Nine Remote and Island Communities To Improve Energy Resilience Through Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project
NREL Will Lead Strategic Energy Analysis To Identify More Reliable, Affordable Energy Solutions
While the islands of Alaska may differ from the Hawaiian archipelago, they share common energy obstacles, such as limited energy infrastructure, high costs of imported energy, and vulnerability to natural disasters. These types of energy resilience challenges draw remote and island communities across the country to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project (ETIPP).
ETIPP provides each community with a tailored team of energy resilience experts—including those at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—to help them target local energy goals. This year, nine communities will join the program to work toward more sustainable energy systems.
ETIPP works with remote and island communities across the United States whose energy resilience challenges are unique to their geographies, which are increasingly at risk from climate change impacts. Their ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from energy disruptions is influenced by many interconnected factors:
- Limited energy infrastructure and access. Remote and island communities may rely on a single power source or multiple interconnected systems, making them vulnerable to disruptions. They also may have limited land area for large-scale renewable energy projects, which can hinder their ability to diversify their energy sources and increase local energy production.
- Dependence on imported energy and high energy costs. Many remote and island communities rely heavily on imported fossil fuels. The transportation and logistics involved in importing these fuels can be costly and subject to supply chain disruptions or environmental disasters. These costs impact residents, businesses, and the overall local economy.
- Vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change impacts. Islands are often located in regions prone to extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and floods. These events can damage energy infrastructure, disrupt power supply, and exacerbate the challenges of energy delivery and restoration.
- Environmental impacts. Islands often have unique ecosystems and fragile environments, making it essential to minimize the environmental impacts of energy production and consumption. The transition to renewable energy sources can help mitigate these impacts but can present technical and logistical challenges.
Community stakeholders drive the decision-making process throughout ETIPP's strategic energy analysis projects so that communities arrive at plans that address the nuances of their circumstances.
"Achieving a clean energy transition on a nationwide scale means we need to start at the local level with community-driven solutions," remarked NREL's Tessa Greco, the program lead for ETIPP. "We can't afford to leave anyone behind, which is why ETIPP is designed to support those that live in the most distant and remote corners of the United States, no matter their size or the challenges they face."
DOE selected nine communities to participate in ETIPP this year:
- Block Island, Rhode Island
Block Island is looking to identify renewable energy sources that can be used to generate electricity on the island and reduce reliance on imported electricity and fuels. The community will engage in energy planning to shore up its resilience, particularly in the face of sea-level rise. Specifically, the community will work to lower energy costs for marginalized populations.
- Deer Isle and Stonington, Maine
Stonington, a fishing town on the southern end of Deer Isle, Maine, frequently experiences power outages that last up to a week. The community will conduct an energy assessment to understand how renewable and resilient energy options like microgrids, energy storage systems, and other technologies can integrate with its current grid, especially as its population grows, energy demand increases, and weather increasingly affects energy delivery.
- Molokai, Hawaii
The island of Molokai has developed a Community Energy Resilience Action Plan, which outlined 10 key energy projects. Building on the priorities laid out in the plan, the community will model and assess the feasibility of solar energy, identify renewable energy sources to support critical infrastructure, and explore pumped hydropower as an option for energy storage.
- Nooksack Tribe, Washington
The Nooksack Tribe sits at the end of power distribution lines in Deming, Washington, where it experiences frequent winter power outages that require emergency shelters. The community will conduct strategic energy planning to explore renewable and resilient energy technologies, including battery storage, microgrids, electric vehicle charging stations, and wind generators. The tribe will use their plan to prioritize renewable energy projects and pursue grant funding, with an aim to combat prolonged power outages.
- Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and Tisbury, Massachusetts
Storms often threaten the electricity, water, and food supply across multiple townships on Martha's Vineyard. Members of the year-round island community want to better understand how to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels as a backup power source for water pumping and supply. They will also continue exploring opportunities for electric buses to provide mobile power sources for water pumps, a project already underway.
- Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, Washington
In Northwest Washington, the S'Klallam Tribe is often isolated from other communities by storms that take out power lines and wash out their single road for utility repair crews' access. The tribe will conduct energy planning, assessing their local energy resources, setting energy goals, identifying energy projects, and increasing the capacity of their staff to address the community's energy needs.
- Shelter Island, New York
Situated at the eastern end of Long Island, Shelter Island is considering a range of renewable technologies to bolster its resilience. The community will work with the ETIPP network to optimize solar arrays, understand whether a geothermal heating and cooling system would be appropriate for the town's government buildings, and explore options for generating energy from its tidal resource.
- Sitka, Alaska
Sitka, an island community in southeast Alaska accessible only by boat or plane, projects that its load will exceed available capacity for electricity generation within the next decade. Sitka will analyze and compare future forecasted energy demand, accounting for increased loads from heating electrification, electric transportation, and other decarbonization technologies. The outcomes of the analysis will help Sitka match previously identified renewable energy opportunities to meet forecasted energy demand.
- Vieques, Puerto Rico
The Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra will study the feasibility of achieving energy independence and resilience using rooftop and community solar power to provide the islands renewable energy. The islands will work with ETIPP partners to conduct modeling and analysis to understand the full potential of decentralized solar when combined with utility-scale solutions.
These communities will spend one to two months reviewing their project proposals with ETIPP teams—including experts from national laboratories and regional partner organizations—to ensure they are maximizing opportunities before embarking on a 12- to 18-month strategic energy analysis conducted by researchers at national laboratories.
ETIPP's regional partner organizations are an important conduit between the communities and the national laboratories, helping researchers understand social and political contexts of their regions.
"As a researcher supporting ETIPP, having the regional partners involved has elevated my ability to understand what the real priorities are for each community," said NREL's Sean Esterly, a regional lead for ETIPP. "The regional partners are great at translating our technical concepts for community members and making sure everything is clear in our meetings."
Twenty-three additional remote and island communities have pursued ETIPP projects since 2021. To learn more about program eligibility and the application process, visit NREL's ETIPP page or contact ETIPP@nrel.gov.