The question of solar panel reliability has been around since the start of the industry itself, partly because solar panels don’t function effectively when conditions are cold and snowy. That myth has been debunked time and again as a very small but very significant solar-plus-storage microgrid project is deployed in Alaska.
Blue Planet Energy has successfully deployed this first-of-its-kind project to support the residents of Shungnak, a remote community above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. The microgrid was designed to address the numerous challenges of operating in extreme conditions and break the community’s dependence on its expensive and polluting diesel generator power plant.
The resilient microgrid consists of a 225 kW solar array that can offset much of Shungnak’s energy needs. The system is integrated with 12 cabinets of 32 kWh Blue Ion LX battery systems, each storing excess energy for later use. In addition to reducing the village’s carbon footprint, the system also greatly decreases the high fuel and maintenance costs associated with running diesel generators in remote Alaska.
The microgrid system is uniquely designed to enable a ‘diesels off’ operation. Featuring Ageto’s ARC microgrid controller solution, the system can automatically coordinate between solar and energy storage to ensure the lowest cost power and communicates with the AVEC power plant on the best times to turn diesel generation off. When the sun shines less during the winter months, the batteries can still be recharged from the generators if necessary.
This solar-plus-storage system is expected to save 25,000 gallons of fuel per year, an estimated $200,000 per year on fuel costs, based on $7 to $8 per gallon calculations. Additionally, it is helping develop a framework that can be replicated in other remote communities.
“Producing power in rural Alaska is immensely difficult, between transporting fuel into town by plane or boat and battling temperatures that can freeze generator engines,” said Ava Gibson, head of sales for Blue Planet Energy. “Milestone projects such as this are an exciting promise to the people of both Alaska and rural communities around the world for an energy resilient future.”
“Shungnak relied on a diesel-based power system, and many of the children have never known life in the village without the constant hum of diesel in the background or the smell of exhaust fumes,” said Rob Roys, chief innovation officer at Launch Alaska. “Blue Planet Energy was critical to the success of this project. Thanks to the energy storage system, we can turn the diesels off but keep the lights on in the community. It also gives the local utility the ability to run on 100% clean energy for hours at a time.”