Co-gen system at Wasilla office building first of its kind in hemisphere

WASILLA — Everything in Alaska is expensive.

From food to clothing, medical care and energy, costs are considerably higher than in the lower 48, and the more rural you get, the more exponentially those prices hike. But as for energy, a local group of business leaders and engineers may have tapped in to a solution.

On July 19, the TransAlaska building on Parks Highway flipped the switch on a brand new Yanmar 35 kW mCHP Energy System that should drastically reduce the energy costs incurred by the 17,000-square foot office building.

According to Tom Harris, CEO of Yak-Tat Kwaan, Inc., which laid the groundwork for the TransAlaska launch with the installation of 10 kW and 5 kW Yanmar setups at two public buildings in remote Yakutat, Alaska, the Wasilla system is the first 35 kW to be installed in the western hemisphere.

“This serves and provides a consistent level of power and heat to the building and is doing it in a cost-effective way,” Harris said. “The power costs are substantially lower than what you get from the grid.”

Harris said the device, which is powered by natural gas, has reduced the TransAlaska building’s energy rates from 19 cents per kW hour to less than 10 cents per kW hour.

According to the Yanmar brouchure, the CP35D1 and its high-efficiency generator “provides 35 kW of electrical power. The engine heat is captured and heats water at a rated temperature of 176 degrees for immediate use or storage in your facility. Excess electricity production may be sold back onto the grid in certain states, creating a credit on your electric bill.”

Harris likens the machine’s ability to re-use the heat it emits to the way a car generates cabin heat.

“In the winter time the radiator is on and there’s forward motion and DC power and heat,” he explained. “Here, we’re not using the forward motion, so all the DC power is inverted into AC so heat is generated from this and pushed through.”

Harris said the United States is woefully behind Asia on these technologies, and said the reason the Wasilla location is the first of its kind in the nation, is due largely to red tape.

“The first time the EPA approved 35 kW they approved us. It meets the UL standards, all the federal standards. We were at the right place at the right time,” Harris said. “The challenge is this technology is so new and the U.S. government is trying to catch up — and the industry.”

Harris said the device works off the grid, but comes with a swtich on the side of the building that switches it back to MEA power. More importantly, in the event of a blackout, the Yanmar system can maintain power, something that could make it very attractive to hospitals and the like.

“It’s ideal for clinics or anywhere you need emergency power. At fire departments, hosptials, where we have to have not one, but sometimes two backups, you call on them and they’re more expensive to operate than the grid,” Harris said. “Here there’s a backup that’s less expensive.”

Harris said it is vital for users of the technology to work with local utility companies.

“We have to keep in mind that in most parts of rural Alaska there are extremely high costs of living, especially for fuel and power. The challenge these systems have is to work with the grid to be a completing interest with the utility; not a competing interest,” Harris said. “As we go forward — and we thank MEA for working with us — it has to be done in a fair and equitable manner that supports the local utility.”

Roger Purcell, whose A to Z Real Estate company has an office in the TransAlaska building, handles the property management for the building. He said, less than two weeks in, the building is already seeing substantially lower electric rates, and projects a savings of $2,000 in utility bills during the summer months and about $3,000 in the winter.

“We have to start thinking outside the box,” Purcell said. “This is a new technology; it’s clean, it works, it’s been demonstrated, but nobody wanted to be the first.”

Harris said that even the 10 kW and 5 kW models, which operate on propane rather than natural gas, are for use only for large buildings, not individual homes. The total cost for the TransAlaska upstart was around $150,000 — a price Harris believes will go down at future locations as the technology becomes used more widely.

Purcell said that he is getting calls from commercial clients wondering about the Yanmar device, and he thinks, it could help curtail the impact of some of Alaska’s impending budget crises. “In a time of slight recession coming up with the state, we’ve got to look at ways to save,” Purcell said. “The (Mat-Su) school district is in a $2.5 million deficit and if this could reduce their electric bill by even half, it would be a million, million-and-a-half in savings in the first year for the school district.”

 

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