The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has awarded its 2004 Technology Achievement Award to Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA) at the annual meeting of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) in New Orleans. The award honors electric cooperatives that have demonstrated leadership in the development, technology transfer, application, and use of EPRI products and services. Kurt Yeager, EPRI's president and CEO, presented the award to Steven Haagenson, president and CEO of Golden Valley at the Cooperative Research Network Breakfast.

In presenting the award, Yeager praised GVEA's leadership in installing and operating its US$35 million Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), which is now capable of providing 27 MW of power for up to 15 minutes allowing the utility enough time to bring back-up generation on-line. Alternatively, the BESS could supply up to 46 MW of power for five minutes.

GVEA is a rural electric cooperative serving 90,000 Alaskans spread over 2200 square miles. Back-up power is essential to the local population due to the extremely low temperatures, which in winter can fall to -60°F. In these circumstances, every second without power is critical. Already the BESS has thwarted several outages: two in November 2003 and one in December 2003. GVEA's customers were blissfully unaware of the outages as the BESS kicked in to provide temporary power.

GVEA's Haagenson said "While some projects never seem to get out of the planning stages, today Golden Valley Electric has a BESS that will provide benefits to our members for years to come. The BESS will increase our reliability and reduce power supply outages by 60%. The BESS also reduces our vulnerability to events like the recent blackout in the northeastern U.S. and Canada."

A second award was presented to Tim DeVries, Manager of Engineering Services at GVEA, and, according to EPRI technical staff, the project manager who "really made it happen."

DeVries said "This was truly a global project with companies from nine countries participating in the concept, design and construction. This is a first-class project that will provide exceptional value to our members for years to come. It has been an honor to be in charge of this project."

The GVEA system was germinated in EPRI studies around 1995 that identified the viability of battery storage for system stability and reserve capacity for the Alaskan Railbelt. (The Alaskan Railbelt is one of the most isolated utility networks in the United States and covers areas along the Alaska railroad.) The official dedication for the Golden Valley BESS took place in August 2003, and the system became fully operational in January 2004.

At the heart of the world's most powerful battery system are two core components: the nickel-cadmium batteries developed by Saft, and the converter, designed and supplied by ABB, which changes the batteries' direct current into alternating current ready for use in the GVEA transmission system.

Traditional solutions for producing reserve power require building and maintaining transmission and generation capacity well in excess of normal demand, so the BESS represents an extremely cost-effective alternative for GVEA.

During commissioning tests, the system set an unofficial world record by achieving a peak discharge of 26.7 MW with just two of its four strings of battery cells in operation. This makes the Alaskan BESS over 27% more powerful than the previous record holder—a 21-MW BESS commissioned by the Puerto Rico Power Authority at Sabana Llana, Puerto Rico, in 1994.

Golden Valley Electric Association took shape in 1946 when a small group of people became interested in brining electric service to rural areas and furthering the agricultural industry in Interior Alaska. Interior Alaska conditions present unique challenges as temperatures can range from 90°F to -60°F degrees, but GVEA boasts an average of 99.99% system reliability. Today, GVEA serves nearly 90,000 Interior Alaska residents at nearly 39,600 service locations.