Copper Country native, now in Sweden, helping to address U.P. energy needs
By GARRETT NEESE
COPPER HARBOR — A Copper Country native now working in Sweden is working with Michigan Technological University on research that could eventually lead to lower energy prices here.
Through a visiting research position at Tech, Nelson Sommerfeldt is studying ways to get lower-cost renewable energy solutions to people in the Keweenaw.
That can be at the building level, with solar panels and photovoltaics, said Sommerfeldt, a post-doctoral researcher at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. They’re also interested in looking at larger system solutions at the community level.
A test project at a new campground in Copper Harbor had promising results, Sommerfelt said. After looking at the campground’s energy supply options, the researchers’ conclusion was that the lowest-cost energy for the site would come through electric heat pumps and solar photovoltaic cells.
“Not only was that the cheapest option, but it was 60% renewable energy as well,” he said. “They were excited about that, because it fits well with their outdoorsy ethos.”
Sommerfeldt is working with Tech professor Joshua Pearce. With the help of two masters students, they will do large system modeling for the Keweenaw, where they look at ways to stem the increases in utility costs.
Their main focus will be solar and biomass, with natural gas, heat pumps, batteries and pumped hydrostorage also included.
“It’s not just about electricity, but energy all together,” he said.
For instance, they will look at whether there is a cost benefit to moving from individual furnaces and boilers to a community-wide system.
“If the power goes out, then that system can be running on its own microgrid,” Sommerfeldt said.
They hope to make a detailed model of energy use in one community, possibly Copper Harbor, seeing how people heat their homes and how much electricity they use.
Their models will then test out thousands of system combinations to find the lowest-cost system.
So far, it doesn’t look like the novel coronavirus will have much effect on their work, Sommerfeldt said.
“Given the nature of our work, as long as we have a desk and a computer, we can more or less pull it off,” he said.
Final results are expected by autumn, Sommerfeldt said. Depending on the results, it could be useful information for green energy installers in the area, as well as heating suppliers.