at CRW, says the top of her wish list would focus on designing a net zero community home or
building that is cost effective to build and ship.
“It would include a self-sustaining means
of producing electricity and heat,” she says,
and the design would be “diverse adaptable”
in that it could utilize community energy resources whether wind, solar, geothermal, or
Such a quest, McKeon says, is tied to the
reasons she chose the engineering field.
“My driving passion when I became an
engineer was to help others. Large impacts
can be seen from reducing dependency on
fossil fuels that have to be delivered at large
expenses to the community whether by air
travel or barge,” she says.
“The means and technology to create the
homes and buildings exists, but the training
and infrastructure need to be created to allow the technicians and owners to maintain
the technology and equipment,” she explains.
“These systems would help reduce a community’s carbon footprint and provide energy
security to address the rapidly changing climate in Alaska. Reduced carbon emissions
would reduce environmental impacts and
improve health in all communities.” R
Judy Mottl writes about important issues
country-wide with an affinity for Alaska.
needs,” he says. “If we can lower power costs
around the state, many more opportunities for economic development would open
up and poverty could be reduced as well.”
He says it’s a technically viable option given
there are similar power plants and power
girds already located on the North Slope.
“It is just extending them and connecting
the power system up. All the individual village power systems have microgrids, so if the
main line went down all the towns would still
have basic power with full backup,” he says.
Reduce Carbon Footprint,
Improve Public Health System
Alaska’s carbon footprint and improved
sewer service top two other engineers’ design
Civil Engineer Rebecca Venot of CRW Engineering Group would focus on projects providing homes with potable water and sewer service
to Alaska communities. As many as 20 percent
of rural homes don’t have in-home piped water
and rely on honey bucket toilet systems. “Many
more rely on hauling water from a community
watering point, which may utilize aged or outdated infrastructure that provides water that
does not meet current drinking water regulations,” says Venot, adding that lack of available
water reduces the ability of households to meet
basic hygiene needs including hand washing,
waste disposal, and laundry.
This project tops her wish list because she
views public health as vital to the development of any community.
“If kids can’t go to school because they
are sick from a waterborne illness, they miss
out on education and opportunities. Adults
who are ill are unable to work or participate
in subsistence activities, negatively impacting the wellbeing of the whole household.
Research shows in-home water and a sewer
system reduces instances of disease by up to
40 percent,” she says, citing an Alaska Native
Tribal Health Consortium study published
in February 2016.
But there are more than a few challenges
to her ideal design projects she concedes, and
most are tied to economic drivers.
Many communities lack residents with
the skills and knowledge needed to operate
advanced water treatment or robust sewage
systems, and attaining such skills requires
training and education. On top of that, such
jobs don’t pay all that well, Venot says.
On the technical side, the availability and
cost of energy also factor into the equation
since heating the water for these systems is
critical for reliable operation. Another major hurdle is the uncertain future of climate
change, she says.
“Many communities are in areas with increasing flooding and erosion and are likely
to be inundated with sea level rise. Furthermore, there are changes in water quality that
impact the treatment system design and op-eration… Costly engineered solutions to mitigate the risk of change, relocating an entire
community, or doing nothing and providing
disaster relief when there is a catastrophe, has
an extraordinary cost,” says Venot.
Tracy McKeon, senior mechanical engineer