Many of us are used to flipping a switch or pressing a button to instantly illuminate a room, heat or cool a home, or access our digital lives through smart devices. Our energy and communications infrastructure is reliable, robust, and flexible enough to support and control advanced technologies.

For those living in more remote areas of the country, however, those options do not always lie at their fingertips. Remote energy systems are prone to frequent blackouts and disruptions, challenging residents, utilities, and governments to rapidly adapt at any given moment. The impacts of climate change reverberate dramatically — from chronic environmental degradation to extreme weather events and natural disasters — affecting remote and island communities more significantly, in many cases.

Remote and island communities often rely heavily on fossil fuels for energy generation. Dependence on imported fossil fuel creates some of the highest utility costs in the nation. Higher energy costs place a strain on household finances and local economies.

With the recently launched Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project (ETIPP), communities have an unprecedented opportunity to address these types of energy and climate challenges — and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is uniquely prepared to support them on the path forward.

Collaborating to Advance Energy Resilience

Remote, island, and islanded communities across the nation have navigated energy resilience challenges for generations. Although these communities are increasingly prioritizing equitable, resilient, and affordable energy systems, the resources and capacity to fully evaluate options and implement solutions are often in short supply.

ETIPP aims to arm remote communities with resources and technical support to bridge the gap between risk and resilience. The collaborative ETIPP effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), creates an important opportunity to advance energy resilience in remote, island, and islanded communities.

Eleven competitively selected communities will leverage ETIPP’s network of national laboratories and regional partner organizations to target their unique challenges and goals:

  • Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA), Sitka, Alaska — ALFA’s fishing fleet is reliant on diesel fuel imports, the cost of which makes up most of the fishers’ earned income. With ETIPP, ALFA will investigate the potential for developing a hybrid fuel or electrified fishing fleet with the goal of reducing diesel reliance and increasing fishers’ earning potential.
  • Dillingham, Alaska — Barge shipments containing the hydrocarbons needed to power Dillingham’s islanded grid are a significant expense to the community. Through ETIPP, Dillingham and neighboring communities will explore the impact and benefits received by a run-of-river hydroelectric project: Nuyakuk River Hydroelectric Project.
  • Eastport, Maine — Looking to increase energy resilience, reduce carbon emissions, and leverage huge local tidal resource potential, Eastport will explore the infrastructure and siting needs of a microgrid that integrates with the existing regional grid.
  • Honolulu, Hawaii — To harden its electrical infrastructure from the threat of severe weather, Honolulu will look to develop a hybrid microgrid opportunity map to understand how distributed grids can support local and utility-scale resilience.
  • Islesboro, Maine — Due to a vulnerable electric infrastructure, Islesboro relies on the mainland for electricity, oil, gas, internet, and food. Islesboro is seeking to employ energy efficiency measures for municipal and residential buildings, as well as researching renewable resource potential and storage options to become more self-sufficient.
  • Kauai, Hawaii — Kauai has done much to convert its stationary energy to renewable sources and has now shifted focus to electric mobility. Through ETIPP, Kauai will explore alternative mobility options for residents and tourists to move away from fossil-fuel powered, single occupancy vehicles and toward a modern, clean transportation system.
  • Nags Head, North Carolina — Located 3 feet above sea level, Nags Head is extremely vulnerable to severe weather events and long-term, rising trends in global sea level. To build up resilience and prevent future disasters, Nags Head will explore various renewable energy and energy efficiency deployments and work toward securing 48 to 72 hours of backup generation for critical facilities and infrastructure, such as first responders and other key infrastructure.
  • Ocracoke Island, North Carolina — Ocracoke is planning for an electrified future, and is exploring electrifying its ferry fleet, which residents depend on for transportation to the mainland. ETIPP will analyze the additional grid infrastructure needs that come with an all-electric ferry fleet, and how Ocracoke can best prepare for this future.
  • Ouzinkie, Alaska — Ouzinkie currently relies on diesel generators and an aging hydroelectric system for community power, but is looking to understand how to optimize use of renewables and storage to, one day, go off diesel.
  • Sitka, Alaska — To build up renewable energy generation in support of a growing community with changing needs, Sitka would like to assess the available renewable resources in and around the community while planning for a more modern grid control system.
  • Wainwright, Alaska — Located in Arctic Alaska, Wainwright is a fully diesel-fired, islanded power grid looking to employ energy efficiency measures and renewable power where possible to decrease reliance on diesel and increase community resilience.

The energy and infrastructure opportunities reflected among these communities include building performance, critical facility hazards, distributed energy resources, hydropower, microgrids, solar, storage, tidal energy, and transportation.

Communities Chart Their Paths

As part of the ETIPP network, NREL — along with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories — will work alongside these communities over the next 12 to 18 months to identify and advance resilient energy solutions using technical tools and resources made available through DOE.

With unprecedented access to technical and decision support, each community is empowered to determine which options best meet its needs. In fact, ETIPP is intentionally designed to position these communities at the helm of the decision-making process.

While each community’s route to resilience will be unique, all share common goals: enhanced ability to withstand and recover from energy disruptions, improved energy reliability and access, and reduced energy costs.

A Framework for Equity Built on Stakeholder Engagement

NREL brings decades of community energy transitions support to the ETIPP table. ETIPP’s community-driven framework is based on the DOE’s Energy Transitions Initiative (ETI) community engagement model — which NREL researchers and analysts helped develop.

The community-centric, stakeholder-driven approach that NREL helped shape is integrated into every aspect of ETIPP support, from on-the-ground technical assistance to online tools and resources. Central to the approach is uncovering how each community defines energy equity and ensuring energy system options are viewed through that lens.

A community-based lens has been a critical part of NREL’s work on the ETI’s Energy Resilience Playbook. Updated by NREL in April 2021, it incorporates extensive stakeholder feedback into its play-by-play guide to identify and implement resilient energy solutions.

Expanding the scale, scope, and pace of successful solutions by sharing best practices is a key focus that both ETIPP and NREL share.

NREL can offer ETIPP communities robust insights garnered from its recent Los Angeles 100% Renewable Energy Study, as well as new advancements in modeling and accelerating energy transitions through NREL’s Accelerating Clean Energy initiative and Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems research platform.

NREL’s mission-driven work to transform energy depends on integrating best practices from each of those initiatives into an evolving, laboratory-wide framework for energy equity and environmental justice that guides our research, development, demonstration, and deployment efforts.

With ETIPP’s focus on advancing community energy resilience — and setting the stage for future scalability options — NREL finds an important stepping-stone on its visionary path toward Integrated Energy Pathways.

Follow the hashtag #ETIPP on social media and subscribe to NREL’s State, Local, Tribal email updates to watch these communities on their paths to a resilient energy future.

Article courtesy of the NREL.

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