Alaska—perhaps more than any other region in the country—faces unprecedented challenges in modernizing its rural energy infrastructure. Across the state there are approximately 200 isolated microgrid systems that are not connected to larger grids, with most of these systems relying almost exclusively on imported fuel (primarily diesel) to meet electrical, space/water heating and transportation requirements. These communities, whose populations range from 50 to 6,000 people, are comprised primarily of native Alaskans, have some of the highest energy costs in the nation (up to ~10 times the national average), arguably the lowest power reliability, and are the least resilient, with impacts due to failure or supply disruptions often lasting days to months.
Because of their remoteness, microgrids are expensive to build and maintain, and the fuel imported into the communities is a high priced commodity. It is a goal of many Alaskans to integrate renewable energy, efficiency and storage into these microgrids—with the expectation that the new technologies will reduce a community's reliance on diesel fuel while improving reliability and resiliency. Currently about 40 communities have deployed some kind of renewable system; however, there are still significant challenges to overcome. Integrating intermittent resources into existing diesel systems, combined with fluctuating demand, can cause strain on the microgrid system if controls and hardware are not upgraded as well. Often, energy storage or demand management systems can be deployed to smooth the sometimes abrupt changes in generation or demand, but this is frequently accompanied with higher initial costs and leads to more complicated O&M requirements. The purpose of the Alaska Microgrid Partnership is to address these significant challenges and advance the development of the next generation of hybrid power systems for isolated communities.
The over-arching goal of the Alaska Microgrid Partnership is to significantly reduce diesel fuel consumption in Alaska's remote microgrids without increasing system lifecycle costs, while improving overall system reliability, security, and resilience.