Growing Market for Remote Microgrids in Rural, Cold Regions

Nov. 19, 2015
Jim McDowall, business development manager for Saft America’s ESS Business Units, describes the growing market for remote microgrids in cold, rural regions.

Microgrids in remote, cold regions provide numerous benefits, including reducing the use of diesel fuel. That’s why there’s a growing market for remote microgrids and energy storage in these areas, says Jim McDowall, business development manager for Saft America’s ESS Business Unit.

The company recently delivered its cold-weather battery storage system to Kotzebue Electric Association (KEA), an electric cooperative based in Kotzebue, Alaska, where residents pay some of the highest costs for energy in the nation. The system backs up an existing hybrid wind-diesel system located above the Arctic Circle in Alaska’s Northwest Arctic Borough.

The region–where the average temperature is 22 degrees fahrenheit–is not connected to a grid or road system, and has historically been dependent on diesel generators.

“Remote power is driving the market for our cold weather energy storage system,” says McDowall. “These systems run with diesel fuel, which is challenging to transport to these remote and cold locations in large quantities. The emphasis for these remote power grids is to save diesel fuel, for cost-savings and environmental purposes.”

The growing market is made up of the hundreds of village communities across Alaska and Northern Canada that have few microgrids. 

With Saft’s energy storage system, the microgrid will be able to ride through fluctuations in wind output and  time-shift excess wind energy, McDowall says.

Turning off diesel generation is more important than time-shifting in this application, he adds.

Without storage, KEA–a co-op that operates the community-owned microgrid–would have to leave diesels running at partial output, just in case the wind output ramps down.

“With storage, those diesels can be shut down, and, when started, can be operated at optimum efficiency. When the wind output ramps down, an energy controller commands the ESS to discharge so that the load continues to be supported. This discharge continues until the wind ramps back up or until a state of charge limit is reached, whereupon a diesel is started,” he says.

In the far north, wind is generally used in coastal regions and PV in the interior, he says. Storage is necessary to allow for higher penetration of renewable energy.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

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