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Solar power in Arctic Alaska?

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published December 16, 2012

The town of Kotzebue in December is the epitome of winter. Temperatures are well below freezing and the sky is dark for most of the day. In a village 33 miles above the Arctic Circle, few non-Alaskans would consider this a solar-friendly place. But, according to Clean Technica, Kotzebue Electric Association has been experimenting with a few good solar power-driven options.

Kotzebue Electric, which relies heavily on wind power already, is the sole provider of energy to an estimated 3,200 people in a rural town, where in mid-December sunrise doesn't occur until 1 p.m. and sunset only a few hours later, at 2:40 p.m. In Kotzebue, solar-powered anything doesn't sound like the best idea, but the association has installed solar-powered thermal systems.

The project, funded by the Denali Commission, resulted in the first solar thermal systems ever to be installed above Arctic Circle in Alaska.

Six different solar thermal systems were placed in elders' homes around the town. Three of the six are for hot water heating and the remaining for a combination of hyronic baseboard heating and hot water heating. According to Kotzebue Electric, here's how it works:

Many people are familiar with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels which make electricity. Solar thermal systems are different; they harness the heat from the sun and transfer that heat to residential hot water systems, and in some cases base board heating systems as well. The goal for solar thermal systems in Kotzebue is to reduce heating fuel consumption.

Kotzebue Electric hopes to "realize a 30 percent reduction in heating fuel usage for hot water and space heating with these systems," as well as provide information and technical inside to that can be used by other Arctic communities in the future.

To see photos of the solar thermal systems, visit Kotzebue Electric Association's image gallery or read more.

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