Australian team collaborates with Alaskans on hydrogen, microgrids

ACEP and Horizon Power members in Kotzebue
Photo by Amanda Byrd/ACEP
Left to right: Matt Bergan, Paul McKinley, Laurent Nassif, David Edwards and Peter Kempster stand by a snow machine at Kotzebue Electric Association's wind and solar farm.

June 26, 2024
By Paul McKinley and Amanda Byrd

ACEP team members Amanda Byrd and Nathan Prisco visited and toured two microgrid communities in Western Australia in February. The visits included an innovative, high penetration renewable microgrid in Denham and the large regional hub community of Carnarvon, which is trialing innovative power systems.

The Australian visit inspired a knowledge exchange visit of David Edwards and Peter Kempster of Horizon Power, the Western Australia regional energy provider, to Alaska.

Edwards, the future technology and innovation manager at Horizon Power, is responsible for the ongoing reporting and performance analysis of the solar-hydrogen power demonstration project in Denham. Kempster is the works delivery manager, and the power plant manager for the Denham microgrid, including the Denham wind farm, solar farm and the solar to hydrogen system. He and his team provide rich lessons learnt for the hydrogen system performance analysis.

The Denham solar-hydrogen demonstration plant features a 700-kW dedicated solar farm, a 348-kW electrolyzer, 300-bar hydrogen storage tanks, a 100-kW hydrogen fuel cell and additional equipment to generate an estimated 220 MWh of electricity per year. The system is of a size that could benefit a remote Alaska community.

A follow-on visit took place in May 2024, in which ACEP hosted representatives from Horizon Power at the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference in Anchorage, followed by trips to Kotzebue and Fairbanks. Edwards was featured on a panel at ASEC discussing hydrogen in remote microgrids, an area of research that ACEP is actively exploring. Specifically, the ACEP hydrogen team is coordinating with energy champions and utilities to investigate the role that hydrogen can play as a long-duration storage medium for communities like Kotzebue that are looking to expand renewable electricity generation while still supplying continuous power to the community. 

David Edwards and Peter Kempster take interest in the different power pole configuration in Kotzebue.
Photo by Amanda Byrd/ACEP
David Edwards and Peter Kempster take interest in the different power pole configuration in Kotzebue.

"Hydrogen is one of those areas that has garnered a lot of global interest and commitments for deployment, but getting to hear about the experiences and lessons learned from early movers like Horizon Power is invaluable,” said Paul McKinley, the Arctic energy advisor at ACEP. “It's incredibly difficult to demonstrate a new technology and fully integrate it in a microgrid system, and in this case Horizon Power has done both while simultaneously writing the playbook for the rest of us to learn from in the future." 

While the environments of Western Australia and the Arctic are entirely distinct, similar challenges exist in the two regions in deploying innovative technologies such as hydrogen systems, from land use and high-quality water availability to interconnection with the grid system and operation in harsh environments.

“When you remove the noticeable climate differences between Alaska and Australia, we face the same challenges and opportunities in servicing remote communities,” Edwards said.

“It was also refreshing to look at the renewable energy profile available to Alaskan communities, predominantly wind, which differs from the Australian experience with its heavy reliance on solar PV, and how Alaskan power providers have taken advantage of the resource,” he added.

The visit concluded with a stop in Fairbanks at ACEP, where Edwards and Kempster shared their insights from operating hydrogen systems in microgrids, with suggestions about how Alaska could benefit from lessons learned in Australia to deploy similar technologies.

The knowledge exchange visits were made possible by the Alaska Regional Collaboration for Technology Innovation and Commercialization program, an Office of Naval Research initiative.