Skip to Content
"We are in an energy revolution, and the islands are Bunker Hill," Senator Angus King proclaimed on Friday, November 6, at the Energy Conference hosted by the Island Institute in South Portland. The event marked the Island Institute's sixth such conference. While King's speech was surely the most anticipated of the day, the speakers before and after gave Maine residents, islanders and non-islanders, a sense of optimism about the future of the state's energy. A recap of three breakout sessions, "Micro grids: Revenge of the Unicorns," "Offshore Wind: Looking back, Moving Forward," and "Efficiency Maine's Triennial Plan: Islands Leading the way on Energy Efficiency" can be seen below.
Micro grids: Revenge of the Unicorns
Renewable energy is continuously in existence and can be utilized and converted to electrical energy without depleting natural resources. It simply needs to be harnessed and converted effectively to be viable to meet society's needs. However, many variables affect the capacity to capture and transform that energy into electricity, making the ability to store and save that electricity imperative to the transformation to a renewable energy paradigm. For that reason, Mike McNeley opened up the breakout session on micro grids with a lesson about the importance of energy storage.
Proper storage, according to McNeely, can stabilize the energy distribution by mitigating fluctuations in load and generation. It can also improve energy generation by suggesting energy demand profiles throughout different times of the day. Simply stated, energy storage allows us to use electricity when we need it. Often times, this is when the wind is not blowing, or the sun is not shining.
From a technological standpoint, there are three basic means of storage to understand, electrochemical (batteries), mechanical, and thermal. Each form of battery has its unique advantages and disadvantages. For instance, electrochemical systems are of the highest in efficiency, ranging between 80-95 percent. However, these systems have a slower response time than other forms of storage and they experience a higher rate of capacity degradation when exposed to severe elements. This is particularly troublesome for the hearty island residents who serve on the first ranks against Maine's harsh winters. Resultantly, there are a couple key suggestions that all speakers agreed upon in regards to preserving the life of a battery. When operating a battery storage unit for self generated energy, it is essential to not continuously run a battery down to a low charge, and to maintain a steady rate of one cycle per day. This solution to hurdling this challenge is almost always in the realm of energy conservation.
A component of energy storage that is often overlooked, however, is timing energy production with peak demand. For instance, it is common for energy producers to align solar panels to face the sun during solar peak to maximize electricity generation. Unfortunately, upon looking at a typical energy demand profile one will see that solar peak is not at the same time as demand peak. The energy generated must be stored until it can be used, because no storage units are perfectly efficient, energy will be lost in storage. This means that in some instances it can be more beneficial to line solar panels up so that they maximize energy production in the evening to match demand peak. Although this does not maximize electricity generation, there will be less stored if the production better aligns with the given energy demand profile. Less energy will be lost in the storage process as a result.
Ultimately, energy conservation and storage will always be key to energy independence, whether on islands, rural communities or densely populated areas. That was the key to success on Appledore Island, as explained by Mike Rosen, Director of Operations, and Alex Brickett, Lead Engineer, at the Shoals Marine Laboratory. The 95-acre island is home to a seasonal field station for the University of New Hampshire, and Cornell University students. The laboratory is a residential program, so all faculty, students and staff inhabit the island. The island load average is less than 15-kilo Watts (kW) a day, but peak loads can exceed 35 kW. Still, the island is able to run primarily off its own solar (56 kW capacity) and wind (7.5 kW capacity) electricity. To power the island, the institute strategically utilized storage technologies and capitalized on energy conservation and efficiency measures that reduced the overall base load by approximately 33 percent between 2007 and 2014. Still, the energy use profile of the institute has a deep valley in the daytime and a plateau throughout the night from typical morning and evening energy use. To continue towards improvement, the institute is working to minimize fluctuations in energy demand. By eliminating peaks in energy demand, and maintaining a level demand profile, it becomes possible to align electricity generators (such as solar panels) to maximize electricity production when the sun's rays are at their strongest, without creating
Brickett emphasized a difficult trade off to consider when deploying their batteries. The more a battery discharges, the fewer cycles it must go through in a day. This can maximize optimization of a battery, and fewer cycles can prolong the life of a battery. However, wearing down the charge to near depletion can lesson the life of a battery. Because of the tradeoff between maximizing the useable capacity of a battery and maximizing the overall lifespan of a battery, Brickett and Rosen urge us all to thoroughly research what we are getting into ahead of time. Every circumstance is unique and many factors must be accounted for.
Brickett and Rosen are not only proud of the environmental impact of their transition, but their significant cost savings. Since investing in Solar and Wind the island now has a minimal reliance on diesel-powered generators. The island has lessoned its annual consumption of nearly 10,000 gallons in 2007 to just over 2,000 gallons in 2014. That means a savings of 157,650 dollars for the institute in that time frame.
Moving forward, the directors of the Shoal Laboratory hope to establish a flat electricity use profile to eliminate peaks in demand to increase efficiency and lesson the peaks of base loads. And again, to find ways to use less energy.
On a larger scale, the 14,000 residents of Kodiak Island, Alaska, have been running on 99.7 percent renewable sources since 2014, according to Kodiak Electric Association's President and CEO, Darron Scott. Like those at Shoals Laboratory, this transition also has a financial incentive. These improvements in the island's energy paradigm have occurred in rapid time. In 2007 KEA's Board of directors set forth a mission statement to "endeavor to produce 95 percent of energy sales with cost effective renewable power solutions by 2020 (Scott, 2015)." Board members will not be entirely satisfied until they achieve renewable energy on a larger scale, but are proud that they have achieved their goal well ahead of schedule and the rates residents pay today are lower than in 2000. According to Scott, the key to piecing together a viable renewable energy system is to "play to the strengths of each system and to cover up the weaknesses of other systems." Scott acknowledged that it could be easier to obtain support for renewable energy on islands than the mainland because the cost savings of lessening fuel demand are greater.
However, the take home message from Scott's presentation was simple and optimistic. Solutions exist to all challenges, and timing is everything. We must all take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Much of Kodiak's infrastructure was constructed when interest rates were low, leading to a low opportunity cost of the investment. Scott urges all to take advantage of existing incentives, such as tax credits or renewable energy bonds and subsidies, and to capitalize on those opportunities.
These are wise words for all energy consumers.
Offshore Wind: Looking back, Moving Forward
There never seem to be a shortage of arguments against wind energy; "it's too expensive," "I'm a capitalist," "I don't 'believe' in wind," or "I want to preserve nature." Some of the opposing statements can be contradictory, not all have to be based on truth and some don't make logical sense. Yet Sarah Klain is a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia who is trying to get to the bottom of the true reasons that determine whether one is or is not in favor of wind.
Her results were not what one may expect. She found that the Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) camp of opposition was not helpful in explaining why some do not support the development of wind energy due to polls that overwhelmingly demonstrate general support for wind in hypothetical situations. In fact she uncovered a 2013 poll that found over 80 percent of American respondents in the poll found it a "good idea" to produce electricity from wind. According to the poll, even across party lines in the United States, the vast majority of citizens have a "very positive" or a "positive" attitude towards the prospects of developing wind power in the United States.
Klain's research is to explain the gap between the found overwhelming support of wind in theory, and the high opposition regards to specific projects. While Klain wants her readers to understand that this is not a secret recipe for guaranteed success, she came up with three lessons.
The first is to make mutual learning accessible. "Scientists, developers, engineers, and public policy officials must all come together and translate what is important to residents and how we can account for all," Klain explains. Readily available information needs not only to be available to residents, but accessible so that the average citizen can read and understand it. Klain continues to emphasize that we must "be mindful of the messenger," to gain trust. People with common values are more likely to trust one another, so it is important for all external playmakers to understand the values held by many locals. It is necessary to bridge organizations and to find solutions that translate across geographic and cultural divides. The final component addressed by Klain to make mutual learning accessible is to set up the process so that people can learn from one another, or "deliberate learning," in her words.
Klain's second lesson is to provide community benefits. Often times a project has global benefits in the form of fewer emissions, but burdens residents with local costs in the form of capital development. Klain's solution is to bring direct benefits to the citizens in exchange for those costs. For instance, Block Island is developing an offshore wind farm that will be linked to the main land grid through an electric cable that will run from the island to the mainland under the sea floor. Bill Penn, Executive Director of the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, explained the resident's excitement over a fiber optic cable that is being bundled with the electric cable to enhance Internet access on the island. In doing so, the cost of development becomes more bearable as another community benefit is added.
Bill Penn preceded Klain's presentation with his own on the success of a wind project on Block Island. Block Island is a historic island with 40 percent of its land in conservation. Prior to the implementation of the Block Island Offshore Wind Farm, the island ran off the Block Island Energy Corporation's five diesel generators. Currently there is only one diesel generator operating on the island as a precautionary backup for periods of heavy energy demand.
To get the approval to construct five offshore wind turbines, Deepwater Wind Block Island LLC had to navigate an alphabet soup of studies and assessments to get a permit. These ranged from the federal EPA to the Rhode Island State Historic Preservation Office to very specific Environmental Impact Assessments on the affects a wind turbine would have on many different species.
Penn credits much of the project's success to the early, consistent and meaningful stakeholder engagement. No one's voice was left out of the discussion, so compromises could be made as plans were being developed. Resultantly, the project was able to side step major opposition.
It also helped that benefits were bundled. In order for Rhode Island as a whole to get a mandated 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, a cable connected the wind turbines to the electricity grid on the main land. Along side this cable came a new broadband cable, greatly improving the islanders' access to Internet.
Through theory and practice, Klain and Penn have demonstrated that there is significant support for wind development and extensive wind energy just off the coast of where electricity is most needed in the United States. Despite the political challenges, the future is bright for potential wind developments.
Efficiency Maine's Triennial Plan: Islands Leading the way on Energy Efficiency
Throughout the day, the words "efficiency" and "conservation" echoed through the three rooms that housed seminars throughout the day and Dana Fischer of Efficiency Maine capped off the event with a discussion on Efficiency Maine's Triennial Plan III.
Efficiency Maine was once a branch of the Public Utilities Commission but has been independent for several years now. Selling the carbon credits in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds the majority of the program. Each credit provides companies the right to pollute one-ton carbon dioxide at the cost of between five and six dollars and it provides Efficiency Maine with 8-10 million dollars annually. However, that number is expected to approach 14 million dollars in the coming years. Grants are also a source of revenue.
Efficiency Maine has the ambitious target to weatherize all Maine homes by 2030, which is nearly 500,000 homes. Upon hearing this goal, several islanders in the room shared their objections and concerns. Some were concerned for those who could not afford the upfront costs, others wanted Fischer to explain how on earth this goal was feasible, and some felt the islands were being marginalized from the equation.
Fischer was up for the challenge, standing poised and answering the questions to the best of his ability. He pointed out that 30 homes were weatherized in 2010 using Efficiency Maine's incentives, and 3,200 homes had been weatherized prior to 2014. However, in 2014, 10,000 homes were weatherized and Efficiency Maine expects to have weatherized 10,000 homes in 2015 at year's end. Still, the conclusion of the conversation was the conclusion of Fischer's planned presentation. Efficiency Maine has work ahead, yet they have the passion and energy needed to accomplish their lofty goals. Suggestions from the public are always welcome.
For more information on Efficiency Maine or the Triennial Plan III, you may check out Efficiency Maine's website you may follow the link here. http://www.efficiencymaine.com/