“Happy Summer Solstice” is the greeting of the day. Are we harnessing the power of the midnight sun? Not so much.
The 49th state may be almost dead last in the use of solar power (thank you, North Dakota for sparing us the embarrassment), but according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Alaskans are starting to adopt this next-generation energy source.
As of the first quarter of 2019, there are 3.6 megawatts of solar power being used in Alaska, enough to power 410 homes. Nearly half of that capacity was installed in 2018, and most of it is residential. This chart shows the growth, through the first quarter of 2019:
Alaska has 14 solar energy companies total: 0 manufacturers, 8 installers, and 6 others, according to the trade organization, which says the total solar investment in the state is nearly $11 million. Prices for solar energy have dropped 34 percent over the past five years, which likely accounts for the growth in solar energy additions to homes and businesses.
Some villages and rural hubs are now installing solar panels. Take the Native Village of Hughes, which just installed the framework for a 120-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that will cut diesel use and costs while advancing the village’s renewable energy goal of 50 percent by 2025.
Once the system is integrated with the local power system, this community of 110 people on the Koyukuk River, some 210 air miles north of Fairbanks, will boast rural Alaska’s largest solar project.
There are now over 660 solar installations in Alaska and 66 solar jobs, according to SEIA.org.
Of course, the use of solar energy still only comprises 0.04 percent of the energy used in our oil-consuming state. But in the north, whenever there’s more than 12 hours of daylight, that’s enough solar potential to power a home for half a day.
The problem is, it takes years to recover the savings from an installation, so most people who are installing solar cells are doing it for other reasons than cost savings. Maybe they live off the grid, or maybe they are early adopters of new technologies, but they’re making a big investment they might not recover in their lifetime.
A solar system in many parts of Alaska will actually produce more energy than the home consumes from April through September, according to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which has a complete study of Alaska solar energy design practices here.
Read more about Alaska’s solar energy profile at the Solar Foundation.
Do you have a solar installation? Is your village or rural community installing solar panels? How is it working for you? Leave your comments below.