Defining the Need
Most Alaskan villages depend on diesel fuel to power electric generators and heat their homes. The price for liquid fuels has increased dramatically in the last five years, and future projections do not suggest that this strain on village economies will decrease. These high costs have increased interest in renewable energy, including wind power. Energy resource assessments in Alaska have demonstrated that excellent wind resources exist in over 100 villages that currently rely on diesel generation.
Wind, unlike fossil fuels, is a locally available resource; it is infinitely renewable, requires no transportation or bulk storage, and is clean. The technology for converting wind energy to electricity (and heat) has evolved significantly since the 1970’s when wind first became a commercially available source of electricity. The reliability and cost of wind turbines and their associated balance of systems have improved dramatically during the last 4 decades, with over 100,000 MW in total capacity installed worldwide, and projections of double-digit annual growth rates for the next decade. Despite this progress, there remain a number of challenges to broader implementation of wind-diesel hybrid technologies. These include gaps in the technology, lack of equipment availability, unmet human capacity, and technology acceptance. The Alaska Wind-Diesel Applications Center (WiDAC) seeks to address these challenges through development of an integrated program including research, testing and monitoring; analysis; education; training; and technical assistance.
The Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP), together with its partners, the Alaska Energy Authority and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has established a center of excellence in wind-diesel technology that analyzes technology options, tests state-of-the-art hardware and control software, educates engineers, trains operators, and provides technical assistance to wind–diesel stakeholders both within and outside the State of Alaska.
The purpose of the Alaska Wind-Diesel Applications Center (WiDAC) is to support the broader deployment of cost-effective wind-diesel technologies to reduce and/or stabilize the cost of energy in Alaska’s rural communities. To meet this challenge, WiDAC is organized around the following three focus areas:
Independent Analysis and Testing: WiDAC centers around a wind-diesel hybrid testing center focused on applied energy research to address technology gaps in wind-diesel applications while allowing the development of Alaska-specific solutions to rural energy issues. The facility acts as an incubator for technology development spinoff opportunities.
Technical Support: WiDAC provides rural Alaskan communities with the information needed to evaluate, implement, and operate appropriate, optimized, and sustainable wind-diesel energy systems and builds related human capacity.
Workforce Development and Education: WiDAC will work with the State of Alaska, utilities, developers, and other stakeholders to train engineers and technicians in wind and other renewable technologies.