Alaska and Renewable Energy; A Missed Opportunity? Measuring the state's potential for leading the renewable energy industry.

AuthorSimonelli, Isaac Stone

Alaska has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, according to Renewable Energy Alaska Project Founder and Executive Director Chris Rose. Yet the current lack of a domestic energy policy, transmission costs, and the isolation of more than 200 communities create a challenging environment in which to develop those resources and bring them to market.

"Alaska has no domestic energy policy focused on how Alaskans are going to reliably and affordably produce and consume energy. In an energy-constrained world increasingly concerned with climate change, this is a handicap," Rose says.

"Places around the globe that are seeing that local, clean, stably-priced, and inexhaustible renewable energy is the future are going to be the most prosperous places to be, and the ones that will attract the most outside investment. With as many renewable energy resources that Alaska has, the state should be actively working to seize the opportunity we have to keep money in local economies, create jobs, and be less dependent on volatile world fossil fuel prices."

There are six significant renewable energy resources in the Last Frontier: wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, solar, and marine hydrokinetic.

Arctic Wind

In the Interior, the largest producer of renewable energy is Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA) through its wind turbines, which generate 24.6 megawatts that supplement energy from coal. The twelve Senvion turbines at the Eva Creek Wind Project were designed specifically for operating in a cold climate.

"One of the benefits we have is our cold is very dry versus Eastern Canada, where it's very wet," explains Frank Perkins, GVEA's vice president of power supply. "So like an airplane, these wind turbines [in East Canada] can be subject to icing conditions. Fortunately, up here, we don't have that to be concerned with. So, we don't have to worry about specific blade heating or blatant coating technologies."

What the sub-Arctic conditions of the Interior do require, however, are built-in heaters that will warm up the units when the wind conditions are right, Perkins says.

Wind power is particularly powerful in cold regions since cold air is denser and therefore able to produce more power than warm air, Rose says, noting that solar photovoltaic technologies also perform better in the cold.

Seasonal Solar

"Low temperatures actually enhance solar PV production, as does snow cover, which reflects additional radiation back to solar panels," explains Erin Whitney, the Solar Technologies Program manager at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power. "At least anecdotally, aging and degradation of solar panels seem to slow down in colder conditions as well, relative to installations in warmer climates."

Solar power is attractive to lodges and for other seasonal applications, as well as for residential urban applications as a way for homeowners to offset home energy costs, Whitney says.

"The recent Solarize campaigns in Anchorage have significantly increased overall solar PV capacity along the Raitbelt," Whitney says. "At the...

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