SOFC are being adopted in one of the country’s harshest environments because they deliver on reliable uptimes and incredible fuel efficiency
With temperatures as low as –40°F during winter, frequent hurricane-force winds so strong they can break wind turbines, and weeks to months of the year with virtually no sunlight, Alaska has some of the harshest weather in the United States.
And it also has some of the remotest areas. Several villages are accessible only by plane or dogsled; in fact, more than 75% of communities lack access to roads and rely on aviation for food, mail, jobs and more.
Solar & Wind Unable to Provide 100% Uptimes in Alaska
This harsh environment can be difficult for common offgrid power sources, such as solar panels or wind turbines, to accommodate.
Because of the extended periods of darkness in Alaska, solar panels must have auxiliary power to keep the equipment running at night. Batteries are common, but some can fail in extreme cold, such as Flooded and Valve-Regulated (VRLA) batteries, because they freeze.
And if there’s no excess energy produced by the solar array during daytime, the batteries can’t power the load at night. Solar panels can also get covered with hoarfrost or rime ice that completely blocks sunlight from hitting the panels — even during the day.
Turbines are often paired with solar panels since they require little maintenance and no fuel, but they can ice over and freeze or even break in Alaska’s gale-force winds, causing them to fail in such a harsh climate.
SOFC Offer Greater Reliability And Lower Fuel Burn
Solid Oxide Fuel Cells are becoming more popular in Alaska, especially as part of hybrid energy systems, because they provide backup or offgrid power that is highly dependable and efficient. In fact we have seen remarkable success with our customers who have implemented our SOFC solutions.
Strong Market Acceptance in Alaska With Federal Agencies & Commercial Customers
These SOFC have been tried and field-proven over years of use in Alaska’s harsh and remote terrain, providing major uptime boosts to federal agencies and commercial customers.
To date, Alaska Railroad has deployed 40 systems as offgrid power for signals, switches and crossings since 2015 across its 650 miles of track; AT&T uses SOFC as backup power on towers; the Federal Aviation Administration supplements solar with SOFC in their weather camera program; and the USDA Forest Service relies on 24 SOFC as offgrid power for remote radio networks, with plans to add 50 more sites in 2022.
Benefits of Adaptive Energy’s SOFC in Extreme Harsh Weather
- No unscheduled or emergency site visits because SOFC need no routine maintenance
- Highly fuel-efficient at 80 run hours on just 20 pounds of propane, with many sites only needing to refuel every two years
- Reliable even in frigid temperatures thanks to propane’s low freezing point and a system that’s uniquely engineered to excel in temps as low as -40°C
- Designed to integrate with renewables such as solar, wind or rechargeable batteries – read more about that here
- At just 19 pounds, SOFC are lightweight enough to be hand-carried into the field
- Have a small footprint in an aircraft when being flown to a remote site
Case Studies of SOFC Performance in Alaska
USDA Forest Service’s Hybrid Offgrid Power System
SOFC provided highly reliable power at about $30 per year in fuel, compared to $7000 fuel costs for a generator
Rangers with the USDA Forest Service rely on remote radio networks to maintain vital communication — especially during emergencies. Stacy Griffith, the Alaska Region Radio Manager, shared in an interview that they faced a major hurdle in finding an offgrid power solution that would keep the 100W radio stations powered, regardless of weather conditions.
What was causing the problem? At offgrid and high-altitude sites, equipment and fuel had to be airlifted. The agency was spending thousands of dollars per year just on maintaining the radio networks. And the solar arrays frequently lost power due to harsh weather and low sunlight — compromising critical communications.
After several other solutions were tried and failed, Forest Service turned to Adaptive Energy to help. Unlike other technologies, our SOFC excel in extreme cold because they are engineered to store, start and operate in temperatures from -40°C to 50°C. They produce no liquid water and are made of heat-resistant ceramic tubes that will not freeze. So, the radio stations will stay up even in the harshest weather.
“Before the fuel cells, the region’s radio towers used legacy generators that ran 24/7 off natural gas, costing about $90,000 a year for refueling. Another cost observation showed the SOFC needing only $30 of fuel compared to the generator that averaged more than $7,000 per season.”– The USDA
Auxiliary Power to A Solar Array for the Federal Aviation Administration
Weather camera stations along critical aviation paths experienced previously unachievable uptimes thanks to SOFC.
The FAA maintains three solar-powered weather cameras along Lake Clark Pass that are critical for the safe air transport of people and cargo. However, the area’s harsh winter weather, hurricane-force winds and low sunlight caused frequent power outages.
The FAA needed reliable backup that would keep the cameras up even in the harshest weather, but all the standard options failed. Wind power, a typical backup for solar arrays, wasn’t viable due to freezing temperatures and hurricane-force winds that were breaking the turbines. And generators like TEGs were too inefficient – demanding six 100-pound bottles of propane per year in order to run.
The team installed a Performer Series 250W SOFC system as a trial. Through this, they saw a massive difference. Of the three weather camera sites, the only one to experience zero outages for the entire winter was the one running the SOFC. This is on top of the dramatic savings in the total cost of energy, which has led the FAA to work towards using SOFC on more of their remote sites.