Eleven native villages in and near Kotzebue—26-miles north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska—will grow fresh vegetables in a 26-foot hydroponic trailer all year, thanks to the sun and an innovative solar-powered heating system. The Next Generation Energy off-grid Sun Bandit will power the trailer and the food it produces, allowing the villages to produce their own food in an environemetally freindly manner.
Residents of Alaska have to import approximately 95 percent of their food annually due to the state’s short growing season, lack of consistent sunlight, and harsh climate conditions. The average temperatures in remote parts of the state do not facilitate outdoor cultivation. Temperatures in Kotzebue, the hub of the Inupiat tribe, range from negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter to 54 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
“For the first time, we can keep the trailer at 74 degrees in sub-zero temperatures, which allows growing to begin as early as March. We are collecting solar energy, converting it to heat, and running it through a glycol-based radiant floor and wall panel that provides all of the heat we need to grow a bounty of fresh produce in often-dark, bitter-cold conditions for about nine months of the year,” said Mark Houston co-creator and designer of the trailer in a release issued by the companies.
The unique trailer uses water heated by a 4.5 kilowatt photovoltaic solar array to produce radiant heat stored in the SunBandit solar hybrid system. While solar trailers have been developed for disaster recovery or powering concerts, this system is designed to run a small agricultural system. The system features a solar-powered energy storage system, has the ability to be configured with a small wind turbine or plugged into grid-fed electricity when sunlight in the Arctic Circle is limited.
“The Kotzebue project demonstrates that the Sun Bandit is a much better product to use in colder regions: it’s simple, low-maintenance and it can be installed in one-third the time. It’s really the only one that works in the coldest, darkest of climates. And in its solar heating applications, Sun Bandit is four times more efficient than regular electric heat,” Houston said.
Hydroponic trailers in the region are generally fueled with oil, which costs between $6 to $11 a gallon. Oil, like other essential supplies, is expensive and time consuming to ship to remote villages like Kotzebue. Burning oil to keep a consistent temperature in the trailer is problematic, inefficient and creates inconsistent growing conditions. “They didn’t need anything fancy. They just wanted a place they could reliably grow things. And they wanted to heat it without using oil. Burning oil and the cash that goes with it wasn’t working for them,” added Houston.Tweet