Advanced Energy Perspectives

NEWS: BOO! Big Buys, Block Island, and Headlines Fit for Halloween

Posted by Lexie Briggs

Oct 28, 2016 11:22:14 AM



Image of courtesy of NASA

Every week we see more stories of the progress of advanced energy, and this week is certainly no exception. From the biggest purchase of advanced energy ever by the federal government to the first American offshore wind farm, advanced energy is marching on. Some of this week’s advanced energy headline writers seem to know Halloween is coming, but here’s the thing: It will take a little more than zombie power generation, energy storage bloodbath, or eldritch wind projects from the watery deep to scare us. 

First, from Chris Mooney at The Washington Post, we have a story of advanced energy supporting the troops. This week, the federal government put into service its largest installation of advanced energy to date: a 150 MW solar array located in the Arizona desert. The electricity generated there will help power military installations in southern California, providing approximately one-third of electricity needs at 14 facilities, including the Marines’ Camp Pendleton and the San Diego naval base.

“Today we’re going to throw a switch and start getting those electrons flowing to our 14 bases,” said Dennis McGinn, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations, and environment, speaking at Mesquite 3’s opening ceremony. “It’s going to be reliable, it’s going to be cheaper than what we’re paying for brown power, and it just diversifies our energy sources for these bases.”

The Navy has long been a leader in advanced energy. In 2015, the Navy entered into the 25-year PPA agreement to develop the Mesquite 3 installation, and it has long been a major investor in biofuel technologies. In 2013, Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, wrote in Foreign Policy about the national security implications of advanced energy.

Meanwhile, in the actual ocean, the United States is preparing for the first-ever offshore wind installation. The five wind turbines at Block Island Wind Farm have been erected, tested, and are (finally) officially going online later this month. Jeremy Hsu, writing in Scientific American this week, explains why the excitement is paired with weariness among offshore wind advocates, which have seen previous projects fall victim to financing challenges and competition from lower-cost natural gas generation. “There is a graveyard of U.S. offshore wind projects that have died after failing to secure a contract for the purchase of its electricity,” said Alex Morgan, a wind energy analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. 

But Katie Fehrenbacher, writing for Fortune, says this first American offshore wind farm is a big deal, in part because, as the subhead reads, “wind energy is getting really, really cheap.” Over the past six years, she writes, the price of onshore wind-generated electricity has “plummeted” and, while offshore wind farms are still significantly more expensive, they are all the more attractive for states without vast open plains but plenty of open coast. States like Li’l Rhody. 

Just check out this graph comparing the relative cost of generation from a variety of sources:


As a result, there is more homegrown offshore wind yet to come. Just yesterday, the Interior Department opened up its sixth competitive lease sale of offshore resources near New York, and a record 14 companies and other entities (including the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA) are qualified to participate in the upcoming auction.

That said, the next offshore wind farm might not even be in the ocean. In our first Halloween-themed headline, Bloomberg published “Next U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Set to Emerge From Lake Erie.” I’m sure they meant to add the modifier “Cthulu-like.” 

While Ohio might not be the first state that springs to mind for offshore wind, the Great Lakes region has the potential for 1,000 MW of wind energy by 2020, according to Bloomberg. Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LeedCo) is working to finalize a deal with Norway-based Fred. Olsen Renewables AS for a 20.7 MW wind project in, you guessed it, Lake Erie.

“Building offshore wind on the Great Lakes is our best opportunity to generate clean energy locally,” said LeedCo President Lorry Wagner.

Following the trend of Halloween headlines, David Hunt, writing for the blog Energy Storage News, had a spooky one: “‘There’s going to be a blood bath’: Insiders’ views on energy storage,” illustrated with an image of a guillotine. Yikes. But the specter of a shake-out while the market for this game-changing advanced energy solution takes shape is not quite as terrifying as it might sound: As with any early-stage technology, there are a lot of directions the energy storage market could grow. And, as Hunt points out in his article, there are many different kinds of energy storage, everything from residential behind-the-meter to utility-scale. The “blood bath” might end up being more like this article from Slate from almost exactly a year ago: “A Brief History of Fake Blood.”

Finally, my favorite Halloween-y headline of the week, from Utility Dive:Zombie wind and solar? How repowering old facilities helps renewables keep cutting costs.” As early advanced energy projects are reaching the ends of their operational lives, an opportunity is arriving for newer and more efficient technologies to be reborn in their place, writes Herman Trabish. (We explored a similar story recently, which included a proposal to install solar energy at Chernobyl.) Basically, the law of conservation of energy applies to generation sites as well: existing sites already have transmission connections and, in the case of wind farms built two or three decades ago with less powerful turbines, great wind potential. The industry calls it “repowering,” but why pass up an opportunity to use the word zombie?

Last year, we reported on one such instance of repowering an old wind site: Google and AEE member NextEra Energy Resources entered an agreement to resurrect the Altamont Pass wind farm, Dr. Frankenstein-style. The companies have worked to replace the 770 old and outdated wind turbines (originally installed in 1982!) with 48 state-of-the-art machines. As Utility Dive notes, “old projects never die.”

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