Native Americans and Renewable Energy

Native Americans and Renewable Energy

For some Native American tribes around the country, there are areas with 14% of houses without electricity or operate without electricity, which is 10 times higher than the national average. But, with recent innovations in renewable energy, Native Americans are now able to use this energy technology to access electricity and bolster their income.

Securing Access to Dependable Electricity

With homes that are scattered across large portions of land, access to the main utility grid can often be over-looked.  This energy dilemma becomes increasingly more compounded when you look at the costs of extending power per mile.  On average, it costs $60,000 a mile.  Because of this, it is usually much more cost effective to power these off the grid homes with solar energy and battery storage.

This trend towards renewable energies is exactly what has been happening on Hopi and Navajo reservations since 1987.  With the formation of the Hopi Solar Electric Enterprise small scale solar power systems have made their way to more than 300 homes across the reservation.  These solar PV systems were installed and paid for via a loan program which required small down payments and succeeding monthly payments until the dividend was paid off.

Noticing this drift toward renewables, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority began offering these solar PV systems to residents who did not have access to the grid, beginning in 1999.

Recently, the NTUA (Navajo Tribal Utility Authority) began offering a hybridized version this unit which also converted wind energy into a harvest/usable way to power these homes.  This hybrid version of the model runs a home at around $75 dollars a month which goes towards the initial purchase of the system and the resulting power from the unit.  With this unit, a family is able to power things like their TVs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, and other appliances.

Creating a Microgrid

While renewable energy is one way of bringing power to homes that might otherwise be without, the Moapa Band of Paiutes is looking towards a different way of bringing electricity to their homes.  Recently completed is their 250 MW hybrid microgrid project, which delivers power to homes that are located off the grid.  The grid itself contains focused PV trackers, a battery bank, and three energy efficient generators, one of which is run off of diesel so energy is able to be delivered at night when battery power runs scarce.

With the development of this microgrid, unprecedented savings are able to be accrued for the Moapa tribe.  Before its development, diesel generators cost the tribe upwards of $1.5 million a year.  But by implementing the microgrid and tapping into solar power, more than $700,000 is able to be saved each year by the Moapa tribe.

Hopi electrician Debby Tewa firmly believes that no matter how hard these microgrids are to install, the effort is entirely worth the outcome.  Tewa also works in teaching others on the reservation about renewable energy. “When you teach your community, you empower your community and you invest in your community,” she says. And investing in renewable energy is helping many Native Americans improve their quality of life.”

If you have questions about Native Americans turning to renewable energy or need any clarification on what was covered in this post, feel free to leave a comment or contact 1st Tribal Lending with your question privately.