Alaska’s Story @ Renewable Energy Conference 2017

The Arctic circle, the last frontier, harsh environments, a sparse population, remote, isolated villages far from major resupply points… In Alaska, access to affordable, reliable energy is critical to survival and thriving of the people. At one of the 2017 Renewable Energy Conference workshops, Gwen Holdmann (Twitter @ACEPUAF), director of the Alaska Centre for Energy and Power (ACEP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, shared their experience with the renewable energy implementation among the indigenous communities.

Recognizing, as people, we are very vulnerable… energy is critical to the fabric of who we are, what we do, as people. — Gwen Holdmann

Community cultivates what it honors. The tie of energy innovations weaves through the eight Artic nations, whether it be oil gas extraction in harsh climate, geothermal development or in Alaska, the addition of renewable resources to supplement diesel fuels from long supply lines, each country is contributing something highly meaningful to the global energy picture.

The 20% Alaskans and over 100 different tribes represent people and are powerful. The native corporations own the land and they are the ones installing lots of wind turbines and then sell power to utilities. Even though Alaska has a complicated system with local tribes, corporations and regional corporations, city governments and bureau governments… their models are very effective. In a place with no building codes, it is personal interest to do things right, people don’t rent, they own their homes. A local use of fund provides communities with strong incentives to turn the turbines on.

Gwen shared that in Fairbanks, highs school students are trained in laboratories to run the power plant. The people installed everything, they are proud of the system and what they’ve accomplished. In Alaska, the idea of ‘consulting the communities’, ‘not in my backyard’ kind of thing don’t exist. “We are not waiting for the outside to fix our problems, it’s totally different mindset”, Gwen emphasized.

The workshop leaders discussed key questions with the audiences: how to share resources? how to transfer learnings? how to amplify leadership and how to build long-term relationship? At least for the first question, Alaska and Australia found a solution by sharing one specialist who works part time in Australia outside of Darwin and part time in the northern territories. It also became apparent that communities have to come together to build trust.

ACEP partner with over 140 clients and collaborators since 2008, spanning industry and private sectors to meet the research needs of Alaska.