Rural energy conference completed

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This year’s Alaska Rural Energy Conference came to a close Thursday with a wide variety of topics covered and various policy leaders, vendors, tribal/municipal power workers, utilities and service agencies attending.  Cooperative Extension had a booth with various publications, as well as some working models of rocket stoves to display.  The conference started daily with a large session together, and then folks had a choice of one of two breakout sessions of panels before lunch with two slots of panels after lunch.  Topics ranged from how utilities price electricity, how waterplants use electricity in a community system to latest technologies in battery storage. Extension presented an overview of how oil displacing technologies and conservation measures are being employed in about 40% of the State’s school districts (this topic generated a good amount of discussion).  The conference occurs every 18 months and is run by Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) with assistance provided Alaska Energy Authority (AEA).  If you could not attend, keep your eyes open on ACEP’s website for videos of each session in the next couple months!

Japan and Alaska Gas

While efforts to build up infrastructure for North Slope natural gas to be distributed amongst Fairbanks residents is consuming much of the Borough commissioners’ time, State government has been busy strengthening ‘intentions and mutual cooperation’ about liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments with Japan through memorandum of agreements. Gov. Sean Parnell signed a Memorandum of Cooperation in September state positive terms per LNG exported from Alaska. Though this is not a contract it does keep things moving so that there are meetings and continued communications. Japan has had to diversify its fuel stocks since shutting its nuclear power plants down the last couple years since the Fukashima meltdown, and natural gas has been on the top of their list in replacing nuclear. Though not known by many, it is U.S./Japanese fuel exporting that large in part provoked Japan’s aggression against the U.S. almost three quarters a century ago when Dean Acheson pushed for barring exports of precious oil from Japan’s war machine in Asia (1940). Japanese Prime Minister Konoye even offered to secretly meet after the fact on behalf of Emperor Hirohito with a willing FDR in Juneau among other places to ease sanctions and remove Japanese troops out of China, but other American politicians -and ironically Chiang Kai-shek – foiled the effort. Tojo then replaced Konoye and headed the drive toward Pearl Harbor….. the rest is history. Fuel is important and moves nation’s destinies!

Air quality and wood energy discussed this weekend in Fairbanks!

For those in Fairbanks, there are free lectures this weekend by guest Utah Physician for a Healthy Environment, Dr Moench. He will address the health effects of wood-smoke and PM2.5. In light of Proposition 2 – “Home Heating Initiative” – on the ballot this October, this is one way to become informed about “the biggest public health concern facing our community at this time — our Air Quality”. The publicly open sessions will be at 2:00 PM Noel Wien Library Auditorium in Fairbanks, and then 6:30 PM – North Pole City Council Chambers. Join to learn and discuss, for your lungs’ sake!

Roads westward may deliver cheap energy in Alaska

The State AIEDC is currently working with communities that may be effected with a road built out to Ambler. Possible communities nearby the road are weighing in- Allakaket, Alatna, Bettles, etc… The main purpose of the road would not be citizen transportation but rather a route for mining minerals and delivering the extracted material to market. Yet probably the most appealing advantage, other than cheaper local goods, is cheaper energy available to villages that could be served from spur words off the main road. Communities see the bad as well as good that the culture and products that the riches of the Trans Alaska Pipeline brought in, and those effects are being debated in public sessions by locals as well as outside interest groups. Time will tell whether the road is built and whether the current plan to increase gas on the North Slope for the Interior may also make cheaper fuel available to the villages nearby this proposed road.

State Fair and disasters

Well, having gone down for the opening day of the State Fair in Palmer (mind you, there are several ‘State Fairs’ in Alaska by claim), there has been quite a few people who now have information about how the changing climate is effecting wildfire danger, how flooding damage can be prepared for and mitigated, and what to prepare for any evacuation that suddenly is required. Meeting many people, I was able to converse with many from out of state as well as residing in Alaska about basement flooding, mold issues, defensible space of vegetation around a home, etc…. If you haven’t gotten to the fair yet, stop by the 4H building on the red moose trail!

Utilization of geothermal power around the globe

To many it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the U.S. usurps the largest percentage of geothermal for energy when looking at the overall world utilization of the resource. Yet where would you expect the other four largest utilizers to be? Well, for overall use it would be: Germany, Spain, China, and then Brazil…Nations that are or were ‘superpowers’ in the world at one time, and the majority being from the Northern Hemisphere. Yet A co-worker here at the state Cooperative Extension office looked the five leading nations in terms of the largest share of their overall domestic energy production coming from geothermal, and surprisingly most came from the Southern hemisphere. Yes, Iceland with its small population and position sitting on a northern volcanic section led the way. But following were those in South or Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Equador, etc.. Its interesting to look at energy resource utilization (NOT necessarily the same as resource presence) from a Human Geography point of view. What hemispheres would you expect to dominate utilization of solar, wind, hydro, etc… from a world composite use or national domestic use point of view? One place to poke around and investigate is the Energy Information Administration http://www.eia.com- though this is a U.S. sponsored site, the front article this morning opens “Russia-China deal will supply Siberian gas…”. The World Bank looks at world figures at http://data.worldbank.org/news/eatlas-of-global-development-released and http://www.iea.org taps into the International Energy Agency data. Check these locations out and grab some impressive stats to impress your friends!

Potential power for small villages

Rural Alaska is not the only location with stranded resources, lack of gridded transportation routes or distribution challenges. In June I was able to meet folks at a conference on applied energy who have some of the same difficulties in getting power to their people. A teacher in South Africa spoke with me about the use of micro hydro electric components in the mountains where fresh snowmelt created creeks and rivers. A leader of a post secondary energy think tank in Pakistan spoke of efforts to provide heat and power in the mountains with biomass, and in many other parts of the nation with below surface hot water. Here is a photo another Extension colleague sent to me of some of the conditions up in the northern mountains (of Pakistan): http://www.voanews.com/content/pakistan-villagers-find-creative-energy-solutions/1870177.html. It’s interesting to see in this clip the style of community pooled turbine where a village is supplying for themselves what they can afford with their immediate resource (hyrdo here). Also the locally installed power distribution wires…. The solutions we consider for ‘off grid’ cabins and homes distanced from the railbelt/road system may just be what other rural places with similarities to rural Alaska call microgrid! The search is on for finding technology that matches the local resource and fuel capacity….

India’s Radical Plan

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According to Policy.mic, (http://mic.com/articles/89775/india-has-a-radical-plan-to-power-every-one-of-its-homes-by-2019) India’s new Prime Minister Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party put forth the following goals:
-increases urban construction,
-extended high-speed rail,
-a cleaned up the Ganges river
-building “toilets first, temples later.”
-solar panels.

His party’s hope is to harness enough solar power to get a an operating lightbulb in each house by 2019, and if possible, “two bulbs, a solar cooker and a television” in each dwelling. Modi has stated, “We look upon solar as having the potential to completely transform the way we look at the energy space.”

Keep an eye out over the next half decade as possibly some of the methods used in remote areas with stranded resources will have application in Alaska’s rural areas.

Accessible Bathrooms

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Many of the bathrooms which we see photos of in designer home magazines tend to have angular edges, coordinating colors and exotic items. Yet coordination, nuance and spacing many times are antithetical to accessibility- yet do not always have to be. With the bathroom being the one place in the home where most of our activities of daily living take place, it is often probably the busiest room of the home. Thus there should be freedom to access the shower, bath, toilet, sink area, etc. without problems in seeing items, getting a wheelchair stuck when turning around, being able to ambulate into the bathtub, etc…. There should also be the ability to independently dress and groom. Take a look at your bathroom and the height things are set at such as towel racks, water mixing valves, door knobs, light switches, etc… Are they in a place that someone in a wheelchair or possibly on crutches could reach? Take a look around and see what you think!

The race is on.

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This weekend there were a couple events which politicians stopped by Fairbanks to be involved with. One of the major topics which I heard talked of was Proposition 1. Governor and senator (primary) candidates were sure to weight in on this possible repeal of Senate Bill 21 (which was passed in the state legislature this past year). Regardless where you fall on the topic, it has been a forefront topic on visits by candidates and is something that will be voted on and decided in latter August, before the governor or senatorial elections. It will add a dynamic to the election, seeing if the tax reform voted on this year will stand or be vetoed- and then to see what effect that will have on the messages of candidates on the remaining several months before elections. Time will tell….

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