Solar Power

Contractors Corner: Proving solar is viable in even the darkest Alaskan communities

Oxymorons—little giants, harmless pollution, non-stick glue—they just don’t quite make sense. But what about solar power in Alaska?

One young solar installation company headquartered in Anchorage attempts to debunk the  unfortunate assumption that Alaska and solar don’t make sense. Arctic Solar Ventures happened to commission a 25-kW system on winter solstice 2016—the darkest day of the year—to further prove solar energy is viable in Alaska.

The Arctic Solar Ventures team (L-R): CEO and founder Stephen Trimble; vice president Jacqueline Savina; vice president of business development C. Chase Christie

“It was by chance that the project was commissioned on that day. We just wanted to get it done before the end of the year for the customer and the applicability of the tax credit,” said Stephen Trimble, founder and CEO of Arctic Solar Ventures. “It was generating power, which was amazing to see on the shortest day of the year.”

Trimble and Chase Christie, vice president of business development, said there is a bit of a learning curve for Alaskan residents and businesses when it comes to solar in the state. Arctic Solar Ventures often expresses that Alaska and Germany have a similar solar resource, and Germany has some of the biggest solar installation numbers in the world. There’s no reason Alaska can’t catch up.

“Education is a challenging component in any market,” Christie said. “We have the added component of it not making obvious sense when we’re in the middle of winter and have five and a half hours of daylight. How can solar possibly work?”

While Alaskan winters may only average a few hours of daylight, the sun is up for 22 hours during the peak of summer. Trimble said solar projects hit a nice production curve in February that lasts through October.

“It balances out a lot better than people would typically think,” Trimble said.

Arctic Solar Ventures has been busy since forming in 2015. The small team of born-and-raised Alaskans use their industry experience (Trimble was involved with energy consulting and Christie worked for a solar installer in San Francisco) to reach the local community and potential customers on a personal level. The company works on a good mix of residential and commercial projects, mostly because of concern for the rising cost of electricity. Alaskan utilities charge 16 to 17 cents per kWh on average. Only Hawaii sees higher prices.

“[Rates], by a historical measure, are rising about 8 to 9% every year,” Christie said. “One of the utility companies here in Anchorage has announced their intentions to raise utility rates by 25% this year alone. There is a lot of interest in mitigating those rate increases.”

Rate increases are bringing more awareness to the benefits of grid-connected solar in Alaskan communities.

“Historically there has been a cabin, off-grid solar industry in Alaska,” Trimble said. “Solar projects have been going on in Alaska for 40 years, but they’ve been very scattered, because Alaska is huge. That remote distribution didn’t really allow for a lot of mainstream visibility with solar. Bringing solar projects into a higher visibility in the bigger population centers in grid-connected communities, it’s showing it can work at scale.”

The good thing for Arctic Solar Ventures is that acceptance of solar can only increase from here.

“We plan to continue to showcase Alaska as not only a viable but a great place for solar,” Trimble said.  “The biggest thing for us as we go about opening people’s eyes to the viability of solar in Alaska is that we uphold the highest quality standards with our installations, and we really appreciate and nurture the relationships we develop with our customers and supporters.”

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