Container ships are lined up at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage on Oct. 11, 2020. The port and Sandia National Laboratories are teaming up to evaluate Cook Inlet renewable energy resources to potentially fuel a planned microgrid. (Photo by Erik Hill/Port of Alaska)
A partnership between the state’s biggest port and one of the nation’s top engineering labs seeks to establish a large microgrid to ensure a dependable supply of electricity.
The Port of Alaska, located in Anchorage, and Sandia National Laboratories, a major U.S. Department of Energy contractor, have signed a “historic” memorandum of understanding to move the microgrid project forward, a top DOE official announced Monday.
“Under this agreement, Sandia will help the Port of Alaska as part of a major modernization effort to become more resilient and sustainable, while providing the energy security of the Port of Alaska’s neighbor, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson,” Geraldine Richmond, undersecretary for science and innovation, said in a speech at the Department of Energy-sponsored ArcticX Summit held Monday in Anchorage.
The memorandum of understanding focuses on the evaluation of renewable energy resources and markets in Upper Cook Inlet, according to Sandia National Laboratories.
The port’s microgrid plan is “forward-looking,” as it helps prepare for the larger number of deepwater vessels expected to come through Anchorage as the Arctic opens and for a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, which are abundant in Upper Cook Inlet, said Department of Energy commercialization executive Ushma Kriplani.
“The Port of Alaska would have not just multiple kinds of backup power on their microgrid, but all of that power would be clean, carbon-free. And beyond that it would be able to provide reliable power that is also clean to JBER,” Kriplani said in a brief interview.
The memorandum was signed on Sunday, Kriplani said
The microgrid plan addresses some pressing needs of the port and, by extension, the state, said Jim Jager, the port’s director of external affairs. The current power system “is really barely up to the task,” with burdens of widely fluctuating usage and connection to a regional grid that is vulnerable to interruptions from weather problems or natural disasters, he said. The power generated at the port, in turn, could be used more widely in Anchorage, by commercial operators as well as by the military, he said.
While the port has been working on the microgrid idea for several years, officials got a dramatic reminder of the energy vulnerabilities in late 2018 when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake rattled Anchorage, Jager said. “The earthquake definitely added urgency to it,” he said.
Sandia has already completed the first feasibility study for the project, released in 2020.
Soon to come will be a related memorandum of understanding, this one with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough on renewable energy resources, Jager said.
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