Lindsay Morris, Associate Editor, Power Engineering
November 27, 2012 | 0 Comments
Power Engineering's Lindsay Morris hosted this year's Renewable Energy Executive Roundtable with five executives in the clean energy sector: Matt Burkhart, vice president of electric and fuel procurement, San Diego Gas & Electric; Rhone Resch, president and CEO, Solar Energy Industries Association; Karl Gawell, executive director, Geothermal Energy Association; Jim Ivany, president of Bechtel's Renewable Power business group; and Rob Gramlich, Senior Vice President of Public Policy, American Wind Energy Association.
It also had a significant impact on manufacturing in the U.S. We were a net exporter of solar products up until last year; now we’re an importer. Again, this is looking at the full value chain, not just the finished product. Clearly, manufacturing in China has put significant pressure on U.S. manufacturers, thus we’re seeing the anti-dumping, countervailing lawsuit, which the ITC just supported with a vote of 6-0. This will increase tariffs on Chinese product coming into the U.S. I do not think this will have an impact on the price of solar or the deployment of solar going forward, simply because those tariffs will not become a barrier towards bringing foreign product into a global market where there’s such surplus. I would say that the competition from outside manufacturers has certainly benefitted the price of solar, although it’s had a significant impact on manufacturers in the U.S.
Gawell: I wouldn’t limit this question to just solar and wind. I think that one of the important messages for people to recognize in the policy arenas of Washington is that all of the renewable technologies are growing as global industries, and we have to understand that if the U.S. wants to be the leader not just here but around the world, we need to compete on a global scale in the renewable power areas. I think the Obama Administration with its initiative on renewable exports began to recognize that in the last couple years. And hopefully as Congress moves forward and looks at renewable policy, they’ll realize that these are fast-growing, global industries, and there are opportunities for America to benefit if we approach them with that kind of an understanding and realizing global competition is something we can deal with if we just understand it’s there and take it on.
PE: What renewable energy development completed in 2012 are you most proud of?
Ivany: Bechtel’s renewables business line is a relatively nascent business line for us considering we have a 114-year old history. That said, in the last year, there are a lot of accomplishments we are really proud of. We are building Ivanpah, which will be the world’s largest CSP plant; we are building California Valley Solar Ranch, which will be one of the world’s largest PV plants; we are building the Catalina solar project, including a seven-mile transmission line, which is a supplement to existing lines. We’re building more transmission lines in Canada to accommodate their interest in wind power generation and growth in the region, and hope to build more in the U.S.
Bechtel also recently announced a joint agreement with Subsea 7, one of the world’s largest subsea contractors, which we hope will open doors to offshore wind prospects both in Europe and the United States. Bechtel has a lot to be proud of in terms in renewables in 2012.
Resch: There are a lot of great projects that are the icons of the solar industry today because of their scale, complexity and low cost. What I’m most proud of is the overall growth of solar as a source of American power. As I pointed out, annual installations have grown from 280 MW to 3.2 GW in the last four years. We will grow by more than 100 percent this year as an industry, which makes solar one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. We have increased jobs by over 13.2 percent in the last year alone, six times faster than the growth of jobs throughout the U.S. Overall, we employ 119,000 Americans at 5,600 companies in the U.S., and many of those companies are small businesses. That’s double the amount of companies we had in this industry in 2009. So when I step back and look at 2012, it’s really the growth of the industry in all market segments, including residential growth and commercial ramp-up by some of our most successful corporations, including Walmart, FedEx, General Motors, Walgreens, and Google, who have embraced solar and are deploying it literally hundreds of times.
Then there are the utility-scale projects, as Jim had pointed out, and it’s not just PV, but it’s also concentrating solar power. Also, some of the projects that Bechtel and others are building include storage options, which will allow solar to operate through the peak demand hours and into the evening. That’s something we haven’t really had in this country before. So I would say it’s the growth of the market overall, as well as how companies have responded with innovation, both in technology and in their business models that I’m most proud of.
Gramlich: In terms of wind, I’m proud of the aggregate amount of development where we’ve sustained our position of providing 35 percent of all new generation capacity over the last five years. But another exciting development that I think is really important is with the new technologies for lower wind speed turbines that can be deployed in states not typically thought of as great wind resource states. Our developments have been strong in surprising places. Tennessee Valley Authority is buying quite a bit of wind. A couple of Southern Company’s subsidiary companies are buying significant wind energy in the South. In the Midwest, there’s been a lot of development in states like Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana that had not been thought of as great opportunities not very long ago. But now with the low-wind speed turbine technologies, those opportunities exist.
Gawell: I would say, for geothermal, we’ve been rebuilding this industry from a period where we had almost no power projects built in the U.S. for a decade, but in the last six years, we’ve put 28 new project online in the U.S., and built as much geothermal capacity as was built in the first 20 years of this industry. The rebuilding is definitely happening, and with that, technology is advancing. We’re seeing totally new designs for high-temperature, flash power plants, we’re seeing existing power operations being redeveloped for much higher outputs, and efficiencies with better equipment, better technology. We’ve seen the first hybrid geothermal solar power plant built, and we’re seeing distributed generation with geothermal occurring in a number of states in the West, and people are looking at beginning to produce geothermal from other sources, like hot water from oil and gas wells.
In terms of where we can go, I tell people I think geothermal is a few years behind wind and solar in terms of our market development, but I think there’s a lot of potential going forward. I think it’s also important to recognize that in the last few years we’ve seen U.S. companies doing business around the world, selling power plants that are built in California to Turkey, selling power units that are built in Nevada to Germany, building new, major power plants in Kenya and Nicaragua. The U.S. industry has been re-building itself not just in the U.S., but around the world. I guess the answer to the question is, I would find it hard to pick out one particular thing and say, this is the most outstanding. But I think in general what’s happening in the industry itself is a real tribute to the people who have made the commitment to make this technology grow.
Burkhart: I feel like the others; there’s no single development I would mention, but rather the development of our contract portfolio that’s now about 2,000 MW, either in construction or in some stage of development. We’ve made a major contribution on the buy side to a lot of projects, some that have been mentioned today. For example, Catalina is in our portfolio.
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