Ice cold water proves to be efficient heat source for Alaska SeaLife Center
November 22, 2013
By Suzanna Caldwell | The Alaska Dispatch: SEWARD — It’s hard to miss the picturesque beauty of Resurrection Bay when you’re in this seaside town. Tucked between steep mountains, the bay serves as a gateway to Prince William Sound — known for its majestic beauty, bountiful fishing and recreation paradise for residents of Southcentral Alaska.
But Andy Baker sees a little more than that. To him, the bay is more than a playground — it’s an 11-mile long, 1,000-foot deep solar panel capable of providing affordable heat to the small coastal community.
Over the last three years, Baker, an Anchorage-based renewable-energy consultant for his own company, YourCleanEnergy, has worked with the Alaska SeaLife Center and a handful of small businesses and homeowners to install heat pumps that convert energy from cold water into building heat.
That’s important to the community of Seward, population 3,000. The town is one of many Alaska communities facing high energy costs. Despite being relatively close to the affordable heat source of natural gas (the resource is abundant in Cook Inlet, just 100 miles to the north), Seward heats buildings with expensive heating fuel. The fuel’s cost fluctuates with the price of gas and in recent years has skyrocketed, leaving the community at the head of Resurrection Bay as one of Alaska’s “energy refugees.”
In the winter, with fewer tourists roaming the streets, many downtown businesses stay shuttered, partly because of the high cost of heating the buildings.
The applications of the heat pump are admittedly specific. Communities that could utilize them need an abundant water source or an ice-free bay — as well as relatively cheap electricity in order for things to pencil out. But Seward, with the SeaLife Center’s easy access to the bay, has everything it needs to be a renewable energy success story.
“Not many places have that infrastructure, not many places have that kind of capacity,” Baker said. “… The SeaLife center is an asset.”