Renewable energy projects, especially solar, operate at a much larger magnitude in the Lower 48 than in Alaska. But size isn't everything, and there has been a strong uptick in the development of renewable energy projects in Alaska since 2008.
"What makes Alaska's brand of renewable energy projects particularly interesting and unique is that they are all operating within islanded electrical grids, most of which are very small," explains Katie Conway, government relations, outreach, and efficiency manager for the Alaska Energy Authority. The Alaska Energy Authority works to reduce the cost of energy through projects, programs, and initiatives that identify and implement energy solutions unique to the state's communities.
"Alaska is now recognized as a world leader in the development, installation, and operation of small, integrated microgrids, as well as for the innovation, collaboration, and tenacious persistence behind them," Conway says.
The significant increase in renewable energy projects in the state is largely due to the Renewable Energy Fund (REF) grant program, which has seen eight rounds of funding over the last ten years.
"The state has invested nearly $260 million in renewable energy projects... through the REF, which was leveraged or matched by hundreds of millions of federal and private dollars that, combined, jumpstarted a renewable energy industry in Alaska. More than seventy REF-related renewable energy projects are now operational throughout the state," Conway says.
In many ways, high energy costs in Alaska establish a landscape for energy innovation, notes Chris Rose, founder and executive director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP), which played a key role in the creation of REF and the Emerging Energy Technology Fund.
"Senator [Lisa] Murkowski is saying the same thing that many of us are, which is that Alaska is a natural laboratory for energy innovation, and in part it's because we have very high energy prices that allow for experimentation with new technology, even though many of these technologies are quite mature," Rose says. "The experimentation is really in integrating them onto a diesel grid."
Solar in Hughes
The Hughes Village project, a joint effort between the Hughes Tribal Council, the City of Hughes, and Tanana Chiefs Conference, is doing exactly that in order to reduce the isolated community's 100 percent reliance on imported diesel fuel.
"Due to the remote location of the Alaska Native Village of...