KEA and SolarEdge Partner to Provide Renewable Energy to Kotzebue
Alaska’s energy demand per capita is the fourth highest in the US, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and the state’s electricity prices are double the US average. With the impact of climate change threatening the region, the local government has begun to deploy solar panels to reduce the use of diesel for electricity generation and sky-high electricity bills in rural villages.
Kotzebue Electric Association (KEA) is a nonprofit, member owned, rural electric cooperative that provides electricity to Kotzebue and consumes more than 1.2 million gallons of diesel fuel per year at a cost of approximately $2.4 million to $5 million, depending on the price per gallon. This led the utility to explore cleaner, cheaper sources of energy.
Having used supplemental wind power for decades, KEA looked to solar, a significantly cheaper and more sustainable option in the region.
With a mission to offset diesel fuel for the community of Kotzebue, KEA selected Alaska Native Renewable Industries (ANRI), a leading EPC provider in Alaska. ANRI proposed a 576 kW ground mount solar system powered by SolarEdge technology—mostly funded locally by the Northwest Arctic Borough’s village improvement funds, US Department of Energy Tribal Energy funds, KEA capital funds, and support from NANA Regional Corporation.
As part of the project, KEA decommissioned eight of its aging 66 kW wind turbines and had the same power rating installed in the SolarEdge inverters. The SolarEdge power optimizers/inverters and LG bifacial panels were specifically chosen to maximize the energy yield and for higher system uptime and low O&M costs.
“We are enthusiastic about solar because it generates power all the way through midnight during the 24-hour daylight summer months. Plus, it costs less and requires far less maintenance than wind turbines, making it much more appealing to Alaskan utilities. With SolarEdge MPPT technology combined with bifacial panels, we expect to generate more energy than initially estimated,” says Matt Bergan, an engineer for KEA.
The solar microgrid project will produce more than 700,000 kW-hours of electricity each year, and Kotzebue will now get roughly 25 to 30 percent of its power from renewable energy (solar and wind). This is the second largest solar installation in the state, and the largest in rural Alaska. Projects like these help to bring down the price of solar in Alaska and enable more economic growth. It will bring in potential savings of more than 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year—the equivalent of approximately $100,000/year.
The new solar system installed at Kotzebue is estimated to produce more than 700,000 kW hours per year.
Because solar energy generation is higher during the day, it is the perfect solution to address costly peak loads. It also allows KEA to run fewer diesel generators, reducing O&M costs.
Other benefits include reducing local dependency on diesel fuel, lowering electric utility bill costs for the community, improving electricity price predictability, and fighting back against the acceleration of climate change.
Finally, the project was realized with 100 percent local labor, creating jobs in clean energy for rural Alaskans.
The PV system installed in Kotzebue produces energy equivalent to 250 cars driven or 145 homes’ energy use per one year.
With a snowy landscape for approximately 60 percent to 70 percent of the year, ANRI understood the potential to capture and utilize the light that reflects off ground accumulation. To leverage this concept, it selected bifacial LG panels in conjunction with SolarEdge’s MPPT technology, embedded in module-level power optimizers. The power optimizers help eliminate mismatch losses by almost 3 percent in year one compared to a traditional string inverter. The energy gain is estimated to be in excess of 6 percent by year twenty due to module degradation dispersion, as per modeling from PVsyst, a photovoltaic systems analysis program. In addition, since the modules are bifacial, an additional gain of at least 5 percent is expected. With the added bonus of remote troubleshooting capabilities from SolarEdge, KEA can further reduce costly on-site visits and maintenance.
Edwin Bifelt, CEO of Alaska Native Renewable Industries, says, “Helping rural Alaska lower its energy costs has been a longtime vision for me. By leading the way in clean living and solar jobs for Kotzebue residents, I am hopeful that other communities across the state will soon follow—we look forward to helping them become more energy independent in the years to come.”