Remote Communities Lead the Way to a Renewables Future

Across extreme climates around the globe, remote communities separated from the grid have long relied on diesel generators that not only produce excessive greenhouse gases but are also prone to interruptions for power. The unreliability and high cost of these systems impact simple daily activities, like cooking and charging cellular devices, as well as the functionality of essential services such as healthcare, education, food storage, transportation and communication. In dire cases, it can mean the difference between life and death. 

By integrating renewables into the grid, the potential loss of power can be avoided. Over the past 30 years, remote and isolated communities have worked to implement renewable hybrid microgrid grid edge solutions to reduce diesel consumption and provide better reliability. 

The best grid edge strategies calculate the most economical power configuration, ensuring a proper balance of supply and demand that maximizes renewable energy integration, providing for up to 100% renewable penetration and the highest level of stability and reliability. They optimize the energy network’s operations so the entire system performs at peak potential. Ultimately, grid edge solutions help customers achieve grid quality power without the need to burn tons of fossil fuel, avoiding the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions.

From the far North region to the scorching outback of Australia, remote communities have used microgrids to show the world the way forward toward a more sustainable power system. Here are two remote communities located in extreme climates that have solved their diverse power challenges with grid edge technology. 

Deering: The North Pole 

Deering, Alaska is located on the Kotzebue Sound just south of the Arctic Circle. In June or early July, the sun does not set, while in December, daylight may last less than four hours. Winter storms are common with temperatures as low as -50º Fahrenheit. Despite a challenging climate, this tough Arctic community does not shut down.

The 163 people living in Deering rely on barge services to provide consumer goods during the summer between July and mid-October. With no road transport, fuel can easily cost more than six dollars per gallon. Delivery via air transport will add another two dollars to the cost of each gallon.

Deering was motivated to incorporate renewable resources into their microgrid to offset the high cost of conventional diesel generation. They installed 100 kW of wind generation in 2016 and another 50kW of solar in 2019. With these installations, however, Deering’s renewable generation resources regularly exceeded their load. Without grid edge solutions, such high penetrations of renewable generation can introduce system instabilities resulting in poor power quality or unplanned outages and can minimize or largely erode the economic benefits of renewables.

In order to fully reap the benefits of these environmentally-friendly resources, the community created one of the most advanced microgrids in the world, utilizing an energy management system to control the economic dispatch and apply sophisticated automation of Deering’s hybrid power system while ensuring secure power with significant renewable contribution. Combined with the grid-forming energy storage system, this cutting edge microgrid operates on 100 percent renewables for days at a time by automatically turning the diesels off when the conditions are right.

By operating up to 30 percent of the year in diesel-off mode, the community of Deering expects to see significant savings on their electric bills. Combined with similar efforts in nearby communities of Kotzebue and Buckland, the region estimates they’ll reduce carbon emissions by as much as 305 metric tons annually.

Marble Bar: The Hottest Town in Australia 

Marble Bar in Western Australia has been called the hottest town in Australia. A mining town more than 200kms from the nearest major settlement, it has been known to have streaks of over 50 days a year at 150º Fahrenheit. There’s no popping to your corner store if you forgot bread. It’s a 450 km round trip to the nearest store — that’s a lot of expensive diesel to burn for a snack.  It is sunny, hot, and as some locals put it “in the middle of nowhere.”

Traditionally, the town relied on diesel power for electricity, but hybrid microgrids with renewables have allowed the town to harness the abundant sunlight to save money. The microgrid controls maximize solar power while minimizing diesel without jeopardizing reliability—reliability of the power station has actually improved.  In fact, Marble Bar is one of the world’s first high-penetration, hybrid solar PV-diesel power stations. More than 60% of the daytime electricity is provided by the PV plant, reducing annual diesel fuel usage by 40% and savings more than 400,000 liters of diesel fuel a year. It also reduces Marble Bay’s greenhouse gas footprint by 1,100 tons per year. This could not be achieved without the microgrid controls and a very small amount of energy storage to smooth the variations in solar production, allowing conventional and renewable generation to work effectively together.

Remote communities around the world have long operated independent power systems – they simply weren’t called microgrids. But in the last thirty years, because of the disproportionately high impacts of fossil-fuel based generation to their way of life, remote communities have pioneered a pathway to a low-carbon future powered by grid edge solutions.  

Maxine Ghavi
Maxine brings more than 25 years of experience to her role as senior vice president and head of the Grid Edge Solutions Business at Hitachi ABB Powergrids, holding various prior leadership roles in program and project management, business and market development, product management, business operations, and marketing and sales. Her deep domain knowledge spans the breath of the power industry including grid edge technologies, microgrids, storage, renewables, software and semiconductors.