Every now and then I get a challenging call which stretches me for a solution. Today a fellow called who had put a hot tub in long ago when electricity was much cheaper- though he can’t operate it now ‘without mortgaging the house’ (due to KW rates). Switching his oil boiler to a pellet boiler, he wants to hook the hot tub up to the heat exchanger but with water that will not scald as it is 180 degrees coming off the boiler. (Due to a long unheated area along the route between the hot tub and boiler, the distance is such that omits the possibility of running a cold line to mix with). While the details are yet to be figured out, this call is an unique (yet good) example of people replacing both electric and oil heat with wood energy.
As you have probably heard, there has been impetus from the state towards trucking natural gas to Fairbanks. A board has been composed, and other energy entities are making plans to work with the new resource. The local utility, Golden Valley Electric is working with it’s newly varied production resources to fit gas into its electricity production mix. Listening to a spokesperson for the Co-op yesterday, they are contemplating their grid capacity with the Eva Creek wind farm, the Healy clean coal plant and their oil fired units. With always having to flex with peak loads from different communities (as well as overall seasonal load changes) GVEA’s role was discussed in the context of how a new staging plant for natural gas will fit in!
At the Sustainable Agriculture conference this week a guest speaker showed a photo of a northern greenhouse with year around production. To prepare the area, digging four feet down with a backfilling of sand allowed for thermal storage. In non-permafrost land, possibly creating intentional heat sinks by plowing heat into the ground with radiator finned tubing connected to vacuum tubed solar panels or passive solar absorption boxes with ducting into the ground may provide radiating heat needed for early starts. Testing would be need to see how efficient this type of heat would be and how productive it might be.
Speaking with folks who are growers in the state, it depends on what region you are trying to plant in as to what the effort and energy requirements are to stretch the season and thereby get more product. It also depends on the type of seed/food that is trying to be grown. While there is debate as to how much of the food consumed in Alaska is produced here, I understand that it is between 1% and 5% (no more than 5%). Certainly in many areas to grow at commercial capacities cheaper energy can help spur on economic development as well as more local foods available.
Here’s an event you can spread the word on:
Dr. Fred Milder & Claudia Pavel, Solar Logic
As I’ve been running into people who would like to grow more fresh foods in Alaska, the problem of high heating expenses have been common when speaking about getting starts planted a couple weeks earlier in March and extending the growing season a couple weeks out farther into October. In speaking with a biofuels expert at one of the former experimental farms, it sounds as though the expensive space heating people use may not be required. The entire greenhouse, up to the ceiling does not have to be heated for optimal growing results. In fact, just the zone 4 feet about the soil bed is the crucial area- and even more important is the temperature in the soil bed itself. Thus it may be that putting money and effort into heating the soils is where the ‘bang for the buck’ on energy costs lies. This can be done with warming fluids and radiant piping! As long as the plant tops don’t freeze, it’s really the roots that you want to focus energy and warmth on!