I spent four months in Ireland in college. The local girls there weren’t so familiar with Ohio (they asked if it was close to where Paris Hilton lived), but they had been to New York. I’d traveled my way around Paris, London, Berlin and more, but I could not say the same. Four years later, I know I’ve seen my share of Europe, but am still slowly exploring my own back yard.
These renewable energy tradeshows and seminars have helped, making my way to California, Texas and other states for the first time. But I was especially excited to make my way to New York for the AWEA Wind Financing and Investment Seminar. Somehow going to this world-renown city makes me feel like a real American.
What I didn’t expect was to experience the hustle and bustle so early in my travels. The turbulence and sharp turns on my flight had me holding on tight and praying profusely. But once we found some smooth air, I relaxed enough to enjoy my first view of the city. Even over the shoulder of the girl with the window seat (I had offered her my aisle, which she kindly declined and proceeded to utilize her aerial view by napping the entire way!) my first view of Central Park was amazing—the skyline, breathtaking.
Unfortunately, my tumultuous journey soon resumed as I was crammed into a shuttle bus with 10 other people and driven around on an hour and a half journey of hotel drop-offs. Once again, I viewed the streets of the city I so longed to see behind heads and next to a woman with a frequent cough (my germaphobic self’s worse nightmare). Thankfully, once a few passagers cleared out I moved up front to witness the ride from a more pleasant perspective. The driving and traffic was just as congested as I expected, though not as fierce as I’ve seen in Florence (but these cars and trucks are larger). But the big-city annoyance and angry honking I expected was not so much. In fact, some idiot tried to squeeze through a narrow ally between our van and a parked car (with literally centimeters to spare) and our driver actually helped direct him.
In the end, I finally made it to the grand Crown Plaza near Times Square (another site that made me smile with excitement). There, I quenched my parched throat with fresh water from the tables as as I listened to several intriguing presentations.
Elizabeth Salerno, chief economist and director of industry and data analysis at AWEA, started things off by discussing AWEA’s 2011 Market Report. According the the report, the U.S. wind industry installed 6,816 MW in 2011, 31% higher than 2010, for a total of 46,916 MW installed to date. Wind capacity has increased with an average annual growth of 35% year-over-year over the past five years. Wind capacity captured 31% of new power plant construction in 2011 and natural gas 42%. Still, seeing this kind of significant progress is quite encouraging and the industry should be proud.
One discussion that particularly interested me was how strengthening project performance can drive and support investment. Mark Bolinger, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory noted how taller towers, larger rotors and other technical improvements have boosted capacity factory for more energy yield. He stresses the importance of keeping performace high as projects age. Robert Poore, VP of business and service development at DNV Kema said better resource asessments can also boost project performance. He says to ensure quality assessments, one must be aware of considerations in wake modeling, atmospheric conditions, long-term corellations and availability. Greg Tkvorian, senior project manager at SAIC Energy, focused on best O&M practices for keeping wind production high. He stresses having technicians onsite who are knowledgable and trained, using 24-7 monitoring (especially condition monitoring), ensuring spare parts abailability and applying new advancements. “Routine, Preventive, Predictive Maintenance!” was his mantra. According to Tkvorian, about 50% of maintenance costs on an average wind farm are unplanned. O&M crews should strive to change this, putting emphasis on planned, predictive work. Timothy Fratta, business and service development manager at enXco, had some interesting things to say about the economics of O&M, noting it comes down to risk tolerance and where yours is at. He says service provider fees and major component reserves are the greatest O&M costs on an average wind farm (sidenote, an average oil change on a 100-MW project with 2-MW turbines costs $250,000! Good thing you only have to do this every 5 years. Makes me feel better about the $30 I shell out for my car). He says it’s important to consider unknowns, such as long-term trends, regulations and corporate consolidates or changes (on one site he had to deal with a lack of an OEM).
A discussion on securing grid access was also interesting, as Marc Spitzer, a partner with Steptoe & Johnson and a former FERC Comissioner made an interesting point. He says while there is much discent between parties when it comes to renewable legislation, FERC orders have been bipartisan decisions. He hopes one day the same will be true for renewables. Spitzer says a big challenge in this area is cost allocation, hence FERC Order 1000. He urges the industry to weigh in on where to site power lines. A representative from Iberdrola also made a good point. He says the best U.S. wind resources are located in areas where the grid is the weakest. The nation has had success with constructing interstate pipelines for natural gas and now we need to do the same in transmission to create a strong backbone for projects. Lastly, Gary Moland, director of market analysis with GL Garrad Hassan, discussed problems with curtailment and congestion. Curtailment occurs when wind plants must reduce their generation output due to congestion on a transmission grid with inadequate capacity. He says curtailment studies can help quantify risk on a regional and local level.
With that I leave New York having a better idea of issues and trends in wind finance, and an understanding of why so many people from around the world have eagerly come here. I can now say I’m one of them.