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UAF, Kotzebue Electric Overhaul Energy Monitoring System

Nov 24, 2021 | Arctic, Energy, News

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Kotzebue’s electric utility will install advanced electricity meters next year with help from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The new platform will allow researchers and utility managers to better understand the community’s electric use.

Monitoring an Energy Mix

A $500,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research Defense University Research Instrumentation Program to UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) will fund the yearlong project. It will begin in February 2022. The Kotzebue Electric Association (KEA) will build and install the system.

Kotzebue, a longtime ACEP partner on energy research projects, has integrated wind power, a solar array, and lithium-ion batteries into its electricity grid. Collecting better information about those components could help the Northwest Alaska community fine-tune its blend of energy sources.

“This will be useful to Kotzebue and to the entire research community,” says Mariko Shirazi, the University of Alaska President’s Professor in Energy and a member of the ACEP research team. “Kotzebue has been a pioneer in integrating renewable energy since the late 1990s, and they’ve continued to push the envelope with technologies as they mature.”

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KEA runs a diesel generator to regulate voltage and frequency as renewable sources fluctuate. The new generation and transmission meters will help evaluate how more renewable energy could be added to the KEA grid while maintaining high reliability and power quality. The ultimate goal is to operate the Kotzebue grid without a diesel generator when enough renewable power and energy storage are available.

“This gives us the measuring and analysis platform to move forward using less and less diesel fuel,” says KEA project manager Matt Bergan. “We are looking to utilize renewables to heat homes and provide electricity, and this gives us the platform to track that through the years.”

Weaning Off Diesel

576kw_Kotzebue_Alaska_1
A microgrid installed by SolarEdge can produce more than 700,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, giving Kotzebue roughly 25 to 30 percent of its power from solar and wind energy.

SolarEdge

Kotzebue residential and commercial electric customers will also get more detailed pictures of their electricity use. The new meters will provide data at 15-minute intervals instead of the daily or, in some cases, monthly intervals used by existing meters. 

The new customer-side meters could also allow KEA to charge different rates for electricity to encourage use during periods of less demand. That could further reduce diesel consumption.

“We are looking forward to continuing our mutually beneficial research partnership with KEA,” says Dominique Pride, a research assistant professor at ACEP and the UAF lead on the project. “The new metering platform provides a tool that can help further reduce diesel consumption in Kotzebue and will also facilitate new research and educational opportunities.”

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In September Alexandru Lapadat became the first recipient of the two-year Schaible Geophysical Institute Fellowship, established by Grace Berg Schaible, a former Alaska attorney general and benefactor of the University of Alaska. In 2018, the fellowship’s endowment received a $2.2 million gift from Schaible’s estate, which provided enough of a financial base that the awarding of fellowships could begin.

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