October 2021 Back Page – Are You Ready for Renewables?

Posted: October 1, 2021

Recent advances in technology and the increasing concern over climate change have made renewable power generation a prime concern for electrical cooperatives everywhere. Throughout its history AVEC has managed to continually get a little more out of each gallon of diesel fuel by improving engine and system efficiencies. As we look to the future the systems that stand to make the biggest impact in reducing diesel burn will include renewable generation and energy storage.

It is no easy task to connect large amounts of unpredictable variable generation sources like wind and solar to small, isolated grids and
keep lights on reliably. Adding energy storage helps, but even the most efficient batteries are limited in how long they can run without recharging. This new-age equipment has to work in concert with the diesel power plant which keeps the lights on when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. Typically, the first step in any renewable installation is making the existing system ready to operate with the proposed new equipment. That usually means upgrading the existing power plant with automated controls and improved communications.

In a recent push, with funding from the Denali Commission and the Rural Utility Service AVEC has begun upgrading the power plant controls in Shungnak, Noatak, Wales, Marshall, New Stuyahok and Goodnews Bay. These improvements will not only provide efficiencies in the operation of the existing diesel-only plants, but they also pave the way for integration often renewable generation.

In Shungnak and Noatak AVEC has been working with the Northwest Arctic Borough to integrate utility scale solar/battery installations that may displace 10 % of the annual diesel burn and provide enough power to go diesels-off at times. The installation of the Shungnak project is nearing completion and the Noatak project is expected to break ground next summer.

In addition to a lot of fancy electronic controls, solar and wind projects require land. One of the longest lead times in developing a renewable project can be securing the land needed to install the project. If your community is serious about wanting renewable generation, begin the process of identifying where the project should be installed. For wind projects, the weather is usually studied for a minimum of 1 year at the proposed site to determine if there is enough wind and what type of wind turbine should be installed.

Realistically it may be a long time before diesel fuel is no longer needed to keep the lights on in rural Alaska, but if we can design our plants to sip fuel and take advantage of new technologies to include carbon free generation, we will be doing a favor for ourselves, our planet, and our children. If you would like more information about the status of your power plant’s readiness
for renewables or what to consider in selecting land for project sites contact any member of our Project Development team.