Solutions for Tomorrow’s Energy Customer

Energy transition

Anne Vedel
Vice President of Market Development at Vestas Americas
Published on 20th of April 2020

First, a note on the Coronavirus pandemic. These are uncertain times for all industries. As cities, counties and states take extra and necessary precautions to prevent the spread of illness, we are all impacted. My hope is that this time allows the industry to reflect on the role of energy in today’s crisis and the crises of tomorrow. Energy is what keeps the lights on at homes, businesses and government offices in difficult times. And wind is now an integral part of the reliable delivery of electricity. 

In 2019, American wind farms produced enough energy to power 30 million American homes and six states now serve 20 percent or more of their load with wind energy. All to say, the workers in the field maintaining our turbines are providing critical services to many Americans. Therefore, how we think about wind matters. It is not a clean-energy fad, but an integral and reliable part of supporting the U.S. in difficult times. That is why designing solutions today for tomorrow’s energy customer positions us to address crises head-on with a reliable and resilient product. 

Living in Denmark, I was surrounded by technology solutions in action. I did not recognize the novelty in the fact my childhood home is now within five miles of a 150 MW wind farm, a 20 MW solar system and 10 MW of various energy storage projects. As I approach my 13th year at Vestas, I see how this proximity to diverse energy technologies informed my understanding of what a company can offer customers. Like the electrons now passing through the backyard of my childhood home, we are capable of bridging technologies to meet the specific load needs of our customers. 

For years, decision-makers, developers and customers have oversimplified the construction and subsequent procurement of renewable energy. We build 150 MW of wind and expect to serve 50 MW of load for a given customer. But this equation does not account for time. It does not consider when that customer’s demand is needed and how the output of wind lines up with that demand. 

We can address this mismatch through hybrid projects that partner the complementary generation benefits of solar and wind with the dispatchability of battery storage. Figure 1 pairs a sample customer’s load need with 24-hour output of a wind, solar, battery hybrid. In short, a customer with consistent 24-hour load needs can be served with a well-designed energy solution.

Figure 1: Example 24-hour energy customer with modeled hybrid dispatch
Hospitals and medical research campuses serve as an example of how timing matters in energy delivery. In 2019, Deloitte released a report on corporate renewable demand, finding the healthcare and medical sector would lead in renewable energy procurement from 2020-2025 due to increasing electrification and clean energy goals. A typical hospital may have electricity demand that stays relatively flat throughout the day and into the night, but this differs from the demand profile of the larger system. A unique renewable energy solution is needed.

A hybrid power plant, combining solar, wind and battery storage can provide the type of supply that suits medical sector customers. And can do so with availability equal to that of a coal plant. The Vestas Americas Market Intelligence Team illustrated how electricity supply can be delivered steadily through analyzing an example hybrid project in the Great Plains region. 

Modeling a hypothetical power plant with 100 MW of wind power, 100 MW of solar power, and a 100 MW, 4-hour battery, we found that at least 40 MW of the project’s installed capacity can be relied on to deliver power each hour of the day—known as firm power. It is important to note that no power plant can be online 100 percent of the time due to scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, but 85 percent is on par with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s estimate of an average coal plant’s availability throughout the year. 

This indicates hybrids can provide a percentage of their output as firm power just as reliably as a coal plant—in this case, 20% of the project’s output is guaranteed firm. Notably, the 40 MW firm power estimate is extremely conservative because it is derived from the lowest combined wind and solar resource hour of every day over a 20-year period. In reality, the hybrid would likely be able to provide more firm power. And with continued technology advancements in battery storage systems, firm power capabilities will only increase.

Figure 2: Hybrid output availability at Great Plains project. 

Technology advancement and grid modernization have allowed us to deliver affordable and reliable clean energy to any customer, whether it be a hospital, data center, or university. As an industry, we have the technology, experience and tools to shift the prevailing paradigm from building renewable energy independent of load needs to designing energy solutions for individual customers. When we think like this, we can begin to better integrate renewables and drive further innovation in hybrid solutions.

This article was written for Recharge and published on 16th April 2020.