AUBURNDALE, Mass. — About 200 people attended the snow-delayed Northeast Energy and Commerce Association Renewable Energy Conference on March 6. Here’s some of what we heard at the conference, which was rescheduled after a February snowstorm forced cancellation of the original date.
Offshore wind was a frequent topic in the opening session on emerging trends in renewables, which featured Matthew Morrissey, vice president of Massachusetts operations for Deepwater Wind.
The company, which began operating the nation’s first ocean-based turbines off of Block Island, R.I., in December, won a contract from the Long Island Power Authority in January for a 90-MW wind farm off the island’s Southern Fork. It also hopes to grab a piece of the big prizes to come: Massachusetts and New York have set goals for a combined 4 GW of offshore wind by 2030.
Unlike in Europe, which has a mature offshore industry, the U.S. does not have a fully developed supply chain for developers. Thus, Morrissey said, his company has been tapping the expertise and supply chains of offshore oil and gas drillers.
“There is a lot of commonality between the expertise and innovation that the United States has developed in that industry — putting large structures in the water — and we wanted to tap that both for our benefit but also because … we have to keep costs coming down, and in order to do that you have to have local, stateside … manufacturing,” he said.
Morrissey and fellow panelist Richard Fioravanti, a principal with engineering and scientific consulting firm Exponent, said they were not overly concerned about the federal government reducing its role in energy research under the Trump administration.
“I see [renewable power] as a large, growing opportunity, and when there are opportunities, money follows,” Fioravanti said.
“I would say that 10 years ago, a slowdown in research would have been a problem,” Morrissey said. “But for the 10 or 15 or 20 years, the industry giants — like Siemens and General Electric and Vestas — [will be] driving innovation from a blade design point of view. And a lot of the foundation work they’ve done in the last 20 years — both in the U.S. oil and gas industry as well as the European offshore wind — with fixed bottom foundations, will drive the growth and cost curve downward … regardless of R&D coming out of Washington.”
Morrissey said the offshore industry also can seek support in D.C. by touting its job creation potential.
“When you look at the kind of places with offshore wind-created economic opportunity, those places tend to look like post-industrial, urban forgotten cities like Fall River or New Bedford [Mass.] or other cities like that along the Atlantic seaboard, which actually tend demographically to look a lot like southern Ohio or western Pennsylvania [where Trump did well in the November election]. So we think that there is an underlay of opportunity to talk to the Trump administration about.”
New England’s Duck Curve
Michael Giaimo, senior external affairs representative for ISO-NE, used “duck curve” slides to demonstrate how growing solar photovoltaic penetration is affecting the RTO’s ramps and system peaks. The RTO had 1.9 GW of behind-the-meter solar PV as of the end of 2016, more than two-thirds of it in Massachusetts.
While increasing PV boosts the need for ramping capability during the daylight, it does not affect the system peak in the winter, which typically occurs at about 7 p.m.
But PV generation could begin causing minimum generation emergencies in spring afternoons once PV generation reaches 3 GW, the slides showed. In the summer, increasing amounts of PV will push the net load peak later in the day, from 5 p.m. at current penetration, to 6 p.m. once penetration reaches 3 GW and 7 p.m. at 6 GW or higher.
“The low demand on a normal traditional day is like in the 3 a.m. timeframe,” Giaimo explained. “When you start getting about 3,000 or 4,000 MW of solar, our new low demand for the day happens about 3 in the afternoon. We [are going] from a system that had a low at 3 a.m. to now a system that has a low at 3 p.m.”
A Handful of States Writing the Rules on Community Solar
Eric Graber-Lopez, president of BlueWave Capital, talked about the delayed promise of community solar, noting that solar power adoptions still retain a “barbell” shape, with more than 90% of the market in residential rooftop panels or utility-scale facilities.
Legislative and regulatory debates, net metering capacity limits, program transitions and interconnection problems “have pushed back the promise of community solar,” Graber-Lopez said. “The U.S. installed about half of what it expected to install in 2015, and it was expected to install about two-thirds [of earlier estimates] in 2016.”
Community solar — which Graber-Lopez argues is a “proxy” for distributed generation in states such as Massachusetts — provides a way for renters, apartment dwellers and low-income housing residents to participate. “The problem is there’s no such thing as a DG industry. It varies state by state,” he said.
Massachusetts has been number two to California in DG deployment every year since 2014. Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota and New York account for 97% of the national pipeline for community solar over the next five to six years, he said.
“So there’s a lot of talk about the deployment of DG — and by extension the deployment of community solar — but the fact is that there are four states that are setting the standard for how this industry is going to look going forward,” he said.
Another 10 states are pursuing regulations or legislation “trying to either create, stop, modify or enhance DG,” he said.
Ex-DOE Official Hopes Climate Progress is in Economy’s ‘DNA’
In a keynote speech, Kevin Knobloch, chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Energy between 2013 and 2017, said the Trump administration may not do as much to reverse Obama-era climate policies as some fear.
President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who have expressed skepticism over humanity’s role in global warming, are expected to attempt to cancel the Clean Power Plan. Trump also may withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
But Knobloch, a former president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the renewable energy gains made during Obama’s term won’t be reversed.
“The Department of Energy’s early and robust investment in clean energy and low-carbon technologies, with similar investments by industry and the research universities, coupled with forward-leaning and clear public policies, have contributed to dramatic cost reductions and increased deployment of clean energy and ultra-efficient technologies,” Knobloch said. “And clean energy companies, like many of you represented here in this room, are consequently … well positioned to lead and compete in the rapidly emerging multi-trillion-dollar market for clean energy technologies.”
He noted that 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement to reduce their carbon emissions. That’s “195 markets for clean energy, renewable energy,” he said.
Knobloch said the dramatic budget cuts proposed by Trump to EPA and other domestic agencies to fund Defense Department increases would require undoing Congress’ sequestration rules.
He also noted that Congress’ last two major energy bills — the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which authorized loan guarantees for greenhouse gas control technologies and tax credits for alternative energy producers, and the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, which updated energy efficiency standards for appliances, residential boilers and other equipment — were approved with bipartisan support. He predicted Republicans such as Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) would fight any early termination of the wind production tax credit, which is due to be phased out over three years, ending after 2019.
“We also know that it is not so easy to reverse rules like the Clean Power Plan or the energy efficiency rules … with their extensive … rounds of formal public comment periods, prospects of legal challenge. These are all designed on the foundation of laws that were directed by the Congress.
“My hope is having achieved or made dramatic progress toward a lot of those goals, that renewable energy, energy efficiency … is now in the DNA of the economy,” he said. “Those jobs are real. Those tax payments are real. The business plans and technology investments are all real and that that will carry on.”
Lack of Tx in Multistate RFP Puzzles Developer
About 900 of New England’s 1,300 MW of wind is in Maine. But the resources can’t fully access the markets because of insufficient transmission. So Stephen Conant, senior vice president of Anbaric Transmission, said that he was mystified when officials running a clean energy solicitation for Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts included no transmission projects in their shortlist of projects last October.
Anbaric had proposed a project to unlock Maine’s bottleneck and another project to deliver New York wind power and Canadian hydropower into Vermont. (See New England States Move Toward Renewables Contracts.)
“There’s all kinds of theories out there,” Conant said during a panel on the role of transmission and energy storage in integrating renewables, when asked to explain why his and other transmission projects were shut out. “We’re all sort of scratching our heads.”
Also in that session, Dan Berwick, general manager of the energy storage division at Borrego Solar Systems, said he was not dismayed by the limitations of current battery technology, which remains expensive for many large-scale, long-term storage applications.
“I’m pretty convinced we don’t need a technological breakthrough right now — that the reductions in cost and the improvement in quality and performance that we’re going to see through increasing repetitions and scale is capable of delivering a four- or five-fold decrease in … cost.”
– Rich Heidorn Jr.