ICE Seed Grant Assists in Wind-Powered Heat Pump Business Model

Fire Island
Fire Island Wind LLC, a CIRI company, owns and operates the 17.6-megawatt Fire Island Wind Project, located three miles off the coast of Anchorage. The wind farm provides energy to the Railbelt.

College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences faculty Andrew McDonnell  and Alaska Center for Energy and Power faculty Jeremy VanderMeer  were recently awarded a Center ICE Seed Fund grant to develop a business model and demonstrate the feasibility of using air source heat pumps powered by renewable wind energy to heat homes and businesses in Alaska.

Wind energy is affordable and available for purchase from independent power producers on Alaska's Railbelt electrical grid. However, because of its inherent intermittency, the amount of wind power that can be integrated into the grid is often limited by the utility costs required to keep a spinning reserve from fossil-fueled power plants to meet the energy demand when the wind power is not available. At the same time, heating represents a major energy cost in Alaska and communities are looking for ways to reduce those costs while finding ways to reduce PM2.5 and greenhouse gas emissions.

To bridge the renewable energy gap, McDonnell and VanderMeer's concept will employ a smart grid approach known as demand response. In this application, the power demand of new air source heat pumps installed in homes and businesses will be adjusted in real time to match the amount of wind power available on the grid. 

The ASHPs would serve as a secondary heat source that would provide inexpensive renewably powered heat to the buildings at times when wind farms in the region are actively generating power. At times when the wind is not blowing, the building's existing primary heat source, typically fuel oil, would be used to maintain comfortable temperatures for building occupants. 

This arrangement has the potential to provide significant savings to the end user, the utility and even non-participating electric customers, all while increasing the flexibility and reliability of the grid to accommodate the addition of new low-cost renewable power sources. This approach would also reduce the amount of PM2.5 and greenhouse gas emissions from the power and heating sectors.

With support from the Center ICE Seed Fund, McDonnell and VanderMeer are investigating the economics and technical feasibility of this approach. They’re also developing a minimum viable product that will be used to test and attract customer and utility interest in the program.