Another Boost for US Offshore Wind: US-based General Electric Acquires France-based Alstom’s Renewable Energy Division

Author: Valerie Stori, Clean Energy Group | Project: Offshore Wind Accelerator Project

blogphoto-Offshore-Wind-Farm-During-SunsetBack in June, US offshore wind proponents heralded the arrival of DONG Energy to our Atlantic shores. DONG’s commercial lease acquisition of a 1GW+ Wind Energy Area off the Massachusetts coast sent a strong signal that major international developers are taking note of the US offshore wind market’s potential. There is still a lack of long-term market visibility, and there are challenges to securing electricity buyers, but those are hurdles DONG has faced in the European market and ones the company believes will eventually be overcome in the US.

This month, another major offshore wind industry announcement has strong implications for US offshore wind growth—GE completed acquisition of Alstom’s power assets and has created a new division called GE renewables. While GE did not acquire all of Alstom’s energy-related businesses, the merger is a significant move for the US offshore wind industry. In 2014, both companies had agreed to the establishment of an offshore wind joint venture. The approved 50/50 joint venture with Alstom’s offshore wind division marks GE’s entry into offshore wind turbines.  The deal also creates competition for the other major offshore wind businesses, including the recent Vestas/MHI JV. Now, GE will not only compete in the European market through the Alstom/Haliade brand, but also participate in Rhode Island’s historic, pioneering Block Island project, which is using Haliade turbines.

GE’s move has important implications for both sides of the Atlantic. The consolidation will lower costs, create competition amongst turbine manufacturers, create supply chain efficiencies, and merge two innovative designs—the massive 6MW Haliade turbine with GE’s innovative gearless permanent magnet generators.

But perhaps the merger is most significant for the US offshore sector where the industry has had a difficult time getting off the ground due to several factors including high costs, insufficient infrastructure, and a limited supply chain and experienced workforce.  The merger is reason for optimism– a major domestic company is now one of the world’s largest renewable energy manufacturers and its global reach will continue to expand into new markets. Our offshore wind market potential is huge and catching the attention of major global developers and turbine manufacturers. Let’s hope that GE’s strong stake in offshore wind will mean further expansion by all manufacturers into US markets.

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This blog post was also published in Renewable Energy World.

Massachusetts Gets Serious About Resilient Power

Author: Todd Olinsky-Paul, Clean Energy Group | Projects: Clean Energy States Alliance, Resilient Power Project

blogphoto-USA-lights-from-spaceIn the face of increasingly severe weather and power outages, more and more states are recognizing the importance of resilient power for communities and critical services. But in many parts of the country, viable markets to support resilient power technologies do not yet exist. Until such markets develop, states will need to step in by providing incentives and financing, lowering barriers, soliciting demonstration projects, and supporting the development of the emerging resiliency industry. In this context, Massachusetts has stepped into the spotlight with flagship programs and a serious commitment of resources.

Among the Northeastern states hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, it was clear from the very start that Massachusetts took resilient power seriously, committing $40 million to the deployment of municipal-led systems in its Community Clean Energy Resiliency Initiative (CCERI). In 2014, the state issued 27 technical assistance awards for project feasibility studies, and 19 project implementation awards, of which 11 involve solar+storage technologies. Because many of these projects will serve multiple facilities, a total of 28 critical facilities, including schools/shelters, communications centers, first responder facilities and hospitals, will have resilient power thanks to state-funded solar+storage systems, with the balance of projects relying primarily on CHP systems. The grant-winning municipalities are geographically diverse, and the state program included an extra incentive for low- to median-income communities to participate.

Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), which administered the program, still has $12 million to spend in a third round of resiliency funding. However, the state has recently upped its game, with the announcement of $10 million in new funds for energy storage deployment. The unveiling of this new Energy Storage Initiative coincided with the arrival of Judith Judson, recently appointed commissioner of DOER. Judson, whose service to the state dates at least to the Romney administration, is an expert in energy storage financials and markets, having most recently worked for Customized Energy Solutions, a firm serving storage developers and the industry.

DOER is not the only Massachusetts energy agency interested in resiliency and storage. Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) has supported energy storage technology advancement through its InnovateMass grant program, and is now seeking to put more resources toward its own storage demonstration projects. And the state Department of Public Utilities, under the new leadership of Angela O’Conner, also a champion of energy storage, is engaged in a grid modernization planning initiative that includes among its intended benefits increased reliability and resiliency of electrical services, investment in new technologies, and the integration of energy storage and microgrids into the state’s electricity infrastructure. Massachusetts utilities are required to formulate 10-year modernization plans incorporating these elements.

In order to provide some direction for all this new investment, DOER and MassCEC are cooperatively funding a two-part study to develop an energy storage roadmap for the state. In addition to expanding understanding of the opportunities for storage, the study is intended to identify the right amount of storage for the state’s needs, its applications, and the types of supports needed to bring the emerging energy storage industry to Massachusetts. The study is due early in 2016, and DOER anticipates issuing a solicitation based on its recommendations immediately upon its completion.

As I write this, the New York Times is reporting that a severe wind storm has left more than 380,000 customers without power in the Pacific Northwest. Clearly, widespread and long-lasting power outages are a universal problem, whether due to hurricanes, snow and ice, high winds, drought and wildfires, earthquakes, flooding, or more mundane equipment failures and human error. Lessons could be learned from Massachusetts’ commitment and leadership on this issue.

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This blog post was also published in Renewable Energy World.

A Grid Submerged: The Case for More Resilient Power

Author: Sarah Galbraith, Clean Energy Group | Project: Resilient Power Project

Grid-Submerged-mapPower plants, substations, and transmission lines in coastal communities, where approximately one-third of the country’s population resides, are at risk today from flooding caused by major storms. On the East Coast, for example, home to 70 million residents, extensive power outages have been caused by major hurricanes like Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Sandy, and Irene, to name just a few. These storms each took hundreds of substations off-line and left millions without power, often for several days or even weeks.

The problem is quickly getting worse, as global warming melts glaciers and ice floes, resulting in sea level rise, higher tides and increased storm surge. This is the take-away message of a new report titled “Lights Out? Storm Surge, Blackouts, and How Clean Energy Can Help” from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) with contributions from Clean Energy Group. The findings indicate “a societally unacceptable risk of major, widespread electric outages from storm surge along the East and Gulf Coasts.”

The team of researchers at UCS, including Steven Clemmer and Julie McNamara, identified five major metropolitan areas that tend to be in the path of big storms: the Delaware Valley, Southeastern Virginia, the South Carolina Lowcountry, Southeastern Florida, and the Central Gulf Coast. They modeled the impact of larger storm surges caused by sea level rise predicted to occur over the next 55 years under several hurricane strength scenarios for each of these areas, and identified the number of power plants and substations that would be impacted.

The results of this USC analysis show an electricity grid that is greatly at risk in the years to come. The Delaware Valley region, for example, could experience significant flooding from a Category 3 hurricane in 2050, given the additional sea level rise that is predicted to occur by then. This scenario puts substations and power plants even tens of miles up the Delaware River in the path of 10 to 15 feet of water, affecting electricity supply for the region’s 2.8 million people.

In the Central Gulf Coast region, there are 119 substations facing significant flooding risk today, but as sea level rises and pushes storm surges higher, a Category 3 hurricane in 2050 would put 141 substations and 12 power plants at risk from floods of 10 to 15 feet in depth or more in an area with more than 1.5 million people.

To get a sense for the impact of just one power plant going offline, the blackout of 2003 is a great example to look to. In this instance, a power plant went offline during a period of high electrical demand, which had a ripple effect down the transmission system and ultimately forced the shutdown of more than 100 power plants, leaving 55 million people in the Eastern US and Canada in the dark. Unlike other types of outages, power plants and substations that have been flooded with seawater are not quick or easy to fix. Repairs involve disassembling, drying, and reassembling electrical equipment which takes a long time and is expensive for utilities, and ultimately for customers. Replacing the facilities can take years and cost millions of dollars.

“Superstorm Sandy was a wakeup call to the Northeast when it made landfall,” said Clemmer in a recent Clean Energy Group webinar on the UCS report. (Watch the full webinar here.) Aside from loss of life and property, he pointed out that the storm caused billions of dollars in damages and left more than 8 million people in 21 states without power. Outages of this scale put at risk critical services like emergency response, life support and refrigerated medicines, wastewater treatment, communications, and access to food.

Clemmer said in the webinar that steps have been taken to build more resilient power systems that can withstand coastal flooding caused by powerful storms on the East and Gulf Coasts, but added, “Some progress has been made, but the investments are not yet up to the scale of the problem.”

So how can we keep the lights on? The answers fall into two main categories, according to Clemmer: adapting the grid for a future with higher sea level and increased storm surges, and mitigation that improves the resiliency of the grid and reduces global warming.

Adaption strategies include protecting these facilities by building seawalls, artificial barriers, or natural wetland buffers; modifying the facilities and their equipment by elevating them, using submersible equipment, or installing smart-grid technologies that re-route electricity around failed stations; and relocating or retiring these at-risk facilities, and limiting the construction of new electricity facilities in high-risk areas.

As for mitigation, the authors make a strong case for resilient power, writing that “a resilient approach that places efficient and clean energy technologies at the core of its solutions helps our communities prepare for a climate-impacted future while also reducing the emissions that are driving those effects.”

The UCS report states that distributed renewable resources, like solar and wind power generation, will allow for increased grid flexibility and decreased vulnerability to widespread outages. And technologies capable of islanding from the grid, such as energy storage, combined heat and power systems, and microgrids, will support greater resiliency.  Together, these technologies can continue to power critical facilities when the larger grid goes down.

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Photo Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists