Alaska’s Energy Labs


December 8, 2014 | High Country News | Sarah Tory

Microgrids are popping up in the most interesting places! A fascinating story in the latest issue of High Country News points to Alaska as a laboratory for hybrid renewable energy systems to power remote communities not hooked up to the grid. Its ironic that this is happening in Alaska, of course, as the state is dominated by the oil and gas industry.

At the center of the story is a tiny Alaska hamlet called Kwigillingok that has its own electricity grid powered by two diesel generators. 200 other Alaskan towns are in the same boat: too far away to be connected to the central grid, and dependent on diesel, which is expensive and dirty.

But in the last 10 years, Kwigillongok has put up a total of 15 wind turbines which they now use to displace 30 percent of the diesel-fueled energy. There are estimates that half of Alaska’s most remote villages could be fueled by a renewable-diesel hybrid. The experiment has been so successful that Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski (incoming chair for the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources) and Mark Begich have begun talking about the prospect of Alaska creating a model energy system that could be exported to other countries where remote villages are energy “islands”.