A surge in both residential, utility scale development continues.

A growing number of Alaskans are turning to solar energy.

“In the last seven years there’s been a huge uptick in grid-tied solar in homes and businesses,” says Chris Pike, research engineer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Center for Energy and Power (ACEP), which studies solar energy at high latitudes.

Pike says that solar panels were once limited to cabins or other remote sites in Alaska but have now become mainstream. He gives Alaska’s high energy costs as one reason. “People are always looking to save money,” he says, explaining that solar is increasingly competitive with other energy sources.

Pike adds that while a state like Arizona can produce more solar energy, the savings on Alaska’s high energy costs can add up quicker. A well-placed solar array can pay off installation costs in a decade and the 20-year return on investment can reach seven percent. 

As for Alaska’s unique weather and geography, Pike says they offer some advantages. An obvious one is the long hours of summer daylight. And in spring, solar production can be boosted by sunlight reflecting on snow. Solar panels also perform efficiently in cold temperatures. 

Of course, a downside is the winter darkness. “You never get a sunburn during the winter in Alaska,” says Pike. “So don’t expect solar production, either.”

Pike says 400-450 solar systems are added each year along the 700-mile Railbelt utility corridor between Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula.

“There’s a lot of interest from private developers in larger projects, too,” says Pike. For example, a solar farm being built in Houston, Alaska, is expected to power 1,400 homes. Matanuska Electric Association will purchase the farm’s energy.

Pike expects Alaskan solar to keep growing, in part due to the state’s net-metering regulations, which allow residents to sell excess energy back to utilities. But Pike says both inflation and the tax credits available under the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act will also influence trends.


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