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Tiny Alaskan Village May Set Solar Pace for Remote Areas

A small solar project in a remote village in Alaska could play a major role in determining whether solar photovoltaic has a future in other areas of the rural north.

LIME VILLAGE, Alaska, US, 2001-10-26 [SolarAccess.com] The Alaska Energy Authority and BP, in conjunction with McGrath Light & Power and the U.S. Departments of Housing & Urban Development and Energy, have launched a demonstration project to power Lime Village with a hybrid solar and diesel fuel generation system. Performance data and results will be evaluated to assess whether solar power, in combination with diesel generation and battery storage, can be used effectively to reduce power costs and enhance electrical efficiency in other rural areas of the state. Lime Village has 50 residents located on Stony River, 200 miles west of Anchorage. The site was chosen because of its high energy costs, low individual power consumption, latitude, weather and an existing but poorly performing hybrid power system. The village was not electrified until 1998, and power costs average 85 cents per kilowatt-hour. "While this system is still experimental, we're making improvements and refinements to make it more reliable, and we're optimistic about the efforts to bring an effective solar/diesel hybrid system to our village," says village planner Phil Graham. When BP offered additional solar panels for village power, AEA incorporated them under its rural alternative energy research program into a redesigned hybrid system that is expected to reduce diesel use by 30 percent. The facility includes 106 solar panels manufactured at BP Solar's plant in Fairfield, California, a state-of-the-art DC-AC inverter and a small diesel generator. A battery bank from the original demonstration project stores surplus power. Each solar panel will displace 10 gallons of diesel fuel a year and should operate for at least 20 years with little maintenance. Lime Village relies entirely on air transportation, and the recent delivered cost of diesel fuel has been $4 a gallon. Graham says the PV system reduced diesel costs by $2,000 during its first month of operation. Sandia Labs, the research branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, will use performance data from Lime Village to study the optimal mix of power sources in a hybrid generation system to reduce diesel reliance and, as a result, the PV component could be increased.

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