Energy is a key challenge in communities such as those in rural Alaska. Because many of these communities rely on costly and outdated diesel generators for power and heat, they are vulnerable to disruptions in fuel supplies and face high energy costs – in some cases more than 50 percent of household income. Diesel generators also produce greenhouse gases, black carbon, and other pollutants that impact the health of local residents and accelerate climate change in the Arctic and globally. There is a clear opportunity for additional investment in cleaner, lower-cost, and more reliable energy technologies in remote communities.
On September 1 in Anchorage, Alaska, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, Council on Environmental Quality Managing Director Christy Goldfuss, Alaska Governor Bill Walker, and Alaska Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott convened a roundtable of top leaders from Alaskan clean energy, development, and public health institutions, as well as Federal representatives to discuss challenges to implementing cleaner, cheaper energy solutions in rural Alaska, and opportunities to collaborate with the federal government and other potential partners to overcome those barriers.
Tackling the energy challenges facing remote communities in Alaska and elsewhere will require sustained engagement beyond a single roundtable discussion. The Administration is taking the next step and launching Clean Energy Solutions for Remote Communities (CESRC) and calling on the wider investment community to join us in identifying creative, collaborative ideas for financing clean energy in remote communities, with a focus on rural Alaska.
CESRC builds on the success of the Administration’s Clean Energy Investment Initiative, launched in February 2015 to expand private-sector investment in climate-change solutions, including innovative technologies with breakthrough potential to reduce carbon pollution. Earlier this summer, the Vice President announced the Administration has catalyzed $4 billion of private-sector investment (double the original goal) from foundations, university endowments, institutions, and other mission-driven investors to improve the cost, performance, and scalability of low-carbon energy technologies critical to taking action against climate change.
Renewable energy, energy efficiency, microgrid technologies, energy storage, and other aspects of clean, smart energy systems have made significant advancements in recent years, and Alaska has already emerged as a leader in many of these areas. Many Alaskan communities have begun deploying microgrid systems that integrate mixes of solar, wind, hydropower, and bioenergy. In 2014, the Kodiak Electric Association, which provides electricity to Kodiak Island, was able to generate 99.7 percent of its electricity from renewables. Further development and performance validation of these systems in Alaska could encourage the deployment of similar systems in other regions where the electric grid is not fully developed.
The transition to cleaner energy systems in places like rural Alaska can occur more quickly if the resources of the investment community are linked to the needs of remote communities. The CESRC will help create these links, benefiting both investors and communities around the world.
Austin Brown is Senior Policy Analyst for Energy R&D at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.