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.

Posted in Alternative Energy, Climate Change | Comments Off

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.

Posted in Alternative Energy, Offshore Wind | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Alternative Energy, Offshore Transmission, Transmission | Leave a comment

5GW Massachusetts Offshore Lease Announced

On June 17, 2014, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank joined Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to announced that more than 742,000 acres offshore Massachusetts will be available for commercial wind energy leasing. The proposed area is the largest in federal waters and will nearly double the federal offshore acreage available for commerical-scale wind energy projects. For more information, click here.

Map Showing the Massachusetts Call for Information and Nominations Area

Posted in Alternative Energy, Climate Change, Offshore Wind | Leave a comment

WCG to represent Tekmar Energy in North America

Tekmar Energy Limited, the leading supplier of cable protection systems for the offshore wind and oil & gas markets globally, has announced an agency agreement with the Massachusetts-based Whitman Consulting Group Inc. (WCG).  Beginning immediately, WCG will represent Tekmar as its commercial services agent for the full line of Tekmar products and services in the US, Canada and the Caribbean. WCG will focus on the offshore renewable energy markets for wind and marine hydrokinetic as well as oil & gas and high voltage offshore transmission.

Tekmar has an excellent established track record of success having worked on over 27 major offshore wind farms and supplied over 3,000 systems since its entry into the market.

“North American projects are finally underway and the Whitman Consulting Group has the experience and expertise we were looking for to ensure we will be well represented in this important market.” said James Ritchie, Chief Executive Officer at Tekmar Energy. “We look forward to working with WCG in ensuring that project developers identify and avoid the common issues and risks related to their cable systems by protecting their cable investment properly.”

The full press release can be found here: 05.2014 Tekmar-WCG announcement

Posted in Alternative Energy, Cable Protection, Offshore Engineering, Offshore Transmission, Offshore Wind | Comments Off

Ocean Readiness

The development of offshore renewable energy is a new industry for North America with the first projects currently working their way through the development process. In Europe however constructing utility scale offshore wind farms has been underway for well over a decade, with thousands of turbines now installed offshore, producing several gigawatts of clean, renewable energy.

In North America, we have an opportunity to learn from this experience to ensure that the projects here benefit from the lessons learned in Europe and elsewhere. In the area of workforce development the importance of properly preparing the women and men who will do the actual work offshore in a manner which is safe and results in a high quality installation could not be more important.

To that end WCG is pleased to announce that it is a founding member of Ocean Readiness. Ocean Readiness works with all types of interested parties from organized labor and government agencies to project developers and their suppliers to ensure that Americans are ready to safely work in the emerging offshore renewable energy market.

In the end, we all want the same thing for the projects in our local waters: Many Arms, Common Goals: Safety & Quality.


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Advances in Marine Hydro-Kinetic (MHK) technology

I had the opportunity to attend the Global Marine Renewable Energy Conference held earlier this month (April 15-18) in Seattle. For those who haven’t been it is the only US national conference I am aware of which has the Marine Hydro-Kinetic (MHK) technology and related market development as its focus. While there is no denying that this is an early stage market, the range of innovation and possibility with this type of technology cannot be denied.

There are three MHK test centers being proposed for the US, (Hawai’i, Florida and Oregon) and to get a sense of the state of play for the MHK industry in the US maybe the best place to start is the one in Oregon. The National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NMREC), it is a partnership between Oregon State University and the University of Washington. Their most high profile project is the development of the Pacific Marine Energy Center or PMEC.

PMEC will be the first-of-its-kind in the US facility able to test the energy generation potential and the environmental impacts of wave energy devices, at an ocean site about five miles from shore. Subsea cables will transmit energy from the wave energy devices to the local power grid, and data to scientists and engineers at on-shore facilities.

As MHK an emerging technology type, having a location which can provide a grid connected infrastructure on which a prototype can be tested, will allow developers to focus on their device designs knowing they will be able to deploy them in the ocean when they are ready to go: A huge step forward. An excellent article on the plans for PMEC can be found here.

While not nearly as advanced as wind energy, the potential for energy produced from MHK sources cannot be understated. From the perspective of transmission, the development of offshore systems designed for their security benefits and to relieve congestion in places where overhead cables cannot be permitted or connecting grids that are not contiguous is increasingly becoming a planning reality in many places throughout the world.

Considering all the types of energy which could be added to such systems, such as wind or MHK only makes it more likely that in coastal regions with high amounts of electricity usage, few local electricity production alternatives and who are serious about adding utility scale renewable alternatives to their mix, these types of technologies along with the jobs and industry which go with them, will find a good home.

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Creating a Cost-Effective Offshore Wind Power Grid & Transmission Infrastructure: What are the practicalities?

The following is a transcript of a speech given by Bryan Sanderson, Senior Vice President, Anbaric Transmission at the Offshore Wind Power USA conference held February 2014 in Boston, Ma.

Good morning, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to stand up here and opine for a few minutes on offshore transmission.

Before I do that, for those of you not familiar with Anbaric Transmission, I’d like to take a couple of minutes to give you a little background about us. We are an independent company that has been behind two successfully developed HVDC Projects – the Neptune Regional Transmission System, and the Hudson Transmission Project. Each of these are 660MW HVDC connections from PJM to Long Island and Manhattan respectively, and each were awarded through competitive RFP processes. As an independent, each of our projects must rest on its fundamental economics.

We have a few other projects in our pipeline:

  • Green Line: The Green Line will be a 1000 MW HVDC tie from northern Maine into the greater-Boston area, designed to connect remote wind resources to load.
  • Grand Isle Intertie: The GII will be a 400 MW connection from Plattsburgh, NY into Burlington, VT – like Green Line, the goal of this project is to connect incremental wind resources into the ISO-NE market.
  • Poseidon: Poseidon is very similar to Neptune – bringing 500 MW of power from central NJ to Long Island.
  • And lastly, the Bay State OSW Tmx System

I think the title of this session was well chosen – “Creating a Cost-Effective Offshore Wind Power Grid & Transmission Infrastructure: What are the practicalities?” I say this because the practicalities may dictate that best offshore grid we can build right now may not the most cost effective on the basis of $/MWh delivered, nor the most elegant from a technical or engineering perspective, nor the most robust platform for connecting thousands of megawatts of offshore projects. But for now, that’s OK – we need to start somewhere.

Julia and her colleagues at Green Power Conferences have asked us to comment on several areas within this broader subject – a few of which are:

  • Trends in development and financing
  • The cost implications of creating the ‘right’ transmission infrastructure
  • Whether offshore transmission should be financed independently or as a backbone; and
  • What innovations could the US adopt from the Europeans

I’ll try to address each of these – at least tangentially – through the story of our own Bay State Offshore Wind Transmission System.

At Anbaric we first started thinking seriously about creating an offshore transmission grid in 2009. During our initial planning, we recognized the inefficiencies of running dedicated transmission lines from each project to the shore, and the conflicts that would likely arise as multiple projects tried to connect into the limited subset of landing spots that are environmentally, electrically, and economically desirable. We looked for other industries that might have these same challenges, and thought offshore oil & gas might be a good model – there are thousands of oil & gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and they share a handful of highly networked pipeline systems to move their products to shore. Well, it turns out that oil & gas is quite a mature industry with deep and liquid markets for their products, which happen to carry good margins, and those pipeline systems weren’t built overnight.

POINT 1: The practical cost-effective grid must be sized to meet the needs of the industry it’s meant to service. In the current world – where offshore wind does not compete on a $/MWh basis with available on-shore resources – the pace and size of development will be determined by policy, and we’ve yet to see any policy that truly supports the large-scale deployment of offshore wind, and by policy, I mean financeable contracts.

So, we sat back for a bit to see where policy would lead. Between 2009-2011 we saw BOEM take a more proactive role by designating the wind energy areas and beginning the leasing processes. The state of Massachusetts had released its Ocean Management Plan and held an RFI for both offshore wind and transmission, and had stated a goal of developing up to 4000 MW of offshore wind. This represented some progress. Though we still liked the idea of building a networked system to bring thousands of MW of wind to shore, we recognized that the costs to do so in advance of the generation would be prohibitive and unlikely to win political favor.

POINT 2: Offshore transmission is expensive, and financing it will require a commitment by somebody to pay for it – either the wind generators themselves, the RTO’s through a FERC-Order 1000 public policy mechanism, or the states through some vehicle to be determined. As an independent transmission developer, the one question we ask ourselves every day is “who is our customer?” The answer to this question will determine the transmission system that gets built. Financing by the generators will almost guarantee a series of radial interconnects. Only through some sort of broader cost allocation can larger, more efficient grids be developed, and these require planning.

So we revised our plans from a networked system to two 1,000 MW radial interconnections into southeastern Massachusetts, each of which could accommodate multiple farms. This meant that we A) could build at a scale large enough to capture economies of scale, B) avoid the technological risk of implementing a network, and C) could build in phases, timed along with the wind farms, reducing the risk of stranded costs.

Well, a couple more years have passed since we filed the above plans with ISO-NE, and we’ve yet to see the concrete policies put in place that could support both offshore generation and transmission.  There is hope that the actions by the Maryland Governor and Legislature and the recent coordination among the New England Governors and NESCOE will lead to something positive for the industry. But I suspect that in the near term, this will mean hundreds of MW deployed, not the thousands we’ve all been hoping and working so hard for.

This brings me to my THIRD POINT: The optimal offshore grid will also be an evolving system – if the industry starts with smaller, isolated projects, it makes sense to build a smaller, project specific grid. But as the industry develops and we begin to see thousands of real MWs on the horizon, then we can start to talk about big integrated systems. Anbaric remains flexible in its approach, and we’re happy to build whatever system is optimal for the wind projects that will be built.

Lastly, the question was asked “What innovative approaches could the US take from Europe and the supergrid?” My answer is not a technical one, but rather “get the policy right to support the industry for the long term.” This is no longer a science experiment – it works. Let’s do it. Once we begin to build actual projects on a sustained basis, engineers and entrepreneurs will have incentive to tackle the hard problems and bring innovation.

Posted in Alternative Energy, Ocean Planning, Offshore Transmission, Offshore Wind, Transmission | Comments Off