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Week of the Arctic showcases UAF energy research

By Heather Hintze 7:02 PM May 9, 2017
FAIRBANKS –

Hundreds of delegates from around the world are in Fairbanks for the Arctic Interchange.

For researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), the global spotlight is a chance to showcase their work on sustainable energy.

UAF research professor George Roe said right now the diesel generator is the backbone of villages around Alaska. He and his colleagues at the Alaska Center for Power and Energy (ACEP) want to change that.

“We’ve got wind, we’ve got solar,” Roe explained to a group of international journalists, as he showed them around the facility.

Engineers at ACEP can replicate wind streams, river currents and solar energy in the lab and test systems before they’re sent to rural Alaska.

Roe said renewable energy work being done in the Last Frontier can be applied all over the world.

“Alaska’s motto is: North to the future,” Roe said. “We’re required, almost mandated to share what we’re learning and to find opportunities to work with other people and learn from them as well.”

Roe points to Kodiak as a city leading the way in sustainability. Nearly 100 percent of the community’s energy needs are supplied by a combination of wind and water.

“It’s a huge knowledge export opportunity for the state. And in this time of economic diversification, taking this Alaskan know-how and sharing it with other remote communities,” Roe said.

Research engineer David Light said not every community can be that cutting edge, though. Many interior villages typically lack the resources for a hydro plant or wind turbines; with the dark winters solar isn’t always reliable either.

“It’s a tough sell. We’re trying to save the cost of fuel and improve efficiency, but implementing a large number of renewables, control systems, batteries, they’re also extremely expensive,” Light said.

Roe said climate change also impacts communities’ building capabilities to install more energy efficient systems.

“There’s a community in the Northwest Arctic Borough where they had solar arrays set up in a particular direction and the weather changed. The clouds that used to gather at one spot moved,” Roe explained.

He said thawing permafrost can also impact the foundation for infrastructure and engineers will have to adjust their designs for wind turbine bases.

Hydroelectricity systems could also be affected. “When rain patterns in terms of intensity, amount and location change it drives erosion so there’s lots of flooding that happens. That creates debris that gets into the rivers and is a challenge for our systems.”

ACEP’s work ensures Alaskans have options when it comes to renewable energy sources and researchers hope sharing their data with others will create a cleaner world for everyone.

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