Flywheel storage to enable Alaska community microgrid

Local utility builds a microgrid with a hybrid storage solution in a bid to cut electricity costs.

Reducing consumption and energy costs is a major issue for Alaska especially for remote communities that often pay several times the average electricity price of consumers in more connected areas.

Alaskan electric utility Chugach Electric Association serves one of these small and fairly isolated communities and is working to alleviate electricity costs.

The utility has adopted a microgrid that combines battery- and flywheel-based storage technologies that will be tested for scalability and power stability enhancement for its approximately 300,000 customers in Alaska's largest city Anchorage.

The flywheel will support wind power integration and the 500kWh battery, with a maximum performance level of 2MW, will serve as a longer term solution.

A major part of the utility’s aim is to find suitable technologies that will support a growing quantity of renewable energy, including wind power from a 17MW wind farm on Fire Island, located about 4km off the coast of Anchorage.

Alaska community microgrid - part of future energy plan

The solution is highlighting the potential of energy storage in Alaska and how it can boost much needed renewable energy development especially in smaller communities, according to Paul Risse, Senior Vice President, Power Supply at Chugach Electric.

In some parts of rural Alaska, consumers are paying CA$0.60c/kWh ($0.40) mainly because of costly diesel fuel needed for electricity. To reduce high electricity costs, several villages have already taken action and are installing renewable energy to offset the cost of diesel generation.

The city of Kodiak for instance, generates nearly all its electricity from either hydro or wind. According to Kodiak Electric Association, the cost of wind generation is CA$0.11c/kWh ($0.08), and hydro is CA6.8c/kWh ($5.08). Diesel generation costs CA$28.9c/kWh ($20.91). Kodiak customers only pay CA$13.8c/kWh ($10.31), less than several railbelt markets, including Anchorage, Mat-Su and Fairbanks. So the average Kodiak consumer will pay CA$20 ($14.93) less per month than someone using the same amount of electricity in Anchorage.

The Alaska Village Electrical Cooperative, a nonprofit co-op serving villages throughout Western and southern Alaska, has saved almost CA$8 million ($5 million) in fuel costs since 2006 thanks to renewable energy.

Other than wind and hydro, renewable energy resources in Alaska are vast. Alaska actually has an average annual solar input comparable to Germany which enjoys a high level of solar energy.

The country also has approximately 438TWh a year of tidal energy potential which represents about 94% of the US tidal energy potential. Alaska’s rivers also have the potential to produce 20.5TWh per year.  

The potential of these resources mean that the Alaska community microgrid model could completely revolutionalise energy production and consumption but integration of storage solutions will be key to its success.    

Flywheel energy storage market

The global flywheel energy storage market is projected to hit $477.8 million by 2024, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. An increasing demand for a reliable power supply and a growing energy storage industry are expected to fuel the growth of this market.

There is a growing interest in flywheel storage for its 24/7 power production and it is considered to be environmentally friendly when compared to batteries which release harmful chemicals.

The flywheel system does not degrade with time and can last for up to two decades, making it a viable storage device option when looking at lead acid and Li-ion batteries.

The interest is certainly global as utilities around the world looking closely into its benefits. In the Philippines, independent power producer Emerging Power installed a single flywheel with a capacity of 6.25kWh/25kWh. The pilot project will test generation integration from a 150MW wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) project.  

If the pilot is successful, the utility will implement a 10MW/40MWh flywheel energy storage system which will smooth out the variability of solar and wind into the transmission system.

Utility Hawaiian Electric will also be implementing the flywheel to test a number of storage applications. Renewables developer and utility EDF’s flywheel system will be used to provide simulated services like renewables smoothing and frequency regulation. It will also act as a stabilising solution for microgrids.

With the increase in renewable energy production and integration, solutions like flywheel storage could provide the missing puzzle that the energy industry is looking for, specifically remote areas that need to reduce their energy bills and improve reliability of delivery.

 

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