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picOver a dozen US cities have committed to 100% Renewable Energy - Achieving the goal: Greensburg, KS, Burlington, VT and Aspen, CO. Visit GO100percent.org to access the interactive map.

Power Shift: The Clean Energy Revolution

Posted 3 February 2016 by Carol Brighton

The promise of renewable energy is no longer a pipe dream: Rapidly expanding across the country, it is now seen as a cost effective and clean. As cities respond to the threats of climate change, resilience strategies that embrace clean energy are spreading. Over a dozen US cities have made commitments to transition to 100% renewable power. San Diego made the announcement in December and three communities have already reached the auspicious goal. Will Alexandria, Virginia be next to take on the challenge? The Sierra Club is setting its sights on the City as part of a new campaign launched to commit 100 cities to 100% renewable energy by 2018.

While hard evidence of a transformation to clean energy is a challenge to find in Virginia, the boom well established in much of the country and neighboring states, is about to spill over the border. With over a billion watts of installed solar power capacity in North Carolina, compared to a generous estimate of 25 million watts in Virginia, clean energy demand in the Commonwealth is being met with NC generation. The Department of the Navy has entered into a power purchase agrement to supply 6% of Naval Station Norfolk's energy from a 25 MW solar plant situated just miles from the state line in North Carolina's Pasquotank County. North Carolina's first wind farm also under construction in Pasquotank and adjacent Perquimans Counties will transmit power to Amazon data centers, including one in Virginia. A total of 104 two MW turbines are planned that stand close to 500 feet for the Desert Wind project. In Pasquotank County alone, the leases will bring in $10 million in revenue and generate about $8 million in county taxes over the life of the project. Although now under construction, the project could be in jeopardy as a lawsuit looms.

6% of Norfolk Naval Station Energy to be supplied by a 25 MW Pasquotank County, NC solar farm. Image: 2 MW array located on the base.

As the ripple effect of clean energy demand is leveraged, real progress to establish renewable generation in Virginia is finally on the horizon. The Governor recently announced plans for state agencies to procure 110 MW of capacity from renewable sources and Dominion Power, the states largest utility, has committed to building 400 MW of solar capacity by 2020. A major 80 MW network of solar arrays now under construction in Accomack County, Virginia was just purchased by Dominion. The generation from that facility is likewise destined for an Amazon facility.

Solar at Oceana

The Navy, which has a mandate to obtain 50% of its shore power from renewables, is behind a Virginia Beach solar initiative. A 14 MW facility on 95 acres adjacent to the Oceana Naval Air Station is under consideration. An RFP for the project has closed, proposals are being analyzed and an environmental assessment of the array site is being conducted. More information can be reviewed it the NAVFAC Fact Sheet.

picImage: Apex Clean Energy Simulation of the View from the closest neighbor of the Rocky Forge Project


Virginia's First Wind Farm?

Plans for the Commonwealth's first wind farm have overcome a major hurdle: Support from local residents. After a unanimous vote by Botetourt County officials in January, developers will now seek state and federal approval. Apex Clean Energy based in Charlottesville, Virginia is a national developer of wind and solar projects with a portfolio of projects producing over 12 thousand MW. The 75 MW Rocky Forge Wind Farm in Botetourt County will consist of 25 three MW turbines that stand over 500 feet tall. If all goes well, construction of the project viewed from the nearest neighbor's perspective at right, will begin next year.

Offshore wind is another potential resource being explored in Virginia. Globally, the industry sector is expected to grow 7 fold from 2013 levels by 2022. The country's first offshore farm is currently under construction in Rhode Island. Five 6 MW turbines are being installed in state waters off Block Island. A Dominion Power project to install two 6 MW demonstration turbines some 27 miles off the Virginia Coast was put on hold last summer as the only bid for the project far exceeded the utility's initial project estimates. A second request for proposals was announced and word about whether these submissions could put the project back on track should be forthcoming. UPDATE: New bids were received and while less than the original submissions, still beyond company expectations. With the project stagnating, the Department of Energy pulled funding for the project in May 2016. The $40 million grant was reallocated to Lake Erie Energy Development Co. So it would seem, that Virginia's loss is Ohio's gain. Dominion still owns the federal lease comprising some 112 thousand acres near the proposed demonstration site. More info on any project developments will be posted at this site.

Driving an Alternative Energy Boom in the Old Dominion

While the Commonwealth has gotten off to a slow start adopting clean energy sources, falling costs and consumer demand have created the incentives that will fuel a takeoff. The potential economic implications of this transition are discussed in Watts to Gain from Renewable Energy? Also featured below: New Model Forecasts Rapid Expansion of Renewables; Solar Training for Transitioning Vets and Next Generation Renewable Technologies. The last segment features transformative initiatives with Virginia connections including research on a megascale hurricane resistent offshore turbine and wave energy conversion.


The SEIA reports that 24 GW of solar capacity is installed in the U.S. N.C. ranks 3rd in nation for installed generation capacity.

Watts to Gain from Renewable Energy?

The renewable energy boom isn't just creating emission free electric watts, its creating jobs and local revenue. Business titan Michael Bloomberg notes that “the U.S. solar power industry continues to grow and create jobs, providing further evidence that promoting economic growth and fighting climate change can go hand-in-hand." 24 GW of solar capacity is currently installed in the US with utility-scale PV accounting for about one third of that. The cost of solar has dropped close to 80% over the last eight years. The Solar Foundation reports that the solar workforce has grown by 20% for three consecutive years. Last year over 35,000 solar jobs were added. According to Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation,“Employment in solar has grown an extraordinary 123 percent since 2010, adding approximately 115,000 well-paying jobs." As of November 2015, 209,000 American workers were employed by the solar industry. Solar installers earn an average of $18/hour while designers and sales and marketing earn in the range of $27 to $29 per hour.

The SEIA reported in December that "GTM Research expects the fourth quarter of this year to be the largest quarter for solar installations in U.S. history. Led by the utility-scale segment, the United States will install more than three GW. Looking further out, cumulative PV installations will nearly double between now and the end of 2016, bringing the nationwide total to 41 GW."

Like solar the cost of wind has fallen dramatically, some 66% over 6 years. A report from the DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab finds that the price of wind now averages 2.5 cents per kWh. “Wind energy prices—particularly in the central United States—have hit new lows, with utilities selecting wind as the low cost option,” Berkeley Lab Senior Scientist Ryan Wiser said. “Moreover, enabled by technology advancements, wind projects are economically viable in a growing number of locations throughout the U.S.” With better efficiency, a great deal of territory in the southeast is now economically viable for development. Currently there is almost 75 GW of installed wind capacity in the United States and more than 52,000 operating wind turbines. Based on skyrocketing growth rates for the industry in the coming years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks wind turbine service technicians as the fastest growing occupation in the United States by a long shot. Average pay for the position is over $20 per hour.

In addition to the jobs created, wind and solar projects generate local revenues through land leases and taxes. Wind farms are co-located on land that is also used for agricultural purposes while solar farms utilized for meadow and pollinator habitat are becoming prevalent.


NOAA Forecast for Renewable Expansion: Rapid | Better Transmission Supports Clean Energy Transformation

New energy modeling system could revolutionize the American energy network leading to a cheap reliable energy mix that also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Because of the intermittent nature of renewables, energy storage has been touted as a way to make the grid more reliable. New research conducted by NOAA and University of Colorado Boulder scientists indicates that another option exists. The research published in the Journal Nature Climate Change finds that renewables could replace a significant amount of energy currently supplied by fossil fuels without cost increases. “Our research shows a transition to a reliable, low-carbon, electrical generation and transmission system can be accomplished with commercially available technology and within 15 years,” said Alexander MacDonald, co-lead author and recently retired director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder.

The team bases their assertion on a weather driven scientific model built using high resolution meteorological data. At any given time, wind is blowing or the sun is shining somewhere in the US. By scaling up the renewable energy generation system to match the scale of weather systems, researchers have simulated a resolution of the intermittency issue. Based on weather data, the simulator selects the most cost effective type of energy to supply demand.

The lowest cost power with a reduction in greenhouse gas emission simulated through the model consisted of significant renewable resources most frequently delivered through a new national system of high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission. MacDonald compares the idea of a HVDC grid with the interstate highway system which transformed the U.S. economy in the 1950s. “With an ‘interstate for electrons’, renewable energy could be delivered anywhere in the country while emissions plummet,” he said. “An HVDC grid would create a national electricity market in which all types of generation, including low-carbon sources, compete on a cost basis. The surprise was how dominant wind and solar could be.” According to a post by the UC Boulder co-author Chris Clack in the Conversation, one the cheapest scenarios modeled showed "38 percent of electricity would come from wind, 17 percent from solar, 21 percent from natural gas and the remainder from nuclear and hydroelectric." While providing energy at rates below today's averages, greenhouse gas emissions can be cut up to 78% from 1990 power production levels. The price of building new grid infrastructure needed to generate and transmit the corresponding renewable supply was factored into the model.

The renewable energy industry is already set to expand, but this new model could revolutionize the American energy system, accelerating expansion and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Revitalizing the aging electric grid will create even more high paying jobs. In the next post a program to prepare transitioning vets for the solar workforce is featured.


Solar Ready Vets Training Program in Virginia

As a fast growing industry, opportunities in the the solar workforce are likewise expanding. With approximately 200,000 service men and women transitioning to civilian life every year, opportunities for labor training in the industry are now being offered at or near bases around the country.

In 2015, the Energy Department’s Solar Ready Vets program trained more than 150 veterans to enter the solar workforce. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randalls writes that, "I’m pleased to report that every single one received a job offer upon graduating. This was also a banner year for the solar industry -- and as it grows, the demand for highly trained technical workers grows, too. We know that the veterans we train through Solar Ready Vets have a tremendous impact on the industry because they have the diverse technical, leadership, and problem-solving skills needed to thrive."

Last year the solar industry committed to employing 50,000 vets by 2020. Solar Energy Industries Association Chairman, Nat Kreamer commented that “America’s solar energy companies already employ twice as many veterans as the average U.S. business. We hire veterans because they come trained, ready and passionate. The solar industry is filled with people who are motivated to build our economy, improve our environment and strengthen our national security.”



With a workforce that grew by 35,000 last year, a partnership to employ transitioning vets is a win-win scenario. The solar training programs now being offered are open to any member of the service in good standing that is separating from service within 120 days of the course start date. During the intensive 5 week training course students are guaranteed interviews with up to five solar companies. Two upcoming training sessions are planned at the Tidewater Community College Chesapeake campus. The first is starts February 22. The next class is scheduled for 8 April.

More information about the TCC solar courses and eligibility can be found here.

UPDATE: Upcoming training programs are no longer free of cost. Info on courses scheduled for the Fall 2016 can be found here.

picUVA Professor Eric Loth with a model of a bio-inspired morphing wind turbine built to withstand hurricane force winds. Image by Tom Cogill on behalf of the University of Virginia School of Engineering & Applied Science

Next Generation Renewable Technologies

50 MW BioInspired Morphing Wind Turbines and Floating Wave Energy Converters Could be part of Tomorrow's Grid

While land based wind and solar theoretically could supply all of our energy needs, some of the technology in development for tomorrow's world will take advantage of the vast energy potential found in wind, waves and currents off our shores. Out of sight but just miles from major metro areas, offshore is the next frontier for renewable energy exploration.

Offshore winds are not only strong, they blow more consistently. If the resource were fully exploited, the US could meet its energy needs 4 times over. Developing offshore energy is expensive though. To bring costs down, turbine size has been steadily increasing. With nameplate 8 MW machines planned for deployment in the UK, a size based economic threshold for conventionally designed machines is fast approaching. Beyond approximately 10 MW, the production costs of erecting structures to support massive blades will simply become uneconomical. To build the next generation of larger more cost-effective machines, design innovation is required.


An extreme scale turbine design includes hinged blades that fold and park downwind to weather tropical storm conditions seasonally experienced along the East Coast.

Inspired by nature, a new design concept from UVA Professor Eric Loth and team received $3.5 million in funding from the Department of Energy. Loth envisions weather resilient 50 MW machines with lightweight segmented blades that, like a palm tree, bend with the wind. "Our turbine design can morph downwind in very high winds and then stow away altogether in a hurricane, unlike conventional wind turbines," said Loth. He likens the the folding blade system to that of a drawbridge.

Loth is leading a team of engineers from highly regarded research institutions, national laboratories and corporate advisory partners that includes utility giant Dominion Resources and major wind insdustry players General Electric, Siemens and Vestas. Their goal is to design a resilient turbine that produces more than double the power at less cost than a conventional turbine. The team will design a 13 MW machine. While producing over twice the power of the 6 MW machine planned for demonstration off the Virginia coast, the actual size would only would only increase by 25%. The team will build a scaled device with blades approximately 20 meters long for testing at the National Renewable Energy Lab in the Spring of 2018. If the team achieves its goals, in 10 to 15 years 50 MW palm tree mimicking generators could sprout up off the Virginia coast in Dominion's wind lease block.

picStingRAY WEC System - Image: Columbia Power Technologies

Another group with Virginia roots, is also exploring offshore energy. Columbia Power Technologies is working to commercialize a wave energy conversion system. Licensing technology originating from Oregon State University, Charlottesville entrepreneurs look to deploy the technology in an array like wind turbines.

The StingRAY prototype is being engineered for high energy waves sites like those found off the West Coast and Hawaii. As the technology evolves, much like the wind industry, less dense energy environments like those off the East Coast could one day be exploited.

Since the company formed a decade ago, the device has gone through many design iterations facilitated by a team of OSU engineering graduates. Much of their work fine tuning the the device has been achieved using cost effective computer simulation technology. According to company CEO, Reenst Lesemann, the technology has also undergone extensive testing. Over 12,000 hours of in water testing have been conducted in both the Oregon State wave pool and sea. Through this process, which included a 13 month long sea trial in Puget Sound, a new design emerged. Light weight and non-corrosive, the fiberglass device captures energy from both the heaving, up and down motion and the side-to-side movement of surge and pitch. "The beauty of our system is that there's only one step to energy conversion," said Lesemann. As floats positioned on each side of cylinder move, energy is transferred directly from the float arms to twin generators contained in the cylinder. He notes that the company received DOE funding to test its novel direct drive power take off system this spring at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado. Next year, the company plans to conduct grid connected deep water testing at the Navy's Kaneohe Bay Wave Energy Test Site in Hawaii.

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