All the same, the motto of the IB Centre: “Make impossible is possible” works around the world. It would seem, that in a region where nearly 85% of land in the state has at least some level of permafrost and even in the southern regions and winter months receive minimal daylight, about the generation of clean energy from a solar power station, could not be discussed. But this solar power station in Willow, is one of those proving that solar can work even in the most unexpected cold and northerly climates.
Alaska's solar station is the largest in the state. The project consists of 3,240 solar panels: 11 rows of panels, nine 133 kW rows and two smaller 70kW rows and offsets 2 million pounds of CO2 annually. Its output is expected to be 1.35-megawatt hours per year – enough to provide power for about 120 average homes year-round. Renewable IPP both developed and constructed the solar farm.
How Does Alaska Attract Investors?
The pace of climate change in the Arctic and its surroundings is much greater than other parts of the world, leading to an urgent need to reduce the use of fossil fuels and expand renewable energy options.
Solar farms close to the Arctic Circle have become viable with advances in solar technology and decreasing costs of panels.
Alaska’s electricity prices are almost double the US average, creating a great deal of interest in alternative technologies. And, perhaps surprisingly, on average Alaska is a sunny place.
“Solar viability is a function of two things: solar resource and electricity prices,” says Jenn Miller, chief executive of Renewable IPP.
Jenn Miller, CEO Renewable IPP Photo: ADN
Once installed, the operating costs for solar farms are minimal, another aspect that is attractive to investors and builders. There is, however, one thing that northerly solar farms have to contend with that their southern counterparts don’t. Willow averages 2.2 metres (87 inches) of snow per year, which means solar panels can end up blanketed in snow and ice during the winter months.
«We have had to hire people for snow removal. In months like December, when it’s really dark, we just let the snow build up, as there isn’t enough daylight to warrant snow clearing», shared experience of operating SES in Alaska Jenn Miller.
Another solution has been finding the optimal panel angle to help with snow removal. The snow will simply slide off the more sharply angled panels. According to Miller, 45 degrees is the preferred angle for optimum energy production at the Willow farm, which is also a steep enough slope to help snow slide off the panels.
The Renewable IPP team plan to expand in the coming years, and is currently looking for sites for their next solar project, which they anticipate will occupy 50 to 100 acres. They hope a farm this size could provide power for 1,000 homes. The prospect of affordable renewable energy even in these icy northern regions is a mark of just how far solar power has come.
By the way, in Ukraine, solar energy capacity has increased more than 7 times in the past 3 years. Thus, as of December 1, 2019, the total capacity of all Ukrainian solar power facilities exceeded 3.8 GW. Having reached 5 GW of solar power capacity, Ukraine can enter the TOP15 of the world’s most developed solar energy markets.
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