It’s a weekday afternoon in December and the Kotzebue Electric Association website says the ambient temperature is -22 Fahrenheit. This extremely low temperature might suggest to some that solar power is hardly feasible in this village located 33 miles above the Arctic Circle. The Kotzebue Electric Association is responsible for the energy supply in the town of about 3,200 residents. Most of them are Native American, and the Inupiat people may have lived in the area since the 15th century. (Another term for this culture is Qikiktagrukmiut.)
The association determined they would try six different solar thermal systems in elder homes. Three of them are for domestic hot water heating and the others are for a combination of domestic hot water heating and hyronic base board heating. Elder homes may have been the first selected in order to provide renewable, affordable energy to them for free or at low cost. On the Native Village of Kotzebue website, respect for elders is listed as one of their core values. If you want to see some images of their solar thermal systems, see the Photo Gallery.
Though temperatures in Alaska are famous for being very low in winter, their summer season sees some extremely long days. For example, June 20 is the longest day with 24 hours of sunlight. (The shortest day, December 21 has less than two hours). So the next time someone tells you solar power can only work in places with the greatest amounts of sunlight, tell them about Kotzebue, a small village in northern Alaska.
Image Credit: KEA