Tag Archives: Vestas

Ontario could see enormous economic benefits pursuing offshore wind in Great Lakes

The Conference Board of Canada came out with a report today that assesses the economic benefits to Ontario of developing offshore wind in the Great Lakes. Here’s my story in the Toronto Star. Specifically, it estimates job creation and the boost to GDP that would occur by developing 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind projects between 2013 and 2016. This, the board said, is a conservative estimate — much more could be developed over time. But even at just 2,000 megawatts, it estimated the creation of at least 55,000 person-years of employment and at least a $4.8-billion boost to the province’s GDP. This amount of offshore development would also attract more than $10 billion in private investment. Mind you, this is all based on a minimum local content requirement of 55 per cent. As of Jan. 1, 2012, Ontario will have a 50 per cent local content requirement for wind — so the assessment isn’t far off reality.

I like the idea of pursuing offshore wind, and here’s why: It’s new. It’s a chance for Ontario to be a true pioneer in North America by establishing an early foothold. With solar and onshore wind we’re playing catchup, we’re competing with Silicon Valley and the Chinese, and we”ll never truly be a centre for innovation and manufacturing. With solar we’re also vulnerable when subsidies dry up, as jobs and manufacturing are more mobile. 

With offshore wind, however, we benefit immediately by our geography. Ontario borders all but one Great Lake. Of all bordering jurisdictions Ontario has the most offshore development potential. Ontario has concrete and steel making, the skills and the infrastructure to support an embrace of offshore wind manufacturing and supporting services. A good deal of the supply chain could be established here. As the conference board report attests, the job creation potential is strong and we can leverage existing industries and also boost the more mature onshore wind market in Ontario.

Ontario already has a feed-in-tariff for offshore wind — the first on the continent — that offers 19 cents per kilowatt-hour, less than half the cost of developing multimegawatt solar projects in Ontario. It’s consistent with what Massachusetts utility National Grid has agreed to pay for offshore wind power from the Cape Wind project (18.7 cents U.S. per kilowatt-hour). This may sound expensive, but as some have said, this is an investment in a modern-day Niagara Falls. It might sound like a lot today, but it’s creating an infrastructure that decades from now will look cheap by comparison. Also, new nuclear power plants aren’t expected to be much cheaper.

Here, by the way, is a brief report on what’s going on in Europe and along the U.S. Atlantic coast, courtesy of Forbes blogger William Pentland.

I want to emphasize that this Conference Board report was sponsored by Vestas SA, which has an interest in entering the North American offshore wind market. The Conference Board, however, has a strong reputation for being independent, non-partisan and objective with its research. I guess such a report wouldn’t have been done had someone in the industry not stepped up to pay for it. I don’t think the Conference Board has anything to gain by writing a pro-offshore report; it would consider its credibility as an organization much more important. With that, I’m willing to trust that its conclusions are completely independent.

Vaporizing biomass with sunlight — cool, eh?

Check out this story of mine in MIT Technology Review about Sundrop Fuels, a Colorado startup that’s trying to commercialize a process that uses the sun to gasify biomass, instead of burning a portion of the biomass itself to drive the gasification process. The technology is based on research carried out at the University of Colorado, Boulder, with help from NREL. The company believes the syngas from its process can be produced affordably in high enough quanity and quality that it could be refined into gasoline for less than $2 a gallon. One obvious hitch is the fact that the best place to harness and concentrate solar heat is in the U.S. Southwest — not exactly the place you’d go to look for surplus biomass resources. BTW: Sundrop is operating largely in stealth mode, and counts Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as one of its venture backers.

On the topic of solar, Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program is gaining momentum. On Wednesday the province’s power authority announced the latest batch of projects to be approved under the program — these ones in the 10 kw to 500 kw range. A few surprises: Loblaw Group of Companies, the grocery giant, has applied to have 136 of its stores across Ontario rigged with solar PV systems. If all go ahead, it would amount to 21 megawatts just for this one grocery chain. Loblaw is starting with four pilot projects and will move forward from there depending on the results. Surprisingly, Northland Power Income Fund will be doing the installations. I say “surprising” because I typically associate this company with natural gas and CHP plants.

There also appears to be quite a few schools putting solar on their rooftops, most of the projects being handled by Ameresco. The other big player in this initial round is OZZ International Inc., which has been approved to move forward on several dozen projects across the province.

All this momentum continues to lure foreign manufacturers  and new business models to Ontario. Most recently SMA Solar Technology AG of Germany said it was establishing a 500-megawatt a year solar inverter production facility in the province that would serve the Canadian market. They join Korean’s Samsung, India’s Solar Semiconductor, Germany’s Bosch and potentially Denmark’s Vestas.

Ontario news: Grid storage project, acquisitions and Vestas

Mississauga-based Electrovaya Inc., maker of lithium-ion Superpolymer batteries, is supplying batteries for a utility-scale energy storage project being spearheaded by CEATI International Inc. of Montreal, an advanced technology centre for utilities. The $7.5 million project will be a large-scale initiative involving multiple utilities and sites. The batteries will be tested as storage for renewable energy generation and as a way to ease distribution and transmission bottlenecks in high-density urban areas. CEATI will also investigate the repurposing of electric-vehicle batteries for smart-grid applications, given that a battery that outlives its usefulness in a vehicle can still be used for many years as general energy storage for the grid.

On the acquisition front, two more promising Ontario cleantech ventures have been plucked up by U.S. firms. On Tuesday Toronto-based biogas maker Stormfisher Biogas announced it had been acquired by Virginia-based Greenhouse Gas Services. Despite having one of the most boring and uninspiring names, Greenhouse Gas Services is a venture of GE Energy Financial Services and AES Corp., so it has some serious backing. The company invests in and develops projects that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and it then sells the carbon credits. So here’s my question: If some of the biggest Stormfisher projects are expected to be in Ontario, and since the Ontario Power Authority doesn’t appear to be letting biogas projects keep carbon credits, then what’s in it for Greenhouse Gas Services? I can only speculate that the power authority has quietly decided to let developers keep credits from methane destruction. Something I’ll have to follow up on.

And just today, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Calisolar announced it had acquired Vaughan, Ontario-based 6N Silicon, a maker of solar-grade silicon that will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary. “In addition, $22.5 million in funding was raised from existing Calisolar and 6N investors,” the companies said in a statement. “The new funds will be used to increase capacity at the Sunnyvale, California cell manufacturing facility and expand silicon purification operations in Vaughan, Ontario.” It’s sad to see 6N fall under foreign ownership so early in its life, but the good news is that Calisolar is likely to set up some module assembly in Ontario to take advantage of the feed-in-tariff program here. Given that its solar cells will contain 6N’s silicon, the company will be well positioned to meet Ontario’s local content requirements and even supply other cell/module makers.

Finally, I have a follow to my story about Vestas and the possibility it will lay roots in Ontario. I spoke Wednesday to the company’s head of global offshore markets, who spoke highly of the Trillium projects and called the opportunity to develop offshore wind in the Great Lakes “fantastic.” He wouldn’t say if Vestas plans to establish manufacturing in Ontario — which isn’t surprising — but given the potential in the Great Lakes, the liklihood of Trillium’s projects moving forward first, and the positive policy and regulatory environment in Ontario (including the feed-in-tariff program, which offers 19 cents per kilowatt-hour for offshore wind power), all the stars are aligned and it’s only a matter of time before Vestas makes its move.

Applications to develop offshore wind on Great Lakes overwhelms ministry

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources says it has received more than 100 applications representing more than 500 wind-energy projects on the Ontario side of the Great Lakes. Overwhelmed, the ministry has temporarily stopped taking applications until it can review what it has and make sure proper processes are in place for granting approvals. Minister Donna Cansfield gave the update at an offshore wind energy conference in Toronto, where developers and investors across Europe, the U.S. and Canada gathered to talk about the North American opportunity. For more detail on what was discussed at the conference, click here.

Of interest, Vestas has just opened a North American offshore turbine sales office in Toronto. From what I understand the location could have been either Boston or Toronto. It’s easy to read into the choice of Toronto as an early indication that the company is considering a greater presence in Ontario, but it’s too early to tell. Also, this morning Toronto Hydro got approval to put an anemometer in Lake Ontario off the Scarborough Bluffs, where the utility has interest in building a 100 MW offshore wind project. Expect an uproar from anti-wind folks in the area who have consistently and forcefully protested, not only the proposal, but just the idea of putting an anemometer on the lake.