US’ energy reckoning, floating storms on & the technology that could be climate’s holy grail

Before you read Agenda next week, the US presidential race will have been decided – we hope – and with it, for better or worse, the landscape for the energy transition in America and, more widely, the world’s trajectory in the climate crisis, newly defined. The divisiveness of the election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden found voice on renewables in a pitched battle during their last debate, with the former’s view that wind power was ‘a pipe dream that kills birds’ clashing directly with the future ‘good-paying jobs’ that would come as part of a trillion-dollar green recovery package proposed by the latter.

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Few were surprised by the combativeness of the encounter given the US president’s known antipathy toward non-fossil-based energy. But Recharge columnist Jereme Kent thought it went deeper, writing this week about how Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is a useful primer to understanding an American energy industry that has descended into the trenches in series of skirmishes that are part of a war between the old guard and new.

While the politicos compare exit polls and re-read the tea-leaves in the final days before 3 November, the US wind industry is getting on with its day job. Industry body the American Wind Energy Association’s calculus shows that the sector has kept up a torrid pace of construction with almost 2GW installed in the third quarter – despite Covid-related challenges – and is on track to set a record for new wind capacity this year – with GE Renewable Energy ( back in the black in Q3) taking the laurels with 60% of new turbine orders through September.

Wind at sea tantalised anew in the US this week, with the long-suffering Vineyard Wind project – still positioned to be the country’s first utility-scale offshore wind development – finally setting the seal on a deal with Massachusetts grid operator ISO New England to export power from the eponymous 800MW project (once online) into a regional grid in the northeastern state.

The bigger picture prize in the US Atlantic – 25GW or 30GW by 2030 depending on which analyst you read – is in plain view for Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia, which have formed the first US multi-state offshore wind ‘alliance’ to advance development of 6.8GW of capacity they have committed to procure.

But in the near-term clearly all remains far from plain sailing, as the US election is pushing back the start-up dates of some of the largest offshore wind projects being developed, with Danish utility Orsted’s CFO Marianne Wiinholt finding herself insisting in a media briefing on its quarterly results that its multi-gigawatt regional play would not “fall apart” due to the delays.

Trump said in his debate with Biden: “I know more about wind than you.” Wish he’d let the rest of us in on his accrued wisdom on the topic.

Floating stormed into the news-stream again this week on Recharge from around the world. In Norway, new research concluded the sector could blossom to rival the country’s revered oil & gas supply chain by mid-century as an near-$10bn market if the right policy levers were pulled, while Aker BP and Equinor confirmed they would both be bidding in Norway’s first offshore wind tender, which has a large area cordoned off for floating projects.

In Spain, RWE and Saitec awarded infrastructure giant Ferrovial the job of building the 2MW DemoSATH unit slated to be installed in 2022. And Germany certification body DNV GL anointed the twin-rotor floating wind turbine concept from Aerodyn Engineering with a ‘statement of feasibility’, taking it a step closer to market.

But the arguably most significant development in the sector came with Recharge‘s exclusive coverage of the announcement by Swedish infrastructure contractor Bygging-Uddemann that it would partner with French floating wind technologist Ideol to use ‘automotive assembly-line’ philosophy to fabricate concrete caissons – commonly found in wave-breaks and bridges – to mass-produce floating platforms for deep water wind.

And let’s not forget the floating wind subtext to the news that Vestas would buy-out MHI Vestas offshore wind venture partner Mitsubishi Heavy, a signal of intent on wind at sea with a compass point on floating, given the role the V164 turbine has been given on moored array projects off Scotland, Portugal and elsewhere.

And – finally – if you like the sounds of unlimited, on-demand renewable energy generated anywhere in the world, Recharge has the technology for you. It’s called the Eavor-Loop and it promises to be able to supply gigawatts of baseload and dispatchable renewable energy at a cost competitive or better natural gas and coal – without the carbon emissions. Read on here about what could well be climate action’s holy grail.

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