Like many remote communities, the tiny Alaskan village of Igiugig depends on diesel fuel to power its homes and businesses. To help mitigate this dependence, in July 2019, Igiugig—located on the banks of the Kvichak River—worked with marine energy developer Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) to deploy the RivGen Power System, a submerged 35-kW power system that utilizes the current of the river as a renewable energy source. After a full year of operation, more than 8 MWh of power were transmitted into the small Igiugig grid, at many points providing more than half of the village’s peak electricity needs. Additionally, after rigorous monitoring of the RivGen device, the team observed no negative interactions with migrating local salmon populations, an indispensable economic and cultural resource for the community.

Supported by WPTO, the Igiugig Hydrokinetic Project is a collaboration between the Igiugig Village Council and Maine-based ORPC, which has been exploring several different opportunities in the State of Alaska in recent years. Contributing to the overall success of the effort are the experience and training local Igiugig community members are gaining in the implementation of the project. The Igiugig community has the capabilities to deploy and retrieve the device with little help from outside contractors—a valuable component of a successful and sustainable renewable energy system operating in a remote community. The local workforce is also able to deploy and retrieve the device for inspections and maintenance, which contributes to the system’s cost effectiveness and long-term community resilience.

Scalable grid integrated systems

The ORPC RivGen Power System prior to installation on the Kvichak River in Igiugig, Alaska.

Courtesy of ORPC

In 2019, after the Village of Igiugig became the first U.S. tribal entity to receive a FERC permit for a water-powered project not involving a dam, the project’s trial year commenced to study potential impacts on young salmon migrating to the ocean and whether the device would be affected by Igiugig’s icy winter conditions. Following its 1-year deployment anniversary, the project team reported that there was no sign of negative effects on the salmon, indicating no impedance to passage or direct interactions with the device. Additionally, the project team reported no impedance to vessels that passed the device, and that it was able to survive a midwinter frazil ice occurrence and quickly return to operational status—increasing confidence in the submerged system’s durability.

ORPC’s deployment and testing is particularly important for industry because more data are needed on overall marine energy systems, the interaction of underwater turbines with fish, and what kinds of applications may exist for providing stable power for local microgrids. WPTO provides funding for early-market systems in rivers that do not require the installation of structures that impede the flow of the river or impact the environment.

In addition, the project can demonstrate to other communities that are potentially interested in similar systems that marine energy technologies can be environmentally friendly and operate continuously throughout the year. With support from DOE’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, plans are under way in Igiugig to install a second 35-kW RivGen device in conjunction with smart microgrid electronics and energy storage. When completed, the system will reduce Igiugig Village diesel use by an estimated 90%.

This project is one of the first long-term operational deployments of a river current device in the United States and has resulted in numerous collaborations with national laboratories (NREL, PNNL) and universities (University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Washington, University of Maine). It is just the latest in a series of successes resulting from the partnership between WPTO, Igiugig, and ORPC.

For additional information, contact AlexAnna Salmon.

Technology-Specific System Design & Validation Success Stories