Not too far from the Artic Circle in Anchorage, Alaska, with the weather now averaging -16 Celcius, is the Willow solar farm. Huge ice-covered panels, surrounded by snow, lined up and eagerly waiting for the sun to rise at 9 am. It doesn’t seem like the most practical location for this type of energy. 85% of the land in Alaska has permafrost and the 10 acre farm gets only 6 hours of sunlight a say during the winter, yet it has proven to be worthwhile. Its output is 1.35 megawatt hours per year, enough to power 120 households per year. Climate change affects the artic region more than any other part of the world, so there is a definite sense of urgency toward the expansion of renewable energy options and the need to reduce fossil fuel use. The chief executive of the company that built the farm, Jenn Miller, said: “solar viability is a function of two things: solar resource and electricity prices.”
Alaska’s electricity prices are double the US average, creating a lot of interest in alternative technologies. Once installed, the operating costs for solar farms are very low, something attractive to investors and builders. While initially expensive to generate, costs for solar energy have dropped and continue to do so. A constant issue, however, that northerly solar farms have to deal with, is snow. Willow averages 2.2 meters of snow per year which can cover the panels completely in the winter. This motivated the owners to improve the design of the panels and find the optimal panel angle to make the snow simply slide off. Solar energy is being welcomed as a partial solution to reduce carbon emissions in the north and is luckily expected to expand.