New battery storage systems help bring energy stability to rural Alaska

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CORDOVA, Alaska On Friday, June 9, 2019, Cordova had a ribbon cutting for their new 500 kW Battery Energy Storage System and energy leaders from Washington D.C. and Alaska were there to celebrate the new system.

Cordova had a ribbon cutting for their new 500 kW Battery Energy Storage System and energy leaders from Washington D.C. and Alaska were there to celebrate the new system.

One of the first projects of this kind in Alaska was GVEA's battery energy storage system commissioned in 2002, when it was the largest in the world.

"A lot of people are probably unaware that Golden Valley has one of the world's largest battery energy storage systems, and when it was installed, and for several years afterwards, it was the largest one in the world, with the most power and power capacity," Dan Bishop, manager of engineering services for GVEA.

Energy storage is becoming more accessible for communities as the prices go down and technology improves, and 17 years later, Cordova is commissioning their own battery energy system with a newer lithium ion battery and utilizing it to get closer to being 100 percent powered by renewable energy.

"We hope and I'm quite sure that the success of this project and because of some of the ongoing work with the Department of Energy, that we're going to learn lessons here that we can share with others in Alaska and across the country, as they engage in similar projects, to make sure we have a bright energy future for our country," said Clay Koplin, CEO of Cordova Electric Cooperative.

Jeremy Vandermeer with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power worked with Cordova to determine what type of energy system worked best for their remote community.

"In Alaska we are a leader in terms of these small micro grid systems, and the amount of renewable energy that we can put on these systems, we're leading the world on that."

Imre Gyuk, director of the energy storage program for the office of electricity, with the Department of Energy, says that people around the country and world will be looking to Cordova's project.

"I not only hope, but I am almost certain that Cordova is going to be an example for coastal communities in Alaska, and things that other communities will like to not copy, but have their own version of, using whatever local conditions prevail," said Gyuk.

Gyuk says they are also talking to the community of Homer, and would like to put a similar project like they did in Cordova. They customize the projects to the communities and the local conditions. They are also looking at communities near the railbelt but not on it and what power electronics are needed to connect these communities to the rail belt. Gyuk's office is working with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power.

"So there are potential projects all over Alaska, and I hope that this is really going to fire and generate a lot of interest and a lot of other projects going online," said Gyuk.

Senator Lisa Murkowski says that the remoteness, high energy costs, and need to stay warm encourages Alaskans to pioneer new energy solutions.

"We're too big geographically, our numbers are too small population wise, we're never going to have this whole state connected with energy grids, so how we can be resilient, independent, redundant, renewable, utilizing the smartness and the ingenuity of really pioneering Alaskans, this is Alaska's future, it's really quite exciting," said Murkowski.

Murkowski encourages other communities to look at the resources they have in their environment that could possibly power their community.

"We have been the leader when it comes to oil production, it's a great opportunity, it's blessed our state, and it's allowed us to have a strong economy, but we also know that there is more to this state than just oil, and so be bold, like Cordova, and don't be afraid to reach out and see what other communities are doing in terms of best practices, because there's some extraordinary learning opportunities out there," said Murwkoski.

"If you can figure out how to reduce your energy cost, get yourself off diesel, again make yourself more resilient, if you can make it happen here, that can be replicated in so many other places, but somebody has to lead the way."

Energy leaders will be monitoring Cordova's battery to see if it operates as they predicted it would, using that information to help develop future projects.