windmills in the Arctic
windmills in the Arctic
The Arctic Remote Energy Networks Academy (ARENA) is a unique knowledge sharing program about isolated power systems integration held in partnership with Canada, Gwich’in Council International, the United States and Iceland and endorsed by the Sustainable Development Working Group of the Arctic Council. Combining visits to remote Arctic communities with participant knowledge exchanges and trainings, ARENA connects current and emerging community energy champions with hands-on learning experiences, mentors, and project development experts from throughout the circumpolar North. Now, the program enters its second round.

We spoke to ARENA coordinator Carolyn Loeffler and asked her to give an insight to what the program seeks to achieve, who takes part, what participants will learn and how the kickoff of round two was affected by the current pandemic.

Updated 7 September 2020

What are ARENA’s main objectives?

  • Build a cooperative international cohort of energy champions.
  • Provide participants with the necessary knowledge-base, skills and collaboration networks to develop successful clean energy projects in their own communities or regions.
  • Improve community energy resilience.
  • Enable sustainability in Arctic energy development.
  • Empower communities to achieve balance between economic viability, energy security, environmental and public health concerns in the circumpolar Arctic region.

Who participates in the program?

ARENA is designed specifically for individuals living and working in remote circumpolar Arctic communities on energy integration projects. Our participants often wear multiple hats within their communities. Titles range from project manager, economic development officer, energy development specialist, energy engineer, environmental coordinator, tribal leader or tribal council board member, private business owner, and more.

The greatest strength of ARENA is the diversity of individuals who participate. Each person brings a unique combination of skills, experience, strengths, challenges, and personal background to the program which fosters a rich knowledge sharing environment that builds over the course of the year-long program and beyond. Cultivating these relationships to support our cohort and their communities well into the future is really at the core of the ARENA program.

Eighteen individuals were selected for the 2020 program: seven Americans, five Canadians, three Russians and three Greenlanders. Over half of the final cohort identifies as Indigenous. Bios for the 2020 cohort can be found on the ARENA website.

How has the current global health crisis impacted the program?

If travel restrictions are lifted by the spring, if communities are open to visitors, and if traveling does not compromise the health of the cohort in leaving or returning to their homes, we will move forward with the three on-site sessions in 2021: Nunavut in May; Fairbanks and Kodiak Alaska in July; and Iceland in October. We will monitor the situation and remain in communication with the incredible cohort of ARENA participants and project partners.

Our greatest resource, and top priority, is the people who live in Arctic communities; their health, safety, and well-being are paramount. We will not take any actions that would risk spreading Covid-19 to participants or community members welcoming the ARENA cohort.

Program co-leads have added a series of virtual engagements to kick-off the program, including a meet and greet with Senior Arctic Officials, the Chair of the Sustainable Development Working Group, and a panel discussion on Indigenous Empowerment in Arctic Governance led by representatives from the Permanent Participant groups of the Arctic Council and the Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat.

What will participants learn and experience during the program?

The ARENA program curriculum is designed to equip participants with the knowledge and networks they need to successfully complete clean energy projects in their home communities. This is accomplished through formal and experiential learning as well as visits to actual energy technologies deployed in remote northern areas.

The program agendas include classroom sessions on various technologies like wind and solar energy integration and energy storage, training in modeling software like HOMER or RETscreen, presentations on community energy planning, and a two-day project management bootcamp designed specifically for remote northern communities.

The most impactful components of the curriculum, however, are the community site visits built into each of the three on-sites. Meeting the individuals behind energy technologies deployed in Arctic and remote northern communities and touring the facilities and host-communities not only build critical relationships and professional networks, but also promote knowledge sharing around lessons learned while generating excitement about what could be possible in a participant’s home community.

Both the ARENA participants and the host communities benefit from these exchanges and often times find far more in common with one another than differences. This is where the strength of the ARENA programs lies – in the cross-cultural exchange between participants and the exploration of shared challenges and solutions.

This is the second round of ARENA, what were some of the achievements of the first round?

ARENA alumni from the 2017 pilot report that their participation in the program helped them successfully complete their community energy project, be more effective and confident in researching viable technologies for their regions, given them the tools and language they need to successfully apply for grant funding, and more. We are also very happy to report that the cohort continues to seek advice from and communicate with one another.

Where did the idea for ARENA come from?

The concept for the ARENA program was developed by Gwen Holdmann, the director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) after she participated in Iceland’s Geothermal Training Program as an Fulbright Arctic Initiative Fellow in 2015-16. Inspired by her experience in Iceland, Holdmann developed the concept for ARENA in partnership with colleagues at Orkustofnun, Iceland’s National Energy Authority. The ARENA pilot program was further refined and developed under the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council and launched in 2017. The United States, Canada, Finland, Iceland, Gwich'in Council International, and Aleut International Association co-led the pilot program.