Duke University Energy Conference 2017 – Panel: Renewable Energy

Duke University Energy Conference 2017 – Panel: Renewable Energy


– I hope everyone enjoyed lunch. My name is Paige Swofford,
I’m a third year, dual degree student here at Duke. And one of the co-presidents
of the MBA Energy Club. And I’m really excited to
introduce our next panel. We have some wonderful
speakers here with us. Immediately to my left
is Zoe Gamble Hanes, who’s the president of
Pine Gate Renewables. We have Katharine Kollins, the president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, as well as Fred Robinson,
the vice president of New Markets Development
at Cyprus Creek Renewables. So renewable energy has come
up a number of times today throughout our different segments, and it really touches so many different areas of the energy industry
that we’ve been talking about. And with so much going on,
we can’t cover everything in 45 minutes, but we’re
gonna try to hit on the big topics and trends
that our panelists are seeing. And remember also that we’ll
do a Q&A segment at the end. So there’s information on the
screen about how to submit questions for our panelists. So, to start us off, I
wanna give the panelists each a moment to introduce themselves. All three of these
organizations are active, at least in part, in the southeast. So, could you introduce yourself and your organization and
share a little bit about why the southeast is an attractive region for wind and solar development? – So, my name is Zoe Gamble Hanes, and Pine Gate is a
utility-scale solar company that has its roots in
Jacksonville, Florida, and then about 18 months
ago, moved from doing very focused on site origination to the later stages of development
and project finance, and owning and operating assets. We have projects that we,
under development in 16 states. The southeast, in particular, I think one of the interesting
things about the southeast is that it almost, ah,
isn’t a market as a region, because of North Carolina. And so you’ve had this
incredible concentration of experience and talent
that started looking around and saying: well, where else can we go? What else are we gonna do? And other states looking to North Carolina and saying: how can we get some of that? And it’s created a market,
and I think it’s a fantastic example of what one state
can do to an entire region by just taking the first step. – Okay, great, I’m Katharine Kollins. I run the Southeastern Wind Coalition. We are a 501C-3 nonprofit. We work on wind power
outreach and education around the southeast, so we cover
11 states in the southeast. And we look at land-based
wind, offshore wind, wind imports, so that’s
generating in the Midwest and bringing that into the
southeast through transmission, and supply chain. We, the southeast is a
niche market for wind. But an important market, at that. And what makes us really
excited about wind at the coalition in the
southeast specifically, is new technology. So the only way that wind
can and will make sense, from an economic standpoint
in the southeast, is through technology that
helps us harness winds, harness kind of lower wind regime winds, higher hub heights, longer blades, so you can capture more
energy with a single machine. And we’re starting to see,
we’re starting to see some excitement around various
developments in the southeast. And we’ll, hopefully,
continue to see more. – Sure, my name is Fred
Robinson, I’m the vice president of New Markets Development
for Cyprus Creek. Basically, I mean, Cyprus
Creek’s story is the southeast. We started out in the
state of North Carolina. We’re a utility-scale
solar development company. We were able to basically benefit from what I would constitute
as one of the greatest solar markets I’ve ever seen. So we have about seven to 800 megawatts of operating assets right now in the state of North Carolina, and
have started to kind of, basically, leverage that
success story into other markets in the south, so we’re just
about to go into South Carolina. I think we just made an
announcement that we’re gonna do about one and a half
billion dollars down there, doing utility-scale projects,
and have started to do some stuff in Georgia,
and I think it really, it, the crux of it has been, really, basing everything off of
kind of the perfect elements that have come together in North Carolina. And it is the off-tape
regime they had there, the fantastic labor
market that was available, and just a lot of people
who were willing to put their heads together
and make this market work. And we’ve started to
basically expand it out, across the southeast; we’re
starting to do development in Alabama, in Georgia, have
looked at some other states as well in the southeast,
and have grown the company. Since that point, I think
we’re about 26 states at this stage, so all
throughout the country, and we owe all of it,
basically, to the southeast. – Thank you; I think we’re
all really excited to dive in more to what you all
have been working on, but Katharine, I wanted to
start with a question for you. You mentioned that the
Southeastern Wind Coalition focuses on onshore,
offshore, and imported wind. And looking at the southeast,
some of the highest wind speed potentials come from offshore wind. Can you talk a little
bit about what you think has held back offshore
wind development in the US, and particularly states like
North and South Carolina, and do you think we’ll see increased development offshore in the future? – Yeah, so offshore wind is, ah, it’s an interesting, it’s
an interesting technology and it’s a fun one,
obviously, people love to, you know, it’s beautiful, well, a lot of people think it’s beautiful. Not everybody, but ah,
you know, you get scale, you get a great wind regime offshore. A lot of people talk about
the offshore wind pattern matches load much more
closely than onshore winds. So there are a lot of
benefits to offshore wind, but the biggest, the most important reason that we haven’t seen offshore
wind development is cost. So, the way that I see
the offshore market, kind of moving forward
in the southeast is, right now, in the
northeast, for those of you who kind of follow energy
policy and state-level policy, there has been a lot of
momentum in the northeast to heavily encourage
offshore wind development. So, just about all the
states in the northeast, at this point, have made
a, have made a commitment to source and generate a
certain number of megawatts of offshore wind, so I think
that once we start to see that build-out, we’re
gonna see a US supply chain start to take hold, and
start to see the economies of scale that we’ve seen in Europe that will effectively
bring those costs down to a point where, you know,
I think you’re gonna see development move north to south. So, North Carolina’s got
an offshore lease right now with Avant Grid; they’re really
excited about that lease, but at the same time they’re
the first ones to say: this is the long-term play. You know, you kinda, you have
to wait for the cost curves to, you know, supply and demand to cross, and ah, from a cost perspective, and so, you know, we’re probably
looking at another decade out. – Sure, that’s great. So we all heard from Brad
Kitchens in his opening address, talk about the Renewable
Energy 100 group of companies, and generally, we’re
seeing growing interest from corporations who want
to procure renewable energy either on site or through
virtual PPA agreements. So, I wanted to ask you all: how have your organizations
started responding to these new corporate
customers entering the market? How does this, or does
this change your approach to originations and risk management? And Fred, if you’d like to start us off? – Sure, yeah, so I mean, absolutely. I think it’s probably the largest part of our growth strategy. As far as, like, how
we go about originate, I kitchen-sink it. Like, if anyone in this crowd knows anyone who’s looking for
off-take, more than happy to take that phone call. Honestly, there’s so many
ways that you can go about it. It depends, some corporates
like to go through brokers, because they don’t feel
that they understand the energy markets
enough, so you have folks like Altenex, who think
that they can come in and kind of help originate
those sort of transactions. You have your Fortune
100s, who are probably some of the most sophisticated
energy folks out there, like Facebook, Google;
they run their own process. So from our perspective,
it’s a lot of getting to know the people who are on
their energy management team, developing a relationship with them, telling a story about who Cyprus is, what do we do, you know, what
is our operating history, and the performance behind our assets. But, and then largely, you
go look at the traditional power markets, you know,
your big trading desks, like Morgan Stanley, folks like that. Shell, that has a big trade shop. And retail electric providers, who are trying to make those markets. But I think it’s,
honestly, this is probably the most exciting, for
my role with the company, I think it’s probably
the most exciting part of what we’re working on right now. – [Paige] Great. Zoe, would you like to add to that? – No, I think that was good. (laughing) – Well, great. Another key news headline we’re
seeing a lot of these days is discussion around the solar trade case that’s going through right now, and we’d love to get your perspective. Maybe, Zoe, you can talk about how, either your organization or
the more broad solar industry is thinking about how they’ll
respond to these potential tariffs on imported panels,
and what impact could that have on the solar
development that we’re seeing? – Just for context, does
everybody in the room have, know the story here? I don’t wanna repeat information that’s already been discussed today. – [Fred] One hand, we got one hand. – One hand, okay, good. (laughing) Okay, I’ll give a very short synopsis. So, the amazing thing about
solar has been that we are driving costs down to the
point that it is competitive, truly, with natural gas and
other brown forms of power. And you saw things like
the Georgia RFP come out, where the bid prices into the Georgia RFP that were shortlisted were in the 20s, which is really phenomenally low. If you think about the
cost declines for solar, when I started building, when
we started building solar, I guess seven years ago, maybe longer than that. Anyways, it was like, you
know, seven dollars a watt. And we were looking at
bidding into that RFP, assuming build costs in
the 80 cent range, a watt. And that has primarily
come from two places. The biggest is the panels. And so there’s been this
incredible cost decline in the cost of panels. The other has been in the
efficiency of building in all kinds of incremental ways. In large part, in my view, that
has to do with building out utility-scale solar in a
concentrated and meaningful way in North Carolina. And that enabled this
sort of industry knowledge about ways that you can build
a solar farm more efficiently. So, that was an incredible promise, and then all of a sudden,
out of nowhere, (laughing) you don’t have anybody trying
to take the tax credits out of the tax reform, you don’t have the, you know, Trump Administration
coming in and saying: we wanna kill solar. Instead, what ended up
happening that put a huge, wet blanket on all this success story is these two bankrupt companies that are manufacturers
here in the United States that filed a trade case. And it’s this sort of
arcane area of trade laws called Section 201, and it doesn’t require that the petitioner
show any kind of dumping or other government intervention. All that the petitioner has to show is that there has been harm
to US manufacturing. And if harm is found,
there is a recommendation for some form of relief
in the form of a tariff or otherwise, and that
decision is, goes directly to President Trump, and the
president will ultimately make a decision on whether or
not there should be tariffs put on imported solar panels. The petitioners asked for
a, basically a floor price. Panels were trading in the 30 cent range, when this case came
through, and they requested that there be a floor price on all panels imported from everywhere
in the world of 73 cents. So more than twice the cost of what the current import cost was. And that had this
incredible, immediate impact, both in terms of projects,
say, for example, Pine Gate had a project
that it had shortlisted in the Georgia RFP, and we
had to withdraw that project because it required a one
and a half million dollar bid bond in order to
proceed with the project, which is indicative and
reflective of how mature the solar industry has
become, that we’re now this, we’re not the sort of
fringy kind of industry. We’re now being asked
to put up one and a half million dollar bid bonds
in order to participate in real power markets, but
we can’t do that if there’s the threat that panels are suddenly gonna be more than twice the cost. So we had to let that project go. That was an immediate impact. Then the craziness started happening in the panel markets themselves. So, all of a sudden, supply and demand, everybody was trying to
get their panels in country before the end of the
year in order to escape any potential tariffs, while
the rest of the market, but you have to think about
it, China did 45 gigawatts of solar last year, so this is not a US, this is not just, the
United States isn’t the only place in the world that is
putting solar in the ground. So we’re competing for
panels internationally, and there was an increase in panel prices of approximately 30 percent
that happened overnight. So, companies like Cyprus,
companies like Pine Gate were building projects, had financed them, obligations under PPAs and
our financing partners, and out of nowhere, you would
have a panel manufacturer say: sorry, I know we said
we’d deliver your panels for whatever price; we’re
not gonna deliver you those panels unless you
agree to pay 15 cents more. So, that was, you know,
that was hard for a company like Pine Gate, which was
really in its first year of major construction on projects. It had 200 megawatts of projects that were under construction
when this happened. So, right now where it sits
is that the trade commission took a bunch of evidence
and made a recommendation that is equivalent to
approximately 10 cents a watt. Gave three different scenarios
for how that would work. That recommendation is now going
to US trade representatives so the president’s office has assigned a trade representative to make, to help make the
recommendation about whether to accept what was proposed
by the trade commission, or whether to propose
an alternative solution, or no solution. We don’t really know. The uncertainty is the challenge. But there’s gonna be a
hearing on that in December. And then we’ll have a
decision by January 12th. – Okay, thank you. I think everyone really
appreciates that background for a very complex
topic, and on a similar, but different, note,
Katharine, you and I had talked a little bit about how the
risk of that kind of trade case happening in the wind
arena is less likely, due to the domestic
manufacturing that does occur. But we discussed
potential proposed changes to the production tax credit,
so I hoped you could share a little with the audience
about what that proposal is, and then about how your
member organizations are thinking about it. – Yeah, so, it really just
gets back to the whole underlying theme of uncertainty. And so, at the federal level right now, the house tax reform
bill has included in it, well, I’ll step back a little bit, but the wind industry had
negotiated a phase down of the production tax credit. The production tax credit
is the main tax credit that wind farm developers
take advantage of and use. And a couple years back,
they said, you know, there was a lot of discussion
with congress about, okay, we can’t continue
this thing in perpetuity. There had been a lot of fits
and starts with the tax credits as I’m sure most of you are aware, but so, there was a phase down. They said: okay, this
year it’s 100 percent. Next year, 80, 60, the next
five years we’ll phase it out. Well, there was a five
percent safe harbor clause, that was inserted in that so,
in that original language, so if you either spend
five percent of, ah, five percent of the total wind farm costs in a given year, then, and continue, continue development and
construction from that point, then you’re eligible for the amount of the tax credit in which you started and made that initial
outlay of five percent. So developers will do things
like purchase certain parts of the turbine in advance, or
make certain site improvements that allow them to qualify under that five percent safe harbor law. The house tax bill that was just proposed within the last week
eliminates that five percent safe harbor, which might
not sound like a big deal, but the American Wind Energy Association estimates that that will
half wind development over the next four years, so it is, it is nothing to be taken lightly. You know, they’re hopeful
right now that there’s enough support in the Senate to ensure that, that that isn’t passed,
but it could be a huge hit for the wind industry,
so I think, you know, again, it just continues to
be, uncertainty is a big driver of business risk and risk
in the renewables industry. – Sure, absolutely. And I think the topic of
change and uncertainty is something we’ve
heard a lot about today. Another topic that’s been
touched on a few times, particularly by Chip Russell
during his Duke Talk, was about energy storage. So we’re seeing a growing
interest in pairing energy storage with renewables development,
so as the prices of battery storage systems
continue to decline, I’d love to hear from all of
you about what you’re seeing in terms of developers exploring pairing storage with
renewable development. Starting with Fred? – Sure, yeah. So, we actually just
commercialized our first systems of solar-plus storage. So we did 12 systems in
Brunswick Electric Cooperative, which is right on the eastern
shore in North Carolina. They’re 500 KW systems,
with 500 KW batteries and two hours of storage, I believe. And the reason why we did it, and the reason why the
cooperative wanted the system, is basically that we’re
storing the solar energy into the battery, and then
waiting for the cooperative to hit their peak demand. So, in the winter, I
think it’s in the morning, and then in the summertime,
it’s in the afternoon. They have a very predictable demand. And so we can come and
turn the batteries on, and what it actually acts
like, for the cooperative, it acts like a demand charge reduction. So from their view, it’s almost like it’s a behind the meter system. They have a G&T, which is a generation and transmission provider, called NCENC, and NCENC actually
charges them a fixed fee for the peak demand that
they pull on, from NCENC. So it’s a 15 year deal, or a
15 year agreement that we have with Brunswick, and what
the batteries are basically just doing is they’re coming
on, reducing the peak demand, they pay a lower demand charge to NCENC, and get some savings based
on the way that the deal has been structured with them. It was the most difficult transaction I think I’ve ever been involved with. I would highly not advise
it, if you can avoid trying to get the ITC on a
battery, you should do it. It was pretty, from a
technical perspective, I don’t know if a lot of people know, but when you take, when
you try to capture the ITC on a battery, there’s a
very rigid IRS standard that says that all the energy
that goes into the battery needs to come from renewable energy. And so you have to do this
very rigid accounting system to make sure all that is happening. And it’s a very, very complicated process, but we did it and we spent a lot of money making sure the engineers got that right. So hopefully we’re gonna do some more, but I think if, looking at the industry on a forward basis, I heard
someone on the panel before saying that in front of the meter storage was probably three to five years away. I actually disagree with
that, because the ITC is going to go away in
2019, and the ability of us to capture the ITC on the battery fundamentally changes the economics. And if you just look at how
battery prices are falling, it’s, I mean, I think Next
Era, some folks are here, they did a PPA for $45 the other day. I mean, you go back two or three
years in the solar industry and people would be jumping up and down for a PPA price like that, so, ah, it’s pretty incredible
to see how the economics have started to shift in
such a short period of time. I mean, from our
perspective, on a planning, when we develop solar projects, it takes us about, you know,
on the long side of it, three years, maybe 18 months
to get a project done. So, I’m already looking at 2019, 2020, when we’re developing sites. And every site that we
develop now is constantly, it’s: how can we put a battery on this? How can we put a battery on this? The biggest gap I think
we’re seeing right now is there’s very few applications right now. Demand charge reduction is
a very simple application. The product that you’re
selling to the customer is pretty straightforward, and how we plan for it is pretty straightforward. I think where the industry
needs to start to evolve is to figure out application stacking, or getting into more complicated
structures of off-take. – Great, thanks. And Zoe or Katharine, do
you have anything to add from your perspectives on, are customers, Zoe, starting to ask for batteries? Are your wind developers
looking at this yet, or is it still a little
further off on the horizon? – So, I think that, I
mean, I pointed to Fred because Cyprus is really
doing this in a way that, I mean, my understanding is that the idea of putting batteries with,
ah, storage plus solar is going to be sort of standard. And it’s not gonna be that
far away in the future. I’m hesitant because my
husband does battery storage development for the commercial
business at Duke Energy, and, ah, you know, I think
he was recently quoted in Forbes saying that batteries were going to blanket the nation, and you know, I think there’s actually some truth, when you look at the
incredible cost declines that are happening in batteries. It’s very similar to
what happened in solar, and I think that when you
sit here and you look at it as being sort of futuristic technology, and very quickly we’re
gonna look back on it, and it’s gonna seem just like
what happened with solar. – Yeah, and I’ll just say
from a wind perspective, in general, wind projects are, on whole, larger than solar projects,
and I think, you know, the kind of batteries that
we’re looking at right now, where you’re trying to shave, you know, where you’re trying to capture, ah, solar energy during a
certain part of the day, that kind of thing, that
makes a lot of sense, to pair a smaller battery
with a smaller system. 500 kilowatts. You know, when you get to
a 200 megawatt wind farm, your best options for demand shaving, or you know, for really
manipulating either load or generation, you know, kind
of come from a utility-scale application, so I think
that’s where you’ll see larger, utility-scale batteries. But not that they would necessarily be tied to wind development. – Sure, that’s great. So another discussion that
we’ve had today on a panel earlier was around changing
customer engagement, and that was primarily
talking about the end user of electricity and their
interaction with energy companies or with the utility, but
I know you all also have to think about: who are your
stakeholders and customers? So can you talk a little bit about, when you go in to develop a project, how do you engage with the
communities and really ensure the community is getting a
benefit from the projects? Can you talk about some of the challenges you may face with land owners
or local policy-makers, and how do you educate
them about the benefits of what you’re doing? – [Fred] I feel like
you’re looking at me, so– – Anyone can start, but you’re welcome to. – Ah, so, I would say that
there’s a lot of different ways that solar touches communities. So, the most fundamental
is property taxes. So, you take a piece of
land that was being used for agricultural purposes and
was likely exempt in some way and not providing a lot of
revenue to the community, and you’re investing a lot of money that is providing significant
property tax basis. One of my favorite flyers
that I saw at some point in Darlington County, South Carolina, they were looking at
property tax abatement, and we’re, to be clear,
like, these dollar figures are with some form of
property tax abatement, is that the current revenue
coming from this county was something like $800 a year. And if all the solar farms that
were proposed came through, it would be $1.2 million a year,
over the life of the asset. That’s a lot of money for a
community that has a population of I don’t know, I think
it was 70,000 people. So, it was the equivalent of, ah, I think 42 teachers, 13 new parks. So they really translate
that into what is, what is available for a
community when you’re providing that kind of revenue without
taking anything from it. There’s no police services
that are required, or roads or water or, you know, those are mostly just dollars going in. So that’s the first thing that I always wanna highlight for people when we’re talking about these in the community. – [Paige] That’s great; thanks. – So maybe a little bit, a
little bit different perspective, given that one, I’m not a developer. We, as a coalition, we very much highlight the economic development benefits of wind. And that’s a great message
for a lot of folks. Some of the, some of the other resistance that we encounter is more at the local, kind of county, county commissioner level, and then sometimes to the state level, which we have seen in
North Carolina, Tennessee, in the last year or so,
and so a lot of what our organization works on is engagement, not necessarily of the
broader community always, but definitely engagement on those levels, with those stakeholders where we feel like we can make a difference. So, bringing county commissioners
in to try to, you know, help them see, one,
the economic, you know, the economic benefits usually
are apparent for them, but what happens in a lot
of places is you get a lot of very smart misinformation campaigns. So, there are people who, ah, are technically retired
but their full time job is going around and trying to ensure that no renewables projects,
either wind or solar, depending on their
preference, are developed. And so a lot of what
we do is we go educate the county commissioners and we say: no, you know, the negative
health effects cited are not something that you need to
worry about and here’s why. People will not get
nosebleeds and headaches, and whatever else is sort
of the fun of the day that these folks are bringing up. So a lot of what we’re
doing is really just trying to dispel misinformation,
which is very easy to find. I heard a couple times
people talking about, ah, using the ice-throw
argument in North Carolina. On the east coast, so the large turbines, and if they collect ice, ice-throw is when large turbines collect ice when it’s icy, snowy, rainy, and then it
builds up and can fly off. But obviously not a big issue here, when you know, you’ve got
states like South Dakota, Iowa, North Dakota,
covered in wind turbines. So, things like that, we’re
always trying to find new ways to educate both our county
and state-level governments around the southeast. – Yeah, I think, you know,
from our perspective, over the past three
years, we’ve learned to be way more proactive. I think one of the things
that was probably a misstep on our part is we would go into markets, we would develop them,
and then we would try and go to talk to folks. And, I, you end up with
a lot of misinformation, or people were just kind
of going by a property and they see someone out there, and they start to draw
their own conclusions. And so we’re way more proactive, upfront. We try to meet with
every single farm bureau that we possibly can in any state, to communicate with them what
it is we’re trying to do, what the process looks like,
any economic development department that we possibly
can get in touch with, getting involved in zoning processes, if there’s a, you know a
zoning rule going at the state, we’ll try and get involved
to help guide that along, by using examples we’ve
used in North Carolina, or other states. And I think another subset
of that is we have tried to get more thoughtful on how
we develop the solar projects. We started to do a pollinator program, where we just commercialized
a project in Maryland that has a pollinator
little garden in the back, that can kind of integrate
better with the ecosystem around it; we put a
bunch of bee hives there, which I think our Own It folks
are really excited about. But the idea is to really
kind of get it more ingrained with the community and I
think the biggest thing, too, is just always being really conscious of what the solar system looks like. Some people really like it. We have a land owner who
we basically surrounded his entire house in solar panels, and he’s the happiest
person on the planet. Other people don’t wanna see it, don’t wanna be in anything close to it. And so, to the extent we
can get out in front of that and understand, you
know, people in New York are gonna look at solar
different than people in Texas. And we just have to be conscious of that. – Great, thank you. So, we’re gonna turn to some
of our audience questions, and it looks like you all have submitted some wonderful questions,
both new and following up on some of the things we have covered. So, I wanna start off with a new question. One of our audience members wants to know: what are some innovative
designs or technologies that you are keeping an eye
on, or looking to expand into? – So, one of the initiatives
that I’m most excited about at Pine Gate is, we’re calling
it a permaculture initiative, so it’s saying, okay,
well, we’ve got this land and beyond pollinators,
which are an important, an important part of what I
think solar is looking at, is: how can we leave the
soil in a better condition than how we found it? And so I say this is a
technology, because it really is looking at our solar farms and saying: is there an asset underneath here that we haven’t really been
fully appreciating and valuing? So we have NREL, using
a couple of our sites, to look at what are some of the, ah, let me back up: there’s two
parts to the initiative. One is to look at: how
can we leave the soil in a better condition
than how we found it? The second is: are there
secondary agricultural uses, other than sheep, which I
know there’s a lot of sheep that are put on solar farms,
but we’re looking at growing, growing plants. What can be done on a solar
farm in a way that is, that can work together? So we have our, NREL is doing
some studies on our sites. One really cool idea that we
had was from Oregon State. Apparently there’s only one
kind of barley that is used in making beer; I don’t
drink beer so I don’t know. But Oregon State has come
up with a new kind of barley that doesn’t ever grow
higher than three feet. So, is there an opportunity
to grow a different kind of barley and then maybe
make beer that’s solar beer? I don’t know. (laughing) – [Paige] I think you’d get some interest from this room about solar beer. – But I’m saying that, in
terms of outside of technology, yes, there’s lots of
technological advances, but for me, the most exciting part is thinking more creatively about ways that you can maximize what’s happening. Because as we use more and
more agricultural land, the questions that come up
in these communities will be, be more vocal. – I’ll just say, my guess
is, because I do get this question a lot, especially
in academic settings, you know, talking about some
of the new Google technologies or wind lift, or those kinds of things. They’re very interesting. We don’t do anything along those lines. You know, we, again,
we’re not a developer, but at the same time, we definitely have a heavy focus on utility-scale generation. So in terms of utility-scale generation, there are technology advances
occurring all the time. They’re just not that “cool”, right? They’re not gonna make it to
the latest Costco magazine, or whatever, you know,
little free pamphlet that you’re gonna get and read
about something really cool. Clearly, I read the Costco
Connection. (laughing) I am showing my age. Yeah, so, so, you know, in terms of
new technology, I mean, what we are seeing in the
southeast is new technology related to taller towers. So in Germany, one of the
tall tower technologies that they’ve used in a
pretty meaningful way, is to do a concrete base
and then put a steel tower on top of that, because if
you think about a steel tower and all you wanna do
is add 30 meters to it, it’s not just an additional 30 meters. I mean, the instability that
you cause in the additional, the additional metal and material required to bring something 30 meters, to add 30 meters in
height, is significant. And it’s cost prohibitive right now. So there are a lot of
new technologies for kind of figuring out how to
weld a tower in place, so that you can create a tall tower that’s welded in place, sorry, and you know, gearbox
efficiencies, all of the time, longer blades, so all these
fantastic new materials, lighter materials, allow you
to create a longer blade, without, you know, added
stresses on the generator and the machine, so again,
not the super cool, ah, fun technology advancements,
but nonetheless, they are the advancements
that has brought the cost of wind down 60 percent
over the last five years. – Yeah, I think that for us,
it’s probably a combination of hybrid inverters and
higher wattage panels. And basically, what I, I
call them hybrid inverters. My engineer would probably
throw rocks at me for saying that because there’s like, 10
different varieties of them. But it’s the ability
to basically over, so, in solar you have an AC
side and you have a DC side. We always oversize our DC
side, so that we can have a longer life of the actual system, so we can produce more energy
because the panels degrade. Now that we have these
higher wattage panels, we A, take up a smaller footprint
which is just good for everyone, for the local community,
and allows us to do the size system we wanna do, but
we take up less acreage. But at the same time,
it allows us to actually start to do more
DC-coupled battery systems, and that means when we do
that, the high AC to DC side, we get a lot of clipping,
which basically means that we’re basically,
like, islanding power that we could use and deliver to the grid, but because our AC side
is lower than our DC side, it won’t allow the energy to flow. We can store that in a battery, and then use that energy later. I would say that, you know,
from a technology standpoint, that’s probably where our engineers are spending the most time right now. I don’t know if that was
anywhere near coherent, but that’s what we’re focused on. – That’s great, thank you. I think a lot of really cool ideas that you all are looking at. We have another question,
going back to our conversation about the solar trade case. The question is: are
you at all worried about a global economy where
China controls the solar PV manufacturing, and do
you see the trade case as being at all effective
in helping the US to retain some claim in this manufacturing? – It’s an important question. Actually, the, I wish I had the slide. The majority of the panels aren’t actually manufactured in China. It’s really a global supply. I think the, so that’s
a bit of a misnomer. A lot of that has already
moved into other places. But I think it’s a fair
question to ask, is: should the United States
have manufacturing for solar? And I would emphasize that
there is manufacturing in the United States for solar. There’s 40,000 manufacturing
jobs related to solar, and making steel and the component parts, the inverse and racking and, ah, so just to make sure that we
don’t leave that part out, because it’s an important,
that’s an important story that needs to be sure,
be sure we’re telling. I think, there is an opportunity
for US-based manufacturing. However, I’m not sure that
the solutions that have been really proposed by the
commission and the trade case are ones that are gonna
provide the necessary certainty and long-term stability that are gonna be required for the investments. So it seems to me that the
proposals that were put forth were neither, ah, I think you
could have a smaller amount with money that was actually
going towards investment in US manufacturing, or
you could have a, ah, you know, it’s sort of, it
was a decision that was like: what can we put in here that is not gonna hurt the industry too much? So, we’ll see how it
ultimately shakes out. But, I kinda think of
it as like televisions. You know, we don’t make televisions here in the United States. But we have a whole industry
around producing content that is very lucrative for our economy that wouldn’t be here if not every home in the United States had a television. So I know that’s not the same because you’re talking about
energy infrastructure, and that’s really
important to our economy, but you’re getting into kind of, your view on trade, generally. – I would just add, I
mean, for the first point is that Suniva is owned
by a Hong Kong company, so all roads lead back to Rome. The second point being, is
that, throughout this entire process, I think probably
for me, and I’m sure Zoe feels the same frustration,
is Suniva and Solar World actually haven’t explained how they’re gonna be a profitable company. They, I mean, they still have
a tremendous amount of issues, even if these tariffs were in
line to show that they could actually sell a product
that is of high quality and would meet those price points. So, I mean, I think they
still have a long road to go. And to Zoe’s point again is: there are people
manufacturing panels here. The one thing that I think
does get glossed over is that it’s a highly automated process. I mean, it’s the same as where
cars are going with Tesla. It is 100 percent a lot of automation. And so I think that piece
gets not covered as well, and people should kind of
appreciate the process of, yeah, it’s great, I’m all for
getting domestic manufacturing here but you know, the way
that manufacturing is going, it is a lot of artificial intelligence, and even in China, they use a
lot of very automated stuff. And it’s, the panels to me
have become a commodity. I mean, they really have. The technology nowadays is
not overly that sophisticated. I tell people all the time:
it’s sand, some copper, and you know, some
aluminum wrapped around it. So, it’s, at this point,
it really comes down to, you know, who, from our
perspective at least, is selling a high-quality product, and then what is the price point of that? – Great, thank you both. So, the next question we
have from the audience is specifically for Katharine. So, they wanna know what
policies are in place in the northeast for offshore wind that could be adopted in the southeast. – The policies that we’ve seen
arise in the northeast are, there’s actually a number
of different policies. Everything from, so
I’ll start in New York, I’m not gonna get all of
these exactly correct, because I follow them fairly loosely, but you know, New York with
their 50 percent renewable goal, they effectively can’t get to 50 percent without the use of offshore wind. So, this is another thing
that I didn’t mention before in terms of offshore
that I’ll insert really quickly: the southeast has landmass
that you just don’t have in the northeast; we have
much lower power prices than you do in the northeast. There are a lot of factors
that would incentivize those state governments
to say: you know what? Offshore is gonna be a really
important resource for us. The other thing that it
gives them is supply chain, ah, manufacturing, kind
of this global business that doesn’t currently exist in the US. So, they’re very cognizant
of bringing those jobs in, but again, it makes
sense for the northeast, when you look at land
availability and power prices. So, there are other states that have, they call them an OREC,
so, it’s a specific, ah, if a state has a renewable
portfolio standard, like North Carolina, North
Carolina has a hogway set aside, so there are states that have
offshore wind set asides. When you talk about bringing
that to the southeast, I think that one, the politics are very
different in the southeast. The southeast, in general,
states don’t appreciate mandates. You’ll hear the, there’s
a relatively “famous”, in the utility world,
commissioner from Georgia who loves to tell everybody
how Georgia’s got all kinds of solar with no mandates, right? It’s all supply and demand. And so, I think that we’re
fairly unlikely to see those same kinds of
policy mechanisms enacted in the southeast, but like I said earlier, I am encouraged by the, you know, I’ll call it a fact, but
by the fact that prices, by the northeast kind of
subsidizing this initial round of offshore wind, I do think
that prices will come down precipitously to the point
where the southeast can say: yes, this is an industry
that we wanna host. This is an industry
that we wanna encourage, and that we will see offshore
development in the southeast. It will just be a longer time frame. So hopefully that answers,
might not be the answer you love but I mean, all you have to do is look at policies in general in the northeast. The Northeast is part of
REGI, they’ve got tons of renewable portfolio standards,
kind of across the board. All kinds of state incentives for solar. And other technology, so it’s
just a very different market. – Thanks, so we probably have time for about two more questions. So another question we
have from the audience is: how will the US leaving
the Paris Climate Agreement affect future demand of
renewable energy development in the United States? – I think zero. I think every single, I
mean, you’ve already seen it. Every, you know, the city
of Pittsburgh tweeting President Trump, basically
saying that they’re opting in. You, most Fortune 500s, I
think it’s like 50 percent of Fortune 500s have
a sustainability goal. You’ve seen the northeast
has basically come back really hard, and you’ve got New York, and also in New England, in general, they’re talking about
doing a carbon program. So I think it’s, you know, to the extent that the federal government
is gonna either scale back or stop the, you know, complying
with the climate agreement, it seems like most of the
states are going forward in lieu of that, or corporates
are signing on to R100. – Great, yeah, that’s great to hear, especially for students
who are looking to move into the industry
shortly after graduation, that this won’t be a
declining space to be in. So, ah, another question that we have, which is potentially a fun one: what is the most exciting
project that you’ve had a hand in, in terms
of renewable development? Too many to count. Or are there some that you’re looking forward to in the future? – [Fred] The next one. – [Paige] The next one. (laughing) That’s wonderful. – We’re really excited to have, I mean, the reason that I stayed
quiet, for the record, the reason that I stayed
quiet is, you know, I’m not a developer,
but you know, we’re out, as an organization, and an
industry, we’re obviously extremely excited to see
the Amazon Wind Project, up near Elizabeth City, North Carolina. You know, take place. It was in development for over seven years before it even started construction, and it’s 208 megawatts, so
it’s not a small project. It’s a large project, and
there’s an option for phase two. But there’s currently a
wind permitting moratorium in the state that’s an 18
month permitting moratorium that was enacted earlier this year. And so, we have a lot of
work to do to ensure that that moratorium doesn’t
turn into additional wind legislation, and hopefully can expire and we can continue
development in this state. But yeah, I think it’s
a, it’s the first large, utility-scale project for the southeast. And more to come. – I love all my children equally. (laughing) – Great, well, we have just enough time for one last question, so given that this is a student-led conference,
I would love for you all to share: what advice
do you have for students who are looking into going
into the energy industry? The renewable industry, specifically? What should we be learning about? Or if you’re in the
industry already, you know, what are the big trends you
should be looking out for? – Oh, pick me. So, here’s my advice:
go to Fake It School. And I mean this: you do not have to know everything when you walk in the door. Like, don’t be afraid that
you don’t have the answer when you volunteer to give one. That’s probably the biggest
thing that I see for folks, the differentiator between
those who succeed and those who do not are the ones who
are willing to fake it. And I say that because the other piece to that is to participate; to be a yes. My entire professional
career came from the fact that I said yes to serving,
many moons ago, on the, what is now the State League
of Conservation Voters’ board. And somebody asked me to do a fundraiser for the organization and
I said: sure, come on! Come meet me at my house
and we’ll talk about how we’re gonna do a fundraiser. This guy drove to Winston
Salem and we chatted about how I was gonna do this
fundraiser for the organization and he asked me: what
do you do for a living? And I said: ah, this boring thing. Low income housing tax credits. You don’t know anything about it. And he said: tax credits? Yeah, no, I wanna know
all about tax credits. I’ve got this crazy startup solar company, and we don’t know anything about how to get people to do tax credits. And this was in 2007, and it
was out of that conversation that I proceeded to write off 800 hours, as a young attorney,
figuring out how to make energy and financing structures work and started a renewable energy practice at Blanca-Tackaberry, which
was the first law firm to really have a renewable energy
practice in North Carolina. Represented a bunch of solar developers like Richard, sitting in the back there, when I was willing to
work for $120 an hour. (laughing) And I really, I really point to that, and I can’t say it enough, is like, be a yes, participate, get engaged, because you have no idea what
ways that’s gonna open up. – [Paige] Anyone else like to share? – Great advice. I would say, ah, my advice would just be: show commitment. And I know they tell you this at Fuqua, showing commitment to the industry, but it’s true, there are, ah, you know, there are a lot
of people who wanna be involved in the renewable
space, especially. And so, I think that you have
to show both with your, ah, you know, discussions, your
networking, your resume, that you’re truly committed
to the industry, right? This isn’t just kind of the
next best thing for you. So showing commitment,
however you do it, right? You do things like help,
you know, you host a panel at the Duke Energy Conference. You volunteer for, you know, whatever. Get involved in the Energy
Club, and just anything you can do to show commitment
gives you a leg up. – Yeah, I actually am going to
double-down on Zoe’s comment. I couldn’t agree with her more. I would actually go a step further. Our HR people always yell
at me for saying this, and the fact that I’m
gonna say it out loud now is probably gonna make them really upset. I am a, just a very strong
believer in just, like, pitching yourself to people, and like, whether it’s, you know,
if you have a company that you really like and they’re a startup and they’re lean, they might
not be able to pay you, like, the ability of you
to show that, like, hey, I just wanna work for
you, and it doesn’t matter if you can pay me five bucks an hour or if we can do some sort
of, especially at Fuqua I did, I know Paul’s
around here somewhere, but I did some sort of
independent study for him, and we just came up with an idea. Like, the, I think your
ability to kind of come in and just keep a completely open mind, get in with a company and be like: hey, what sort of issues do you have? Like, let me kind of
think through, you know, what sort of processes we, you know, we’re based in Santa Monica,
and from our perspective, we’ve started to get
these UCLA MBAs coming in, and I mean, the people, two
of them are working for us now and they basically knocked on our door, wouldn’t leave us alone,
they were hanging outside in our parking lot, and we’re like: fine you can go do, like,
do, look at these two things. Right? And now they’re working for
us, and I think that just, it shows, like you just
said, it shows your level of commitment and it shows
your passion for the industry, and when you have things like Suniva and the potential tax
implications, things like that, life can be a little
bit chaotic on our side, and so I think you kinda have
to be a little bit annoying and say like, hey, I’m not leaving here until you give me something to do. – Great. Well, wonderful advice to
end on, and please join me in thanking our panelists
for being here today. (applause)

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