Installing Renewable Energy in Remote Alaskan Village
Several current and former students, and Sustainable Living faculty member Lonnie
Gamble spent a month in a small village on Admiralty Island in Alaska installing sustainable energy technology as part of a project to help indigenous Alaskans deal with the crushing energy costs.
The average cost of power in the village of Angoon is $0.60 per kilowatt hour — up to 10 times higher than the typical cost in the lower 48 states.
The success of the $125,000 renewable energy project has led to the village and tribe (with MUM as a partner) to apply for several millions of dollars for the next phase, which entails having renewables and efficiency replace fossil fuels in powering the villages of the Tlingit and Haida nations in southeast Alaska.
Sustainable Living alumni Troy Van Beek and Robbie Gongwer and Mr. Gamble, with the assistance of students Ashley Smith and Micah Salaberrios, ins
talled solar energy panels, solar hot water, a wind turbine, monitoring equipment, and energy-efficient fixtures such as LED bulbs on two demonstration projects: a home and a school. They also worked on weatherization in order to minimize energy loss.
In addition, Mr. Salaberrios and Mr. Gongwer are collaborating on a documentary. Ms. Smith did a summer internship in the village working to create a culture of sustainability that extends the traditional culture of sustainability.
“Our team worked very hard on this project — months of preparation and logistics work to get everything staged, and then a month on site working long hours seven days a week,” Mr. Gamble said.
The remoteness of the Tlingit island village of about 450 residents was a challenge, since there are no roads and access is via a six-hour ferry ride or 45-minute flight. “We had to make sure we had everything we needed, because if you don’t have something, you can’t just go out and buy it,” Mr. Gongwer said.
MUM’s involvement resulted from Mr. Gamble and students having visited southeast Alaska four times. Subsequently, Andrei Chakine, the manager of business and economic development for the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska, visited MUM. Mr. Chakine was impressed with the sustainability initiatives on campus and invited the University to do the same thing there.
“It’s a great opportunity to export our knowledge that we learned in the Sustainable Living program to a location where the energy costs are staggering,” Mr. Gongwer said.
In 2008 Sustainable Living students Troy Van Beek and Robbie Gongwer completed a six-month project to renovate the Sustainable Living wing of the Library in order to provide more workshop space, to create an attractive environment, and to retrofit it with green technologies such as motion sensors, skylights, sun tubes, and high-performance fixtures.
A second phase added more high-performance fixtures as well as solar panels and solar hot water.
Students in this hands-on program learn to build projects, and in recent years have fabricated a wind generator and have constructed a biodiesel processor.
The new workshop built by Mr. Van Beek and Mr. Gongwer included a bay door for easy access to vehicles si that the students can service campus and other vehicles with the biodiesel fuel they make. The fuel can be used in any vehicle with a diesel motor and is made from organic material such as the sesame oil discarded by The Raj Health Spa in Maharishi Vedic City.
The two students put in skylights to make more use of daylighting in order to save energy. And they used sun tubes to redirect sunlight to Sustainable Living offices that don’t have skylights.
Other retrofitting included insulation and the use of high-performance fixtures that consume less energy. Motion detectors are used to turn on lights only when a room or hallway is occupied.
Mr. Van Beek said this application of green technologies is not only better for the environment and saves the University money, but also vividly demonstrates the application of sustainable technologies.
Students in the Sustainable Living Program completed construction of a biodiesel processor in a recent course taught by Lonnie Gamble and are now hoping to use the fuel it makes to power University vehicles and to eventually set up a co-op to make fuel available to the community.
The processor is capable of producing up to 500 gallons of fuel a day. It uses discarded vegetable oil from restaurants as well as sesame oil and turns it into fuel via a chemical process.
“Our goal is to be more sustainable,” said Troy Van Beek, who helped build the processor. “Biodiesel fuel is cleaner and cheaper, and we’re not pumping natural resources out of the ground to make it.”
The fuel can be used by any vehicle with a diesel motor. Mr. Van Beek and classmate Robbie Gongwer are hoping to organize the charitable donation of vans that will use the biodiesel fuel. These vans will be used for activities such as field trips and to pick up new students at the airport and will be emblazoned with the words, “Maharishi University of Management Sustainable Living — Powered by Biodiesel.”
The students made the biodiesel processor from an old water heater and tubing. It is capable of producing 40 to 50 gallons per hour. The fuel processed so far has been tested and found to be of high quality, Mr. Van Beek said.
The goal is to integrate the use of biodiesel fuel into the University’s activities initially in order to test the product and work out the details. Once that program is in place, the students envision starting a co-op that would make fuel available to the community.
Mr. Van Beek and Mr. Gongwer said that the next step is to organize a core group of Sustainable Living students and other students who will focus on implementing the project. The tasks include monitoring the processor during production, storing the fuel, and making it available, as well as approaching sponsors and charitable organizations such as Charity Cars to secure the donation of vehicles.
They said that this core group will also focus on implementing wind and solar projects begun by the students.
A wind generator built by students is now helping to power the Sustainable Living department.
The silent generator, capable of producing up to 2,000 watts of power, is located on a 30-foot tower. Within the next year the generator and solar panels will provide all of the power for the Sustainable Living department.
Here is how the system generates electricity: the wind turns blades connected to powerful neodymium magnets, causing the magnets to go across coils and produce a charge. The resulting alternating current goes to a control room where rectifiers convert it to direct current for battery storage. An inverter then converts the current back to alternating current for use in the classroom.
Eventually the four-battery storage system will grow to a bank of 16, according to Julian Potter, a graduate now working for the University to implement sustainable technologies.
Students Robbie Gongwer and Troy Van Beek are also installing a new daylighting system with nine skylights, and other energy saving systems.