Electric energy is a fundamental factor of modern life. But in rural Alaska the cost of keeping lights on and machines running is extraordinarily high, putting villages at an economic disadvantage. Last week a federal administrator passed through the University of Alaska Fairbanks to review a project that aims to draw down energy costs in smaller communities.
The project explores Microgrids to exploit new technologies to either draw down energy costs or even become self-sufficient. Marc Mueller-Stoffels is a research professor at UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power, or ACEP. His team takes a holistic look at communities, examining possible alternative energy sources, like wind, to recently designed batteries electrons, to using computers to oversee energy usage.
“People flick a switch and want stuff to run,” Mueller-Stoffels said. “And instead just move it towards a supply driven system. Which can make things cheaper, because then you don’t have to store excess electricity, and provide it later.”
Mueller-Stoffels says ACEP also insures new technologies are robust enough to withstand Alaska’s climate. That approach attracted a half-million dollar grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Matt Erskine is the federal agency’s Chief Operating Officer. He toured ACEP last week. He says microgrids hold out the promise of putting Alaska villages on a better economic footing.
“As you look at the future, new technologies, emerging technologies, emerging industry, that build on the strengths, and natural assets of Alaska, but also help, in terms of, economic diversification, quality of life, and sustainable prosperity, I think is key,” Erskine said.
Both Erskine and Mueller-Stoffels say Alaska’s challenge to power widely-dispersed villages also potentially puts the state on the cutting edge of new technologies that can be exported throughout the world.