Instruments help Kotzebue to Understand Arctic Solar Farm Performance

Instruments help Kotzebue to Understand Arctic Solar Farm Performance

Members of the ACEP Solar Technologies Program recently traveled to Kotzebue, Alaska, to instrument the utility-owned solar farm and meet with community stakeholders. The solar array is a 576-kilowatt bifacial solar photovoltaic direct current array with 532-kW alternating current inverter output. 

Kotzebue is located 30 miles above the Arctic Circle and is home to the largest rural solar installation in the state. The solar farm is co-located with the Kotzebue Electric Association’s wind farm.

Working in partnership with Kotzebue Electric Association, the team installed solar irradiance and other meteorological sensors to better understand how the array is performing, as well as to plan for possible expanded configurations.

“KEA has been working with ACEP for many years, and now we’re looking at our solar resource comparing what we are producing to what we could produce,” said KEA project engineer Matt Bergan. “ACEP is helping to optimize our capture of solar power up here in Kotzebue, and we are hoping that will lead to helping us make a decision about installing a vertical bifacial solar array in the future.”

The current installation is a south-facing bifacial solar array, and the new array KEA is considering would be an east-west vertical solar array that can capture the energy of the sun as it moves across the sky.

“One advantage of solar panels out here, and we have certainly heard this from the utility and others around the state, is that there are no moving parts to break and to have to maintain,” said ACEP’s Solar Technologies Program manager Erin Whitney. “To have an energy structure that can be put up and simply runs without much help or maintenance is a blessing for these communities that have such high cost of energy.”

Additional solar irradiance sensors were installed at strategic locations to develop a short timescale solar forecasting network that will help the energy utility predict and respond to variations in solar energy production. As part of ACEP's efforts to support community energy innovation and workforce development, the team was privileged to meet with Pedro Garcia, director of the Alaska Technical Center, and Stacey Glaser, director of the UAF Chukchi Campus in Kotzebue. The team toured the campus hydroponic garden and other facilities and enjoyed discussions with visiting Arctic Energy Office Senior Advisor Matt Heavner and NANA Regional Corp. Director of Energy Sonny Adams. 

ACEP is grateful for KEA's partnership and gracious hosting efforts, as well as for funding support from the Office of Naval Research.  

For more information on this research, please contact Erin Whitney at


ACEP's Chris Pike explains the solar monitoring station behind him to Kotzebue Electric Association’s Matt Bergan and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Arctic Energy Office’s Matt Heavner. Photo by Amanda Byrd.