Looking at the energy of tomorrow

There has been a bit of talk about the possibility of looking to nuclear power in Alaska, Alaska scale.   “SMR’s” I’ve written on before (Small Modular Reactors) as we have seen an installation in the Interior of the State in the 60’s as well as looking in the 2000’s for Toshiba willing to work with another Interior community.  Both were at military bases (one decommissioned) and thus there were possibilities which civilian community based.

There has been some work recently on determining what scale would be needed for this relatively inexpensive reactor (compared to traditional nuclear power plants) for villages that are now serviced by microgrids.  While some SMR’s can put out 60MW (Anchorage roughly utilizes 160MW) there is hope that they can become smaller, or service regions such as 100 miles out and around Fairbanks.

The main attraction is there is no resource extraction (imported material, yes). There are no ‘moving parts per se to break in the cold.  But the other end that always has to be accounted for is disposal of waste.  And, as everyone is keenly aware, seismic activity is close at hand.  As time goes on and the units are scaled down, who knows?  Alaska may to some degree go nuclear. ——


What will become of nuclear power?

A major shift throughout the world of those countries utilizing renewables was the Fukashima tsunami.  That one even really changed for many nations their paths to get off of fossil fuels.  Laden with taxing/penalty structures per power generation that came largely from EU and Asian nations which were working to reduce carbon emissions, nations such as German and especially France had invested a good share of their power generation to nuclear fission.  When the earthquake and resulting tsunami hit, however, the aftermath took not only Japan (which was almost entirely dependent on dozens and dozens of nuclear plants) down the road of buying LNG and investigating biomass, but it certainly propelled Germany further into its solar investments and France into finding different fuels.


The new generation of interest with nuclear tends to be veering towards SMR Small Modular Reactors.  These units do not depend upon the massive cooling systems and steam units that are a part of normal reactors.  And they may only provide single digit megawatts.  Yet they are safer in a sense as far as shutdown if need be and easy to run site studies on due to a very small footprint, comparatively.  They in fact are called ‘suitcase reactors’ by the public.  Look them up- SMRs.  Possibly it could be a workable technology for smaller communities.

Alaska Health Summit week of workshops!


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Next week several of us in Extension and from Alaska DNR will be in Anchorage  for the annual Alaska Public Health Association events during the day…..yet see if there are workshops suited to you in the evenings!  We’ll kick off the week with a night of Fairbanks workshops and end with similar ones in Nenana:

Jan. 21, Tanana Valley CES office (Art Nash)
4:30pm- Radon: The Radioactive Intruder– Who would think that uranium under the ground would pollute your lungs in your own home?  Learn how radon gas, the second leading cause of lung cancer next to smoking, can be detected and blocked out of your home.
5:30pm- Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer– How can something you can’t see, taste or feel poison your blood in such a short order of time?  Join this discussion on how to check your combustion devices so that you don’t become overwhelmed by this harmful gas.
6:00pm-  Arsenic: Water Poisoning- Did you know pure looking, pristine tasting water can have a toxin that will accumulate in your body? See how you can test your water and investigate ways to filter it out before you ingest it with the water you use for cooking and drinking.
Jan. 22, Anch. CES office (Art Nash)
6:30pm- Healthy Homes Overview-What are some easy ways of reducing contaminants and increasing the energy efficiency and accessibility of your home?  See examples of how you can make your living area more healthy so you stay healthy!
7:30pm- What is All Natural is Not Always Good- How can you avoid environmental dangers in the air or (well) water of your home?  Join this discussion about how often to test your air and water, as well as the costs involved.
8:30- When the Power Goes Out- When you can’t plug in or switch on the electricity due to a power outage, how do you provide for your own temporary lighting, heating and cooking needs? Observe items now on the market that allow you to generate what you need to get you through the day or night until your utility has you up and running!


Jan.23, Anch CES office (Leif Albertson and Art Nash)

6pm-Home Energy Efficiency Audit- How can you reduce your electric bill in the home or or office? Learn methods and cost effective tools that will assist you in simple savings!

7pm- Off Grid Energy Options for Heating, Lighting and Cooking- What types of equipment and fuels are available for taking care of the essentials for an extended stay at your cabin or seasonal camp? Discuss tools that you have used and see various configurations to make your own nanogrid!
8pm- Get the Lead and Radioactivity Out- How can you reduce toxins such as metal exposure in game foods and radon in home environments? See examples of testing for these contaminants and how they unexpectedly can enter your home from the field or from under the house.
Jan. 29, Nenana Center  (Art Nash)
5:00pm- Radon: The Radioactive Intruder– Who would think that uranium under the ground would pollute your lungs in your own home?  Learn how radon gas, the second leading cause of lung cancer next to smoking, can be detected and blocked out of your home.
6:00pm- Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer– How can something you can’t see, taste or feel poison your blood in such a short order of time?  Join this discussion on how to check your combustion devices so that you don’t become overwhelmed by this harmful gas.
6:30pm-  Arsenic: Water Poisoning- Did you know pure looking, pristine tasting water can have a toxin that will accumulate in your body? See how you can test your water and investigate ways to filter it out before you ingest it with the water you use for cooking and drinking.

Fuel for 2019

Fuel prices have been on a decline since this time last year and in fact were driven last month to the lowest average in two years.  In fact, the price of auto fuel has fallen below $2 a gallon in 20% of the states (the overall national average of all 50 states is $2.30).  In Alaska the average cost is just above $3 a gallon. Looking at nationwide averages, fuel oil (#2 grade) is exactly the same cost that it was a decade ago this month.

The outlook for 2019 crude, in general, will depend on global players in the petroleum markets as OPEC and Russia together mentioned that they intend this month or next to cut overall production by one and a fifth billion drums a day to take some of the glut out of the supply market.

It is not only supply that determines price, but we will to see what extent the output of a few nations lifts the price per gallon at the pump in the current conditions in short enough order!

Gasoline prices are dropping- really!

I’ve mentioned before that due to lack of distributor competition, petrol being rather inelastic (demand is ‘stiff’ relative to changes in retail pricing), and Alaskan fuels being imported in set inventory stocks which are pretty well locked into a retail location that ‘prices at the pump’ are not as responsive to price changes in crude oil commodity.  While the price of oil has fallen down to $50 a barrel, Alaskans have seen gas head south of $3/gal on the road system (where it had been steady at around $3.50/gal). Yet in the Gulf states it has dropped below $1.70/gal in some locations.

Though it will not get that low in Alaska, one of the future predictors that crude and subsequent fuel prices will be influenced by the U.S. in the near future is that the U.S. is now the leading exporter of crude.  OPEC is still influential, but possibly not as much as it has been.——-AN————–

Housing damage and what to do now….


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You’ve been shaken, yet everyone is accounted for and safe. Cupboards may have emptied and pantry items are on the floor, but that’s easy to clean up. The hard part after inspections may be affording to repair your home, or even finding a place to stay!

Home Owners Insurance

Normally earthquake coverage is not included in the typical Alaskans’ homeowners insurance policy. It can be purchased, yet cost and the benefits of it are limiting, and with the infrequency of damaging quakes it has not been popular in the state.

If it is added on, it may double a policy’s annual cost. According to the Alaska Division of Insurance, only one in six or seven of Alaskan homeowners have such an addendum. Part of the reason for such a low amount of participants is the high annual cost of a homeowner’s out of pocket deducible. The deductible can be as much as one fifth of the home’s value, which with the median value of an Alaskan home being close to $300,000 the average the homeowner would be responsible for around $60,000 before the insurance coverage would kick in. If purchased, such coverage will usually pay for damage to personal items as well as the damaged effects of the quake on the dwelling.


If you have found minor damage to your home or landscaping yet need it fixed, you may consider asking for volunteer help from your neighborhood association if you have one. If there is damage from the road to the entrance of your driveway, going to your road service area commission and making a case before your commissioners on the need for more fill or grading work for the good of the public road may be useful. And don’t forget those civic groups which you may be a member of in asking for volunteer labor or supplies such as a church, rotary club or fraternity.

Current State Assistance

Submit claims as soon as possible to state and federal officials as there are other recovery grant types of assistance from the state for those living in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula (see ready.alaska.gov). Alaskans must submit for individual assistance by January 29th, 2019 at 1-855-445-7131 (or TTY 1-855-445-7131). Prepare your address, description of damages there, insurance, personal ID information, photos and reciepts of the damage prior to clean up.

Ongoing Federal Aid

November 30, 2018 EM-3410 was declared a federal disaster, which sent 150 FEMA personnel to Alaska. When individual assistance or public assistance monies are approved for this disaster, it will be displayed at https://www.fema.gov/disaster/3410


Enough this week for a month!

This week the Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Providers’ Conference were occurring at the same time.  At the Former, I and another Extension professor presented on Radon, in another session Marine Advisory Program professor observed our up and coming Alaska Homeowners’ Emergency/Disaster Manual, and in a last session we presented on indoor air quality (to housing departments).  On the final day(today) we arrived in downtown Anchorage with transportation to take a dozen conference attendees to the Palmer farm for a tour of the gasifiers, biochar lab and battery system there. Only one person was at the meeting place/time unfortunately, due to the earthquake a half hour earlier.

Next year hopefully we can pull of the tour!  And hopefully we won’t have any other manor quakes following up.  If we do though, are you prepared with your week long emergency supply kit??


Arctic Institute’s take on the topic of future renewables in Alaska

Recently a posting from the Arctic Institute Center for Circumpolar Security Studies noted that  energy  “path dependence” takes into account the context of past options (regardless of their efficiency) and claims that just as there is an energy “path dependency” for diesel,  there’s one for alternative energy sources. Option constraints are set by technological, economic plus political reinforcements of the time, influenced by  entrepreneurs, policymakers, and involved communities. Opportunity costs firm up what this mix of conditions will allow as far as energy development, and what types of energy sources are locked into.

Recently the last decade brought the creation of the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund and the Obama Administration’s set of Alaska-specific initiatives for renewable energy.  Some remote villages became involved which helped to change the mix of energy opportunities for others to be looking at local fuels and more sustainable ways of powering their village given the problems with barge transportation, weather and other problems that can develop with being fully dependent of imported diesel. And several of those villages on the west coast of Alaska operating their own microgrids can help each other develop off common local resources! ——-AN———


You don’t have to live in tribal housing to enjoy this site…

Working on a rewrite of the Help Yourself to a Tribal Healthy Home as a part of the Extension National Healthy Homes Partnership this year, I also put up some new social media venues in this vein.  Facebook obviously is a popular way to get information out that is not as technical as blogs and has a snappy photo to go with the idea.  The last several weeks I’ve been putting up posts of traditional examples of tribal housing from around the country (with  building and construction material observations).

One of the common threads on these housing examples (usually from a time period before building materials were exported in)  is that the housing was pretty much a part of the earthen soil, and was seen as a part of the landscape by the residents.  Some of it was seasonal housing and other examples being permanent location/place housing. In any case, the hosing used the local building materials that were directly available on site (or “roaming” nearby in the case of buffalo skin roofs on tepees).

Obviously you don’t have to be a member of a tribe or live in a village/reservation to enjoy and learn from the examples.  If you have an interest to peruse the site it so far has about a half dozen posts and will grow by at least a few a couple a week.  Remember though, it is a part of a national effort to get outreach and discussion going around tribal housing and thus will not be Alaskan: https://www.facebook.com/Tribal-Healthy-Homes-366768423731639/    ——-AN————



Off grid farming

MY APOLOGIES as this post had gone up, so I thought, last week during the SARE conference in Anchorage- but returning to the site today I see that it did not take (yet the information may be useful):

At a workshop during the Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education conference there were folks who are off grid who wanted to know how they could expand their horticultural reach.  Some were not on grid due to the cost of bringing power lines to their place, which was described as almost running into six digit figures for power poles and lines.  Distance from power lines can be the reason many who have farm operations in Alaska are off grid.

Generator use for optimization of power, battery storage, ground heat storage and variable wind/sunlight were covered.  It seemed as though folks present were within the nano-grid classification (up to 35 KW).  While in the lower 48 off grid growing tends to look at electrical production often for for water movement and irrigation, here creating electricity for lighting was the keen interest.  Discussion covered gasification of wood for electrical, syngas, and heat production.  At the end of the class, 4H students joined in and we went over gasification with hands-on learning per combustion, emissions and efficient fuel use. It was a day of interest that didn’t just stop there as a couple of attendees went on to get more detail from an off grid grower who has helped Extension in the past! ——-AN——–