Alaska is the largest state in the US, consisting of 586,400 square miles. It’s larger than the combined area of the next three largest states: Texas, California, and Montana, and has more combined area than the 22 smallest states.
In Alaska, the energy demand per person is third highest in the nation; however, the state’s electric energy infrastructure is very different than that of the rest of the country. Typically referred to as the “Lower 48” by Alaskans, most US consumers are connected to an extensive electrical energy grid through transmission and distribution lines shared across state lines. Outside of a few larger cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks, many communities in Alaska primarily rely on diesel electric generators for power.
Most people don’t realize just how big the state of Alaska actually is, and honestly, neither did I before I started this project. On most maps, Alaska is neatly tucked off in the corner alongside Hawaii. But it is actually the largest state in the US, consisting of 586,400 square miles. It’s larger than the combined area of the next three largest states: Texas, California, and Montana, and has more combined area than the 22 smallest states.
Another challenge is that road transportation only covers a very small portion of the state, and many cities and villages can only be reached by boat, plane, or snow machine. In fact, the city of Juneau is the only State capital that is not accessible by road.
So, we soon realized we had a significant challenge in store for us on this project. How do you accomplish energy efficiency in a state that is this large and remote, and has some of the highest energy usage in the country?
The Army’s vision for facilities operations is to effectively manage natural resources to achieve Net Zero Energy Installations (NZEI). A NZEI is an installation that produces as much energy on site as it consumes over the course of a year. To achieve this status, installations must implement aggressive conservation and efficiency efforts while benchmarking energy consumption to identify further opportunities.
In addition to visual observations, testing, and interviews with operations staff, thermal imaging is used to help quickly detect heat losses through the buildings.
Our team is providing in-depth energy audit and engineering assessment services for approximately 60 facilities, ranging from the southeastern most city of Ketchikan to Barrow, which is the northernmost city in the US—320 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
I’ve been working with several skilled architectural engineering colleagues for nearly a year on this project. During that time we have travelled very long hours by boat, plane, and car to several remote Armory project sites. Once there, we evaluate building energy systems and operations and target potential energy conservation measures that the Army can use to identify future capital expenditure projects for building renovations. In addition to visual observations, testing, and interviews with operations staff, thermal imaging is used to help our team quickly detect heat losses through the buildings.
Because of the large number of facilities across such a vast project area, we needed a way to organize, record, synchronize, and share information. We captured building assessment information from multiple team members at multiple facilities on tablets using a specialized blueprint reader with a cloud-based storage platform. This allowed us to make real-time updates to a centralized location using Wi-Fi and cellular networks. This data is then used to develop energy models to simulate building energy usage and calculate savings from various upgrades.
It’s not hard to get lost in Barrow, AK; It is located 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle and is the northernmost city of the United States of America.
As I’m writing this, we’ve made it to half of the project locations across Alaska, and will complete the remaining site visits to the southeast portion of the state during the summer of 2015. The results of these findings and recommendations will serve as the investment tool for energy deficiencies/needs, conservation, and cost saving opportunities across the state.
In spending time in Alaska, it’s difficult not to be amazed at its vast size, unspoiled beauty, and resilience of its residents. During our travels, our team members have witnessed incredible sights (including the local wildlife of moose, bears, and foxes) and experienced 24 hours of daylight and subzero temperatures. We have also seen the impacts of climate change up close with record low snowfalls, melting glaciers, and the warmest year on record.
Energy is a precious resource anywhere you live, but the importance using resources wisely in this place is quickly apparent. I’m proud to be part of the team supporting our client’s mission to do just that.
In spending time in Alaska, it’s difficult not to be amazed at its vast size, unspoiled beauty, and resilience of its residents. Atkins Engineer Fred Muscatello, PE, surveys sea ice at the shore of the Arctic Ocean in Barrow, AK
Atkins energy audit team standing in front of the Alaska Army National Guard Armory at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, AK. From Left to Right: Ezra Gutschow (Coffman Engineers), Justin Thielman, Vince Briones, Fred Muscatello, Lee Bolling (Coffman Engineers).
Our team members have witnessed some incredible sights through their work in Alaska. Project Manager Vince Briones, PE, standing under the the remnants of the jaw of a Bowhead whale, which can grow to over 60 feet in length.
Vince Briones, PE surveys frozen waters of the Bering Sea adjacent to the Armory facility in Nome, Alaska
Atkins project engineers Fred Muscatello and Justin Thielman evaluating facility lighting at the Bryant Army Heliport in Anchorage