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Sustainable Energy: ‘A Model for the World’

by | May 30, 2023 | Energy, Featured, Government, News

UAF Associate Vice Chancellor of Research Gwen Holdmann (far left) moderates a panel including Richard Voorberg of Siemens Energy (center) and Laurent Nassif of Hawaii Gas (far right).

Alaska Business

The second annual Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference has grown since the debut event a year ago. The 800 or so attendees are nearly double the amount from 2022, and exhibitors have spread from the third-floor hallway of the Dena’ina Convention Center to fill the ground floor Idlughet Hall instead.

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The office of Governor Mike Dunleavy, which is hosting the event, is also taking advantage of Chugach Electric Association’s pilot program for Renewable Energy Certificates (REC). Each REC is worth 1 MWh (megawatt hour) of renewable electricity. The utility pays a fee to the North American Renewables registry, which enables Chugach Electric to sell the “attributes” of the Fire Island Wind project, in addition to the power the eleven turbines offshore from Anchorage add to the Railbelt grid.

For the conference, the State of Alaska retired 20 MWh worth of REC from Fire Island Wind. According to Chugach Electric, the turbines generate approximately 49,000 MWh per year, or 5.6 MW in any given hour. Thus, the twenty REC account for about three and a half hours of the three-day conference.

On the first day, Dunleavy put his signature on legislation to access an ancillary market for climate-conscious buyers. Senate Bill 48 enables the state to sell carbon offset credits for unused land, essentially monetizing the storage capacity of trees and soil. As with REC, the key is the ledger that tracks the tradeable instruments.

“Alaska’s definitely gonna be a mover and shaker as we move forward,” Dunleavy said in his welcome message. “Together, I think we’re going to build an Alaska that, quite frankly, can be a model for the world.”

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On the second day, the governor’s office unveiled what it bills as the state’s first sustainability report. “The Alaska Standard” is a document compiled by Bridge House Advisors, a Chicago-based consulting firm. The report describes the history of resource development in Alaska and how those industries support state services and quality of life.

“From our legacy resource industries that will sustain us for decades to come to our investments in renewables and emerging energy technologies, we want the world to know that Alaska is the best place on the planet to do business that strikes the right balance between what’s best for both people and our environment,” Dunleavy says.

Bridge House Advisors chief growth officer Jeff Gibbons adds, “In my opinion, for the last six-plus decades, the State of Alaska has demonstrated the spirit and intent of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and the State and its people are uniquely positioned to lead on the global energy transition.”

The report highlights work by the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) to reduce the cost of energy, particularly in rural communities. Dunleavy told conference attendees that affordability is his top priority, based on his experience living in Northwest Alaska. Toward that end, AEA has supported efforts to improve efficiency and displace diesel-powered generators.

“During the last four years, the State has invested heavily in renewable energy, including hydropower, solar, and wind, as well as looking at emerging technologies such as hydrogen and micronuclear,” says AEA Executive Director Curtis W. Thayer. “By accelerating the transition to renewable energy, Alaska is positioning itself to provide long-term, affordable, and secure energy, while creating new jobs for the evolving sustainable economy.”

All of the Above

A certificate displayed at the registration desk confirms that the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference claimed ownership of 20 MWh worth of renewable energy. A typical American home uses 10 MWh per year, but the Dena’ina Convention Center is much bigger.

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Very few states are as well positioned to innovate in the energy transition, according to Geoffrey R. Pyatt, Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources at the US Department of State. “Whether it’s fossil resources, the enormous potential that Alaska has for renewables, the role of minerals from this state in the energy transition,” Pyatt says, “this is a state that really brings home so much of what I’m responsible for.”

Exactly how much fossil fuels will continue to be part of that transition is up for debate. Inside the exhibition hall, the Climate Action Coalition distributed flyers from its booth that label some of Dunleavy’s favorite projects—carbon capture and storage, micronuclear, or a North Slope natural gas pipeline—as “false solutions.” True solutions, according to organizer Arleigh (last name withheld) would include renewables and battery storage. The renewable sources on the flipside of the flyer—wind, solar, geothermal, and microhydro—were well represented at the conference as part of the “all of the above” mix that Dunleavy prefers.

Arleigh adds that trucking liquified natural gas to Fairbanks—which the Interior Gas Utility is pursuing from Cook Inlet and, eventually, from the North Slope—is a better option than a pipeline. Multi-billion-dollar infrastructure would lock-in dependence on fossil fuel, whereas trucks are a more transitional solution, though the flyer still lists it as “false” because of its relatively high cost.

Power to X

All-electric vehicles demonstrated by Chugach Electric Association, Matanuska Electric Association, and Homer Electric Association on display in Idlughet Hall.

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A gasline would solve the looming shortage in the Cook Inlet region, where Hilcorp is warning utilities that production won’t keep up with demand by 2030. Another way to extend the Cook Inlet supply would be to blend it with hydrogen. Laurent Nassif, senior director of clean energy and innovation at Hawaii Gas, told attendees that the Aloha State utility has filled its pipes with 15 percent hydrogen since 1974.

The blend dilutes the energy content of natural gas, since gaseous hydrogen is not as potent as methane, but Nassif says the supplement works with existing natural gas infrastructure. The hydrogen is reclaimed from industrial processes and wastewater treatment on Oahu.

The Cook Inlet watershed could supply hydrogen, cracked out of H20 from groundwater or streams. Nassif shared a conference panel with Richard Voorberg, the North America president of Siemens Energy, which makes electrolyzers that split water into its component atoms. The latest model can turn 17.5 MW into a tonne of hydrogen every three hours, from ten times as much water.

That amount of electricity happens to be the rated output of Fire Island Wind. Instead of powering the lights, sound, and escalators at the Dena’ina Convention Center during the conference, the turbines might someday manufacture hydrogen for gas-burning appliances or electric-propelled aircraft. Surplus electricity could also catalyze carbon dioxide back into fuel or produce ammonia for fertilizer, a pathway called “Power to X,” where X is whatever medium can store energy tapped from renewable sources.

“What is Alaska going to look like in fifty years?” Dunleavy asked in his welcome message. “What is it going to look like in twenty years? It’s this conference that’s going to help us get there, and succeeding conferences that we’ll have as well.”

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In This Issue

Making History

May 2024

The track of oil and gas development in Alaska shows the footprints of bold companies and hard-working individuals who shaped the industry in the past and continue to innovate today. The May 2024 issue of Alaska Business explores that history while looking forward to new product development, the energy transition for the fishing fleet, and the ethics of AI tools in business.

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