Optimizing and Implementing a Renewable Micro-Grid for a Remote Alaskan Village
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AbstractRenewable power is quickly becoming a driving force behind a global energy renaissance. Despite the magnitude of this phenomenon and the often-significant cost savings, there are remote locations that utilize none or very little alternative energy. Paradoxically, the places that could benefit most from this technology, namely small villages heavily reliant on the import of fossil fuels, are often far behind.
The goal of this study was to examine the energy needs, challenges, and resources of one small and remote Alaskan village, Akhiok, and to determine the optimal composition of a renewable microgrid. The main research question was “What is the ideal renewable energy solution to address Akhiok’s electricity need?” While this research may not produce a definitive answer, teasing out the data from the potential options will better inform the villagers, so their priorities and budgetary constraints may guide their choices.
The hypotheses tested included: 1) an energy solution for Akhiok comprised of a wind turbine, photovoltaics, battery storage, and a fossil fuel powered generator would be the most efficient mix, especially if previously wasted heat can be captured; and 2) a cogeneration plant using CHP, thermal storage, and a district distribution system provides heat with the lowest carbon footprint/LCOE possible. Also, I examined 3) if the project is cost effective with limited upfront cost, and a third party handles the funding and operation of the micro-grid, the townspeople will support the endeavor.
The residents of Akhiok were surveyed to get a general understanding of their energy consumption and to learn how their lifestyles can most be improved by a community-wide upgrade. The existing energy infrastructure of the village was evaluated and determined to be in a significant state of disrepair; their present condition was found to be at best unreliable and at worst extremely unsafe. Grid optimization software was utilized to generate the most efficient configurations of batteries, solar panels, a wind turbine, and cogeneration heat and power. Net Present Cost and Levelized Cost of Energy calculations were used to compare options and inform the village so they can ultimately make a determination that best matches their priorities and budgetary constraints.
Five different models produced a corresponding number of potential grid choices. In one model, an addition of $50,000 in battery storage reduced energy costs by roughly $520,000 over 25 years and reduces wasted (excess) energy by 98%. Adding photovoltaic cells was found to do little to drive down cost, but it would reduce annual fuel use by 3,896 gallons. The incorporation of a wind turbine reduced forecasted KWh cost from $0.63 with PV and battery storage down to $0.38. Fuel usage would plummet to 7,767 gallons, a reduction of over 17,000 gallons from the current paradigm. Cogeneration heat and power was explored and found to reduce wasted heat, but to be potentially too capital expensive to be feasible.
The economics of an upgrade are undeniable, but the availability of money to conduct such an overhaul is in doubt. An examination of grants, leases, and other funding mechanisms was conducted to provide a financial path forward for the cash-strapped community.
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