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Study Aims to Reduce Fuel Use in the Remote Arctic

Aug 5, 2022 | Arctic, Energy, News, Science

Houses in Kotzebue

Kotzebue houses like these could tap excess renewable energy, such as wind power, to charge thermal storage heaters, reducing consumption of diesel for heating.

Amanda Byrd | UAF

Home heaters that store renewable electricity could substantially reduce the amount of fuel oil burned in Arctic communities. Researchers from UAF want to find out how much of a difference it makes, if any.

Warm House from Cool Breeze

The UAF team will conduct energy-efficiency retrofits and install electric thermal storage heaters in homes in Kotzebue to assess home energy use and costs. Electric thermal storage heaters consist of a heating element and ceramic bricks in an insulated box. On demand, a fan blows air across the hot bricks and into the home.

“Heating is a huge expense in Alaska, and we cannot afford to design electric power systems without considering how they can be co-optimized to serve heating needs,” says Jeremy VanderMeer, a research assistant professor at UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP).

The National Science Foundation funded the four-year project with a $3 million grant from its Navigating the New Arctic program.

Some electrical microgrids in remote Alaska communities use renewable energy, such as wind turbine generators. When excess electricity is available, it can charge electric thermal storage heaters for a discounted rate, thereby reducing heating costs.

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Alaska Business December 2022 Cover

December 2022

In this way, electric thermal storage heaters can buffer fluctuations in renewable generation and allow utilities to increase such sources in their microgrids.

“The broad-scale adoption of a cost-effective combination of energy-efficient homes and low-cost, renewably generated electricity for space heating would be transformative, as it would substantially reduce residential sector carbon emissions and household energy costs,” says Dominique Pride, a research assistant professor of energy and environmental economics at ACEP and the lead researcher on the project.

The team will model Kotzebue’s microgrid to determine the most cost-effective combinations of energy efficiency retrofits, electric thermal storage heaters, electrical energy storage, and renewable energy generation.

Team members will also analyze economics and policies to identify changes required to enable the widespread adoption of renewably generated electricity for space heating. They’ll study how statewide energy policies and programs can be adapted to be more equitable and effective.

Once the energy system model is developed, the team will teach Arctic residents how to apply it to reduce fuel oil consumption in communities beyond Kotzebue.

The project also involves team members creating a culturally responsive, place-based science curriculum on energy use in the Arctic for grades K-8. They’ll also provide energy efficiency and energy auditing training to high school students.

Steve Colt, a research professor of energy economics and policy at the ACEP, says, “We’re excited to accurately measure and document how resourceful people, energy-efficient buildings, and renewable electricity can all work together to cut costs and carbon emissions in remote communities.”

Alaska Business December 2022 cover
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