Alaska is big place that offers big opportunities, but also presents some big challenges. For too long, high energy costs have put strains on family budgets and continue to push businesses from profitability to bankruptcy. The rising price of fuel, remote locations, and lack of statewide infrastructure requires creative, reliable solutions. And while there may be no silver bullet to solve the high costs of energy, there sure is a lot of silver buckshot.
On the macro scale, this means pursuing big projects and ideas that have the potential to fundamentally alter Alaska’s energy landscape. The liquefied natural gas trucking project being developed in Fairbanks is a good example of the state stepping up to the plate to bring affordable energy to a region that is currently burdened by some of the highest energy costs in America.
But at the micro scale, Alaska’s energy future depends on individuals, families, organizations, and the private sector getting involved and taking control of their destiny. Living and doing business in an Arctic climate means that up to 70 percent of our needs are heat, which is why we are seeing the beginning of a proliferation of combined heat and power solutions in Alaska across every industry and social sector.
CHP is the generation of electricity and usable heat in a single process, from a single fuel source, making use of the heat that would otherwise be wasted when generating electricity. This allows heat requirements to be met that would otherwise require additional fuel to be burned. (e.g. fuel to a conventional boiler.)
To put things in perspective, the car you drove to work today used gasoline as its fuel source. One-third of the energy stored in that fuel did what you wanted the car to do, which was to turn the wheels and get you to the office. Another one-third went out the tailpipe as heat and exhaust, and the last of it radiated out of the engine as heat. Generating electricity is a similar process, so when we capture and use the heat from the engine that was wasted, we can harness 60 to 90 percent of the energy in that fuel.
A town, an office building, or a house, utilizes two buckets of fuel: one for heat in the boiler or furnace, and one for electricity. Simply put, CHP technology allows you to use one bucket of fuel for heating, and to produce electricity at the same time, thus greatly reducing the overall fuel needed to provide both.
For the end-user facility, this efficiency leads to a significant reduction in your energy budget. Today, with energy costs seriously cutting into most companies’ overhead, these advantages can boost an organization’s competitiveness, worker retention and growth -- even brand image. For example, CHP systems can help companies win Energy Star awards from the EPA, which can boost corporate recognition and product differentiation.
For communities, CHP systems provide health and climate benefits by reducing total emissions by up to 90 percent. Fully integrating CHP with cleaner renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and seasonal drops in hydro power, creates jobs for the community and minimizes costly power-plant investments. All of this leads to the reduction of energy bills for customers. Just think of the potential savings to taxpayers if we could get our schools and public buildings to cut their energy and heat costs in half. We can all agree that wasted energy in public buildings is wasted taxpayer money.
CHP is currently embraced as a heating and power solution throughout urban and rural Alaska, including many military installations, non-profit facilities, oil and gas exploration rigs in Cook Inlet, and even in facilities such as the H2Oasis waterpark in Anchorage, which has cut its energy costs in half by utilizing the technology. Yet despite all of the success, there is still a general lack of awareness in Alaska’s energy community about the benefits of CHP. Enhanced public awareness and education about CHP's versatility and potential is needed statewide, along with a proactive and strong commitment from businesses, suitable facilitation by utilities, and CHP leading policies and regulations from all levels of government.
There is no greater challenge and opportunity for Alaska and our world than the challenge to change the way we use and produce energy. The concept of CHP fits Alaska’s needs perfectly; significantly reducing energy consumption while delivering highly usable heat and electrical power right where it’s needed. Our great state would be well served by increasing its clean, sustainable energy generation and usage across every industry and social sector. Doing energy right means affordable utility bills, reduced tax burdens, cleaner air, and more jobs for Alaskans. Together, we can build an affordable, environmentally safe, and reliable energy future for Alaska.
Greg Porter is a lifelong Alaskan who grew up in Bethel. He currently lives in Anchorage, where he serves as president of Chenega Energy, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chenega Corp. and leading provider of Combined Heat and Power solutions in Alaska.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com .