Sustainable energy storage systems spark new life to existing infrastructure

August 24, 2023

Image description below image in caption
Photo by Eli Willett
After a work week, Dallas Fisher enjoyed making time to explore Denali National Park.

This article is part of a series highlighting ACEP’s 2023 cohort of eighteen undergraduate interns. To read about other projects and learn more about the program, please visit the ACEP Internship Program website>.

Dallas Fisher is an upcoming junior at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He is studying electrical engineering and environmental science.

This summer, Fisher worked under Phylicia Cicilio on the Railbelt Decarbonization project. He was one of two interns working on this project with Dr. Cicilio. Fisher’s research had a specific focus on long-duration energy storage in the Alaska Railbelt transmission system, commonly known as the Railbelt. The Railbelt is the largest electrical grid in Alaska, covering nearly 600 miles and supplies 75% of the state’s population with power.

The production of renewables is gaining momentum, and there is high energy demand in Alaska’s cold, dark winters. The Railbelt, therefore, needs to have ways to store energy from low energy demand for long periods of time so that the energy stored can be discharged back into the Railbelt during peak loads.

Battery systems’ short duration and lifespan cannot keep up with the demands of the Railbelt. Improving the existing technology, therefore, is of the utmost importance for energy storage.

The sustainable twist on this project is the emphasis on using existing infrastructure across the Railbelt, such as abandoned mining lands and depleted natural gas reservoirs. There are many places in Alaska that have abandoned infrastructure with no other purposes. Rather than letting those sites continue to sit and do nothing, they can be used to save untouched lands and cut costs for constructing a new energy storage system.

This work opens doors for the Railbelt in the future. It shows that there is a promising future for developing different types of long-duration energy storage systems across the Railbelt.

By learning and understanding long-duration energy storage systems, such as compressed air, pumped thermal, underground thermal, and gravity stores, as well as learning the landscape across Alaska, more potential technology implementations can be modeled in the future.

The work with ACEP this summer has provided Fisher with many opportunities to grow his understanding of power systems, energy storage, power system modeling, and navigating geographic information system maps. He also gained experience working with the power systems integration team and Railbelt Decarbonization project as a team.

“Being able to work under Dr. Cicilio has provided me with an abundance of insight into the realm of how power systems work and how entities like ACEP work together with other research groups, labs, and utilities,” Fisher noted.

Fisher recalls that at the beginning of the summer he “hardly had an idea about the intricacies of power systems, especially in a unique setting such as Alaska.”

“But now I feel that I’ve been able to learn more than I’d imagined and become a part of this space.”

This internship is funded by the Office of Naval Research through the ACEP Undergraduate Summer Internship program. View the final presentation for this project on ACEP’s YouTube Channel. For more information on this project, please contact Phylicia Cicilio at