The Remote Community Renewable Energy Partnership: Working to Bring Renewable Energy to Small Villages in Alaska, and Around the World

David J. Hayes

David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior

The Department of the Interior is proud of the work that has been done to exceed President Obama's goal of approving more than 10,000 megawatts of utility-scale renewable energy projects on our public lands over the past four years. The President has asked us to double down, and issue permits for a total of 20,000 megawatts in renewable energy projects by 2020. It will be a challenge, but we will do it – knowing that supporting clean energy development drives our economy, cuts our carbon pollution, and reduces our reliance on foreign oil.

But it's not just the big projects that are important. Working with key partners, the Department has also been developing an initiative aimed at deploying smaller-scale solar/diesel or wind/diesel hybrid projects in isolated, off-the-grid villages in places like remote Alaska and U.S. island territories. Through this initiative, which we call the “Remote Community Renewable Energy Partnership,” the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), working with the Department of the Interior and other partners, is designing a modular, expandable, and replicable smaller-scale renewable energy hybrid power system that will take many small Alaska Native villages off their sole dependence on expensive diesel power.

Over the next year or so, NREL hopes to complete the design phase for this project and then, with the help of interested businesses, philanthropists, and governments, we want to partner with willing villages and pilot test the new modular systems.

This is a big idea:

  • The current approach to renewable energy deployment for small communities is to engineer and construct individual, customized solutions. A tailored solution may minimize certain capital costs or maximize output, but the engineering and construction costs and associated deployment delays make many projects too expensive – particularly for smaller, isolated villages.
  • In contrast, permitting, engineering, procurement, construction, operation, maintenance, and more can be streamlined with a simpler, modularized approach, allowing for faster deployment to remote communities in need. As multiple units are deployed, we can implement local and remote performance monitoring and develop a regional corps of technicians who can perform maintenance or technical fixes. The modular approach can also result in lower capital costs, a scalable platform, and a better-known risk profile for financing purposes.
  • In short, this approach has the potential to greatly expand the availability of low-carbon, renewable energy solutions for millions of people who are not now able to take advantage of abundant, clean, and local renewable energy resources.

So, stay tuned. If the Interior Department, working with NREL and its other partners, can successfully complete the design and deployment of lower-cost, effective, smaller-scale renewable energy hybrid energy systems for villages, the lives of millions of people in some of the poorest and most isolated regions of our country and around the world can be changed for the better.