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Can Sarah Palin see PV panels from her porch?

February 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

The Department of Energy just released a study that sparked this question:

Entitled Solar Prospecting in Rural Alaska, the study examines the return on investment for installing solar panels in communities far from the grid.  In remote areas, the cost of transporting goods and materials can be multiples of their price.  While flying in basic goods like milk (and coca cola) via the US Postal Service is subsidized by the rest of the nation, the reality is that it costs a lot more to get a gallon of diesel fuel to an Alaskan village far from the nearest road than it does at your neighborhood gas station.

While petroleum products have dwindled to less than one percent of America’s electricity supply, diesel generators are a prime electricity source for smaller communities not connected to the grid.  Very roughly, as a rule of thumb, consider roughly 1/20th to 1/20th of a gallon per generated kilowatt-hour.  E.g., just for the fuel, when diesel is $2 per gallon, electricity will cost $0.10-$0.20 per kilowatt hour to produce when the average American is paying $0.12 per kilowatt delivered to their home. Add in the cost of buying & maintaining the generator and you’ve likely doubled that production cost.  However, the fuel isn’t $2 per gallon in rural Alaska — with some villages having prices closer to $7/gallon. And, this ends up in the electricity bills.

Electricity generated by diesel fuel in some rural Alaskan villages can cost $1.00 per kilowatt-hour or more, which is more than eight times the national average.

Solar has been encroaching into Arctic energy systems.

Cleaning solar panel on Kodiak Island (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

Cleaning solar panel on Kodiak Island (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

For example, researchers have pursued wind/solar combo systems to support remote research sites and there are a number of solar installations around Alaska (including this home heated with solar thermal panels).

For rural Alaska villages, the DOE study concludes:

this analysis suggests that solar PV—along with fuel and other electricity savings measures—can be economically competitive in many remote Alaskan villages and could have a number of benefits including reducing a village’s dependency on diesel fuel, improving electricity price predictability, providing local environmental benefits, and more.

With that in mind, should we wonder whether, rather than Russia, Sarah Palin can see solar panels from her porch?

NOTE:  While Tina Fey’s caricature is so much more amusing, we shouldn’t knowingly push truthiness. For accuracy, a reminder: Palin did not say that she could see Russia from her porch. What she said on 11 Sept 2008:

They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.

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Tags: sarah palin · solar