Marine Energy: Bringing Hope to Rural Alaska

When you go to play on your phone, log into your computer, or watch some TV, do you think about the energy that is powering these devices? The reality is that energy isn’t readily accessible in some communities (even in the U.S.). This creates a ripple effect of negative outcomes such as inflated costs and increased vulnerability to natural disasters.

Marine Energy: Bringing Hope to Rural Alaska

A new federal program is looking to solve this problem by providing the resources for alternative energy to eleven remote communities throughout the country. Five of these communities will be in Alaska.

The Department of Energy recently announced the launch of their new pilot program, the Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project (ETIPP). Scientists and engineers specializing in this field will be sent to these 11 remote communities to help collaborate on alternative energy options. Rob Jordan, a worker for one of ETIPP’s regional partners, says, “The idea here is that you already have the infrastructure in place, or you have plans to put the infrastructure in place,” “And what we’re going to do is put really bright minds to the task of figuring out how to make that work absolutely the best possible way it can.”

The program is designed for collaboration between the locals and workers. This chosen method is being done purposely to allow for overall efficiency and long-term stability of the infrastructure. If the workers were just to fly to these remote villages, set up the infrastructure and leave, no one would know how to keep up with maintenance, and the longevity of the new implementations would decrease substantially. Even worse, without local insight, the program workers wouldn’t know how to accurately meet the community’s needs and therefore wouldn’t be able to provide the maximum benefits.

Diesel: The Inevitable Disaster.

The five Alaskan communities being serviced - Sitka, Dillingham, Aleknagik, Wainwright, and Ouzinkie – will focus predominantly on transitioning their fishing vessels off of diesel. This is an incredibly important topic for Alaska due to a large portion of the population working in this industry.

Using diesel fuel to power engines poses an extremely high risk of wreaking havoc on ecosystems and damaging local economies. One of the most notorious outcomes being oil spills. When a tanker is importing or exporting crude oil to a given location, there is a high potential for leakage. These spills can either be small - when gas leaks during refueling- or large, like the ones that we will talk about. Both of these can cause damage to the environment and lead to a decrease in the overall marine population.

In 1989, one of the most notable oil spills in the entire U.S. happened off the coast of Alaska. The Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the surrounding ocean. An estimated 300,000 animals were killed, and $2.8 billion happened in losses as a result of this catastrophic event. Scientists also believe that the spill played a role in the eventual collapse of the local salmon and herring fisheries in the early 1990s. This resulted in ruining the lives of many locals who rely on fishing for their income. The spill held the title of the worst in U.S. history until 2010 when another one happened off the coast of Louisiana.

Input Marine Energy

Marine energy can be harvested in a few different ways. Once the program has begun, the community leaders and workers will collaborate together to find which type of marine energy will best suit the needs of the location.

Tidal energy is one of the more common forms of marine energy used today and will most likely play a role in these villages. The ocean’s energy is harvested via turbines that are situated just below the surface. The strong tides turn the turbines which produce the energy. That energy is then transferred to the lower part of the machine where it will be stored in a generator box.

The cost of marine energy implementation is still relatively high due to its lack of popularity. However, when taken into consideration the overall cost, marine energy is still cheaper than fossil fuels. The more mainstream marine energy becomes, the cheaper its manufacturing costs will be,resulting in an affordable and eco-friendly energy alternative. This will benefit rural communities such as in Alaska who will then be able to reinvest leftover money into their economies. Marine energy is also more efficient, has a lower risk on marine life and emits fewer emissions into the atmosphere. A huge win for green energy.

The outcome that can arise from this pilot program can help to revolutionize energy in Alaska. In addition to lower energy costs, job stability, and environmental benefits, switching off of diesel can also aid these communities to not be so vulnerable to natural disasters. This is especially important in a place such as Alaska, where the state is situated in an earthquake hotspot zone known as the ring of fire.

If this program launch goes well, we can expect to see more like it pop up throughout the rest of the country. This will eventually lead to an overall reduction in reliance on fossil fuels, which will have an immense outcome on the future of climate change and the planet’s well-being.

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