ACEP and partner launch program to empower rural communities

Juneau, Alaska (UAF) - Remote communities in Alaska and elsewhere in the U.S. will soon have expanded opportunities to integrate emerging clean energy technologies into their microgrids.

With an award of $1 million from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Center for Energy and Power and the Rocky Mountain Institute will launch a two-year program called Energy Leadership Accelerator, or ELA.

Remote and islanded communities — communities not connected to wider electric power systems — often rely on delivered diesel fuel for power generation.

This leaves them vulnerable to expensive market fluctuations and supply chain disruptions.

While existing technologies allow for cleaner energy sources than diesel, remote and islanded communities often face greater challenges in adopting these technologies when compared to high-income, grid-connected areas.

ELA aims to improve this by investing in local energy leaders as they adopt emerging renewable energy technologies and develop workforce opportunities.

Participants will design and implement community energy projects that adopt these renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind microgrids and battery energy storage systems.

The program will embrace approaches with cultural and practical considerations that are often overlooked by conventional training, such as subsistence schedules, workforce recruitment limitations in small communities, and exorbitant time and expense demands for travel.

These approaches will help communities to build sustainable opportunities geared toward their local workforces.

Annalise Klein, co-principal investigator of the program, emphasized the importance of culturally and regionally appropriate solutions.

“This [program] will develop increased opportunities and best practices in place-based knowledge sharing, peer mentoring, and virtual alumni networking for our valuable energy partners in rural and remote islanded communities,” she said.

RMI’s Energy Transition Academy, ACEP’s partner for this program, is already engaged in empowering communities in the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

ETA Principal Jason Meyer believes the new program will bridge the gap between communities facing climate change impacts in diverse environments.

“By uniting those on the front lines of climate change in the Arctic, the tropics and desert regions, we can collectively work towards fostering sustainable communities in the face of these challenges,” Meyer said.

ELA will include a two-week Alaska Leadership Lab in its second year.

Participants will visit successful renewable energy projects in Alaska and learn from the energy practitioners who build them.

“This collaboration with Rocky Mountain Institute is an important step in expanding the reach of ACEP’s knowledge sharing network from the Arctic to the rest of the world,” said ACEP Director Jeremy Kasper. “ACEP is pleased to host the Alaska Leadership Lab as the in-person component of the ELA, highlighting the innovative energy projects that are happening in Alaska’s remote communities in collaboration with UAF.”

ELA is funded by NSF’s Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies, or ExLENT, a new program to expand practical learning opportunities and grow talent nationwide.

NSF Assistant Director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Erwin Gianchandani announced the award in a news release on Sept. 27.

“NSF is pleased to offer these first-ever ExLENT awards to support the creation of new pathways for individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences to gain on-the-job training in technologies that are critical to the nation’s long-term competitiveness,” he said.