Distributed wind energy brings value to remote and rural communities

Read the full story from the U.S. Department of Energy.

No roads lead to St. Mary’s, Alaska. 

To get there, most people boat down the nearby Yukon River, which is almost as wide as the village itself. That same route is used to bring in supplies, like the diesel fuel needed to power and support the lives of St. Mary’s 817 residents, 90% of whom are native Alaskans

. But freezing winters and whipping winds can prevent shipments any time other than the calmer summer months.

Luckily, Alaska’s powerful winds can also make clean, local, and affordable energy. Distributed wind energy—produced by wind turbines that serve local customers, like small towns, farms, businesses, or even individual homes—could provide long-term economic, societal, and environmental benefits to remote and rural areas, like St. Mary’s. 

St. Mary’s installed a single 900-kilowatt wind turbine in 2019. That turbine produces about 50% of their power, offsetting about $355,000 in fuel costs annually.

While distributed wind energy projects are already saving St. Mary’s and other communities money and bringing other benefits, their adoption has been limited, with only 1,075 megawatts of cumulative distributed wind capacity deployed nationwide between 2003 and 2021. A lack of awareness of distributed wind energy’s economic value, clean energy value, and energy resilience could have contributed to its slow adoption.

Now, thanks to the 4-year Microgrids, Infrastructure Resilience, and Advanced Controls Launchpad (or MIRACL) project, those data exist and confirm distributed wind energy could be a cost-effective source of clean power to many communities, especially those in remote and rural areas, as well as a key component in reliable and resilient energy systems.  

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