generation. The grant will allow the community to add a battery for energy storage, and test out new system controls to get the different parts of the grid talking to each other. That technology can also be key for integrating more renewable energy into a grid.

Koplin said Alaska is a perfect laboratory, because communities have decades of experience running small grids.

“It gives us an opportunity to share some of our capabilities, which are becoming in increasing demand from other countries, they’re starting to recognize that Alaska has a lot of energy leadership on the electric energy side,” Koplin said. “And it also gives us access to world-class technical resources.”

Cordova will work with three national labs and several universities, along with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative.