1st US offshore wind farm to usher in new era for industry

Startribune.com: The nation’s first offshore wind farm is set to open off the coast of Rhode Island this fall, ushering in a new era in the U.S. for the industry. Full story here

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Fred. Olsen to acquire 20-MW US offshore wind project – report

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A Norwegian wind farm developer with experience in the North Sea will build the $120 million pilot wind farm planned for Lake Erie.

Fred.Olsen Renewables, the largest independent power producer in the United Kingdom and the fifth largest in Europe, has already partnered with the non-profit Lake Erie Energy Development Co., or LEEDCo.

The two companies have signed an agreement that Fred.Olsen will buy LEEDCo’s research assets early next year, said Lorry Wagner, LEEDCo president. He declined, at this time, to reveal the selling price. Cleveland Plain Dealer Story Here

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Converging Energy and the Internet of Things

Tech lingo is trendy – remember “intra-net” and “cyber-space”? – these days it is hard to read any business or technology news without coming across the phrase the “Internet of Things.”

Usually it is mentioned in the context of the next great technology transformation or a scary cautionary tale about privacy. When IBM places a $3 billion bet on a new IoT business unit, something interesting must be up.

So what is the Internet of Things and (selfishly I wonder) can it help us build better energy production and transmission stuff?

Forbes contributor Jacob Morgan writes one of the better descriptions I have read:

“Simply put this is the concept of [the IoT] basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.  This also applies to components of machines, for example a jet engine of an airplane or the drill of an oil rig.  As I mentioned, if it has an on and off switch then chances are it can be a part of the IoT.

You can read his full article here.

Consider the vast mountains of data which go into any large scale industrial project, like a power plant or a new transmission line. It takes years of data gathering and organization to prove project viability and get a set of permits. At that point the serious engineering begins with another massive layer of data upon data of engineering detail. From there it is broken out into bids and contracts each with their own liabilities and interface issues. It is then constructed, generating a set of as-built data which hopefully resembles the original engineering plans and is within the tolerances of the permits. Finally, it goes into a couple of decades of operations requiring maintenance and repair all of which is dependant on this mountain of data going back to the original project viability assumptions. Not an insignificant data set.

Further, consider the thousands of pieces and parts which go into any electricity infrastructure project. What would the increased availability look like if all to that data could talk to the asset in the field, for instance an overhead cable could tell you “hey this oak branch is leaning on me” or a transformer part mentions “the temperature around me doesn’t feel quite right, if this continues I will likely fall over in 6 months.”

It will be a while before entire electrical grids are really intelligent – that is the opportunity. This is much more than just an academic exercise, there are a number of really innovative efforts which seem to be heading towards large scale commercialization: For example:
MicrogridsStreetlights, or Building Management.

Leading research firm Gartner says that by 2020 there will be 26 billion objects connected to the Internet of Things. That type of growth is sure to transform much of our technology infrastructure (yet again) – given our dependence on energy for everything, the more the IoT converges with the traditional energy way of thinking – the better it will be for us all.

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Massachusetts Offshore Wind Leases Awarded

On Jan 29 the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held the nation’s fourth competitive lease sale for renewable energy in federal waters offshore Massachusetts for potential wind energy development. Developing offshore wind energy is part of President Obama’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan to create American jobs, develop domestic clean energy resources and cut carbon pollution. Full BOEM release.

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Health & Safety

From Windpower Engineering: The challenge to the nascent U.S. offshore wind industry is to learn from the experiences of European offshore wind, U.S. offshore oil and gas, and onshore wind, and then come up with a reasonable set of best practices and standards. This will lead the industry toward an initial safety position that is proactive and near ideal.  Doing so will avoid the scenario in which after someone is seriously hurt and every agency that can, reacts by applying too many rules. That was the message from Ron Beck at the recent AWEA Offshore Conference in Atlantic City, NJ. 

Beck had more to say about safety along with the three other panelists who have formed Ocean Readiness, a partnership that aims to develop onshore health and safety (Tanjia Maynard), workforce development (Meagan Amsler), and offshore wind-project installation (Joel Whitman).  The four partners bring a wealth of skills and experience from their primary organizations, Beck – Tetra Tech, Maynard – PMSS, Amsler – Cape and Islands Self-Reliance, and Whitman – Whitman Consulting Group. Full Story >>

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Youth and Renewable Energy

This past week a University of Texas poll showed yet again that there is a generation gap out there. Conducted in September, the poll showed that over 65% of young Americans prefer candidates who support reducing dependence on fossil fuel, and increasing research funding and economic incentives for the further development of renewable energy. At the other end of the spectrum, the poll showed 50% or less of Americans over 65 would vote for a candidate supporting these issues.

Shifting demographics will play a major if not THE major factor in the future of renewable energy over the next decades. At its peak in 1999 the baby boom generation comprised 79 million Americans. Due to its sheer size, for better and worse, this generation and its priorities have dwarfed following generations and dominated American life since it began to come of age in the 1950’s. All of this is rapidly changing.

In the US, by 2020 the (shrinking) Baby Boom generation will represent 23% of the population and will have been surpassed in size as the rising Millenial generation will represent 27% of the US population. Add into that the generation born post 2001 and by 2020 – only a few years from now – over 50% of the US population will be under the age of 39.

It is an old story, the opinions of youth are discounted as frivolous and irrelevant, until that moment that same youth inevitably takes charge – we are all subject to the passing of time – in the case of Baby Boomers the benefits of being born to a mega-sized generation just after WW2 have assuredly delayed this reality – but the numbers don’t lie and change is indeed upon us.

The question is not who is right or wrong, who is good or bad – but rather – with mortality staring this long dominant generation in the face, what does the younger generation want? As distracting ad the media drama surrounding mid-term elections can be, when considering the demographic reality immediately in front of us, polls like the ones from UT seem to point to something much larger and transformative now underway: Youth will soon control the knobs and dials of power in ways not seen since the Korean War.

Re-building our nations infrastructure – the one bequeathed to us from generations long past, which has outlived and outperformed any expectations its original engineers could have dreamed – by starting with an ethic of environmental protection and a corresponding commitment to renewable energy will put us on a solid path for the future.

If the University of Texas poll, (and others like it which point to similar trends) are correct – we will soon be in youthful – but good – hands.

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US Offshore Wind Market Snapshot

There is a great deal of offshore wind activity underway on the east coast of the US and now the west coast as well. The AWEA Offshore Wind conference held this October in New Jersey was a very upbeat event as progress is being made on offshore wind projects with construction to begin on the first two US projects anticipated in 2015.

Given the increased interest in business opportunities emerging in the North American market, WCG along with our partner Bernard Energy, recently released a US market snapshot (which includes a couple of key Canadian projects as well.)

For a free copy send a request to: info@whitmancg.com

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37% rate hike for electric customers in Massachusetts.

It was really cold in New England last winter and so electric prices for National Grid customers are going to go up 37% in anticipation of more of the same this winter.

Other local utilities are expected to announce the same type of increase later in the fall. Utilities are blaming the need the rate hikes on their increased cost of electricity they have to purchase from power plants. This cost has increased dramatically because of an increased demand for natural gas which is one of the main sources of fuel used to create electricity.

A statement from the utility included this comment: “This is something that’s not within National Grid’s control,” spokesman Jake Navarro said. “This is a market-based problem.”

It is easy to agree with the first part of what he is saying as utilities in New England are not allowed to own their own electricity production. However the second part of the statement might be rephrased just slightly.

This is not a market problem, it is a fuel problem.

Climate change aside, for millennia it has been cold in New England in the winter. Some years can be worse than others, but it is always going to be cold. As a result, for well over 3 centuries the colonists and their modern descendants have been paying a variable cost for the luxury of keeping warm in winter. When we use the same fuels to create both electricity and for heating homes – well, some years it is going to be manageable, others it is going to be a 37% increase.

And if you like me believe that the climate is changing and seasonal weather events are going to become more extreme, I am thinking that the harshest days are still to come.

So when we are faced once again with a spike in fuel costs – after thousands of years of burning stuff to keep warm, and after 100 years of burning that same stuff to make electricity – lets stop fighting nature and instead, work with it by using the energy already being produced from the sun and the wind – both of these can supply a great deal of our fuel requirement at no variable fuel cost – as our way forward.

We as a society once capitalized great engineering projects conceived to bring physical life to our civic ideals: highways & bridges for commerce and to knit us together as a people, magnificent librariescourthouses and government buildings to illustrate the virtue of knowledge and the importance of the rule of law, water treatment and sewage systems to provide the basic ingredients of health and sanitation, and our original electric grid(s), an investment which has transformed and greatly improved every aspect of human life.

It is worth noting that the one thing all of these projects had in common was an entrenched status quo – from one side of the aisle or the other – who insisted it was either wasteful spending or that it simply could not be done. I am glad they were proven wrong.

It is going to be cold this winter, and next, and next – lets stop burning stuff and really do something about it.

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Offshore Wind Area Auctions Active on US East Coast

As a result of market interest and political demand, the US Department of the Interior, via its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has undertaken a significant amount of offshore wind area lease activity, the most recent being an auction held on Aug 19th for two wind energy areas off the coast of Maryland.

After 19 rounds of very competitive bidding the auction was won by US Wind, a subsidiary of Renexia, the renewable-energy development and construction company owned by Toto S.p.A. When fully built, this Maryland area could generate enough energy to power about 300,000 homes.

While it is easy to get frustrated by the seeming lack of a cohesive national energy strategy in the US, in truth – the size of the country and the autonomy of individual states allows for a more realistic regional approach to our energy future. You don’t have to look hard to see real positive movement in the US offshore wind market in 2014. With contract awards being issued at Cape Wind in Massachusetts and Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island and the Department of Energy down-select issued this past May for projects in Virginia, New Jersey and Oregon real progress is being made.

Against that immediate backdrop – the BOEM auctions illustrate clearly the scale the next rounds of development will bring to the US – and it is significant. Here is a quick snapshot of that competitive lease activity:

Rhode Island: In July 2013, BOEM auctioned the area as two leases, referred to as the North Lease Area (Lease OCS-A0486) and the South Lease Area (Lease OCS-A0487), which were won by Deepwater Wind. The North Lease Area consisted of about 97,500 acres and the South Lease Area consisted of about 67,250 acres. When fully developed it is anticipated that these areas will produce over 1GW of wind energy

Virginia: September 2013, BOEM held an Auction for the Virginia WEA, which was won by Dominion Virginia Power. When fully developed it is anticipated that these areas will produce over 2GW of wind energy.

Massachusetts: In June 2014, BOEM announced that more than 742,000 acres offshore Massachusetts are available for commercial wind energy leasing. The area has been split into four (4) zones with lease awards to be issued by the end of 2014. When fully developed it is anticipated that these areas will produce over 5GW of wind energy.

New Jersey: In July 2014, BOEM announced the auction of two leases offshore New Jersey for commercial wind energy development. Lease awards to be issued by the end of 2014. When fully developed it is anticipated that these areas will produce over 3.5GW of wind energy.

The East Coast (and soon to follow the West Coast) of the US are at long last laying the foundations of an industry which will provide high quality jobs for thousands and produce renewable electricity at utility scale, making offshore renewable energy an important contributor to the US energy future.

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Long Distance Offshore Transmission Breaking New Ground

It wasn’t that long ago that the ideal of transmitting electricity long distances was limited to 100 miles or so making the need for electricity production to be close to the user base. With the advent of offshore wind in Europe in particular and advances in HVDC technology in general the number of long haul offshore transmission projects is growing rapidly.

Two excellent examples of this are the Western Link in the UK and the Maritime Link in Canada.

Western Link Project Map

Western Link Project Map

Western Link
The Western Link project involves constructing a high voltage direct current cable that will help to bring large amounts of renewable energy from Scotland to homes and businesses in England and Wales. The amount of renewable energy being generated in Scotland is increasing rapidly, but this cannot be transferred south because the existing electricity links are running at full capacity.  A new link is needed and traditional overhead corridors of high voltage are next to impossible to permit any more, so the out of site, out of mind marine alternative was chosen. Western Link is owned by National Grid and Scottish Power Transmission being developed by Siemens and Prysmian and once completed will have a transmission capacity of around 2,200MW and a length of almost 400 kilometers.

More information about Western Link can be found here

Maritime Link Project Map

Maritime Link Project Map

Maritime Link
In July 2014 ABB was awarded a contract valued at approximately $400 million from NSP Maritime Link Inc., a subsidiary of Emera Inc., to supply a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power transmission solution creating the first electricity link between the island of Newfoundland and the North American power grid.

When operational, the Maritime Link will have a transmission capacity of 500MW at a length of over 180 kilometers and be used primarily to bring Hydroelectric power from the Lower Churchill project now being constructed in Labrador to the North American grid.

More information about Maritime Link can be found here:

The combination of growth in offshore renewable energy, the constant need for transmission investment, the difficulty of permitting overhead systems generally along with advances in long-distance transmission is resulting in real projects being build today.

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