Science and Technology News

Monday, August 25, 2014

ALCOM gets Alaska Renewable Energy tour

by Alaskan Command Public Affairs

8/22/2014 - FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- Hot springs that generate geothermal energy, pellets to replace wood in fireplaces and turning garbage into an energy source were all things members of Alaskan Command learned when they visited the 9th Annual Alaska Renewable Energy Fair and the Alaska Center for Energy and Power in Fairbanks Sunday.

Air Force Lt. Col. Adrian Crowley and Air Force Maj. Jason Toole attended the site visit with Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz to learn more about renewable energy research and needs in Alaska.

"It's important for the Defense Department to look at renewables and alternative types of energy because of the amount of consumption we have," Crowley said. "We want to be good stewards of the environment, reduce our operating costs, and ensure energy resilience ... and these visits help us understand how we can do that."

The annual fair is hosted by the Chena Hot Springs Resort where the director harnessed and now uses geothermal power to operate a year round greenhouse.

"We were given a $3 million grant to study geothermal energy and bring it to Alaska," said Bernie Karl, director of the Chena Hot Springs resort. "And we've been able to do it. Working with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, we built the furthest north year-round production greenhouse in the world. When it's negative fifty degrees outside at Chena Hot Springs, we're still growing lettuce, tomatoes and other various crops in our temperature-controlled greenhouse."

Alaska is a prime laboratory for energy research, because even though the state produces oil, delivery to the far flung corners of the state is difficult and expensive.

According to the director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Gwen Holdmann, Alaska provides a living laboratory because energy needs can be very sudden, very dramatic and very destructive. "Here in Alaska, we are technology agnostic. We use whatever works because we have to."

Examples of that innovation by Alaskans can be found all over. In Igiugig, the population of 60 installed a hydrokinetic energy device and has the cleanest dump in the state because it has found ways to use methane and to recycle.

"Surfing is a major pastime in Yakutat, and they have found a way to harness wave energy," Holdmann said. "The 750 residents of St. Paul Island have gone 15 years using wind energy without a battery. The airport is run completely on that energy. They also use black blades to help shed ice on the turbine because the sun is attracted to it in the winter. That has significantly cut down on energy costs for them."

Kodiak Island's energy is now 100 percent renewables and Cordova's power system is totally underground.

Twelve percent of the world's microgrids reside in Alaska. There are more microgrids in the nation's 49th state than anywhere else in the world.

Energy Secretary Moniz reiterated the department's Revolution Now initiative to bring alternative and renewable fuels to the United States.

"These initiatives are important because there is substantial warming at some latitudes," he said. "In Alaska, there is real innovation going on here because there are difficult energy issues in remote villages. Renewable technology could help mitigate some of that disruption."

The defense department has an important mission to conduct homeland defense, civil support, and mission assurance in Alaska to defend and secure the United States and its interests. This responsibility requires effective and efficient sources of energy to ensure success. Renewable energy offers the DoD opportunities to diversify their energy portfolio in Alaska while also potentially providing more cost effective ways to produce energy.

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