Happy New Year! Welcome to 2018, a year of great promise for new wind industry development in the U.S. Before looking too far into the future, however, let’s take a quick look back to appreciate the progress wind power made in America last year.
1. Offshore wind is here
Where 2016 was a year that launched the offshore wind industry in the U.S. (the country finally got its first offshore wind farm in December 2016 — the five-turbine Block Island Wind off the coast of Rhode Island), 2017 was a year of planning for future industry reliability and success.
For example, the U.S. launched a new initiative to develop a set of national standards for the offshore wind sector, a collaboration between the NREL, BOEM, and AWEA. The Department of Energy allocated $18.5 million in funding to develop an offshore wind research and development consortium. Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island released three reports, which set out the context for offshore wind development in the Northeast and reveal its potential economic development benefits.
State organizations were also busy identifying potential offshore wind sites. NYSERDA, for example, has identified more than one million acres of offshore area along the south shore of Long Island for potential development. The proposed offshore area has the potential to generate 2,400 MW of energy by 2030. BOEM has contracted high-resolution aerial digital surveys of offshore North and South Carolina. 2017 also brought news of offshore auctions and project proposals (by one count, U.S. planners foresee 28 future offshore wind projects with a total potential capacity of 23,735 MW). One thing 2017 made clear: offshore wind industry in America is officially here.
2. Drones are the new O&M check
Wind-turbine inspections have never been so safe, simple — or fast. Unmanned aerial systems (UASs) or drones are changing O&M routines for many wind operators. No longer are wind techs given the arduous, time-consuming, and risky challenge of climbing uptower unless absolutely necessary. Now autonomous drones can offer detailed blade inspection, images, and data in minutes.
Drone company, SkySpecs, makes 15-minute turbine blade inspections possible in many cases. In 2017, SkySpecs also worked with Sandia National Laboratories to validate its damage-detection algorithms from drone inspections to meet industry standards.
Tower and blade inspections are just one application where drones are proving worthy. UAS’s are also ideal for performing aerial inspections of transmission assets, including inspections of downed power lines that present hazards for repair crews. Drones have become an essential tool for land surveyors and wind developers, which can map terrain and plot turbines and infrastructure such as substations.
3. Cyber-security is the new normal
Welcome to the digital era. We may have access to data and information at record-speed and from almost anywhere in the world, but at what cost? In a 2017 Wired article, the author describes the investigation of researchers from the University of Tulsa. According to the article, the researchers have been systematically hacking wind farms around the U.S. to demonstrate digital gaps as vulnerabilities.
Clearly, it is essential for wind-farm owners and operators to fully safeguard their networks and control systems. This means wind-turbine manufactures are starting to offer turbines with a security system. For example, in May 2017 GE Renewable Energy was chosen to provide 300-MW worth of wind turbines to an Invenergy project in Texas.
However, GE says it will also provide cyber security for Invenergy’s nearly 10-GW fleet of wind turbines.
In a September interview with GE Power, the company recommended a few best practices for maintaining a protected environment. Its recommendations include keeping software and firmware up-to-date with timely patch updates, and educating IT personnel on a regular basis. Read more tips here.
4. Energy storage is where it’s at
Energy storage is proving a reliable way to support the integration of renewables into the electric grid. As battery costs fall, wind developers and operators are taking notice. Case-in-point: Vestas spent much of 2017 partnering with big-name battery companies — including Tesla — to research how to integrate power storage into wind turbines and Vestas’ power plants.
In fact, the turbine manufacturer says it is helping build the world’s first utility-scale project in Australia using Tesla batteries to store power from wind and solar. More recently Vestas announced a partnership with battery manufacturer, Northvolt, to develop a lithium-ion battery platform for wind farms. The goal, according to Vestas, is to ensure greater certainty and predictability in power output for enhanced grid stability and compliance with grid requirements.
5. Renewables are breaking records
In some states, California and Texas in particular, wind and solar met more than 50% of total energy demand at times in certain regions in 2017. What’s more, March produced the highest share of wind and solar generation the U.S. has ever seen — over 10%. Despite challenges and political uncertainty, wind and solar energy proved reliable and worthy last year.
According to AWEA’s third-quarter report of 2017, year-over-year wind energy’s construction and advanced development activity up 27%.
According to AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan, “The high level of wind under construction and in advanced development shows we are on track to deliver 10% of America’s electricity by 2020, along with $85 billion in economic activity and 50,000 new jobs.” That’s great news and an ideal way to kick off a new year.