31 October 2017: The private sector is becoming an increasingly important actor for renewable energy expansion, not only as a customer of clean power, but also as developer of renewable energy generation projects. Recent announcements by technology companies and other energy-intensive industries provide examples of this trend.
Online retailer Amazon has launched the largest wind farm developed by a non-energy corporation with 100 wind turbines and a capacity of 235 MW in the US state of Texas. According to the company, Amazon has now built 18 solar and wind energy projects, with 35 more under development. The new wind park brings Amazon’s renewable energy generation capacity to 1.22 GW, making the company the second largest developer of renewable energy that is not an energy company after Alphabet’s Google Inc. with 1.8 GW of installed capacity to date. Amazon’s announcement follows similar news from software company Microsoft, stating that it has contracted more than 600 MW of renewable energy capacity. All three companies note that a large share of the electricity generated through these projects will be used to for cloud-based data and information services.
Whyalla Steelworks expects its cost of energy to drop by 40% after building 1GW of renewable energy projects.
Companies in other energy-intensive sectors are using the same strategy. In Australia, Whyalla Steelworks, a major steel and rail producer located in South Australia, revealed plans to develop 1GW of renewable and storage capacity to power its operations in several locations. The list of approved projects includes 800 MW of solar, 100 MW of battery storage and 120 MW of pumped hydro storage. The projects cover Whyalla Steelwork’s current energy needs as well as planned expansions of manufacturing operations. The company expects its cost of electricity to fall by 40% once the projects are completed. [UNFCCC Press Release][Amazon Press Release][UNFCCC Press Release. 10 October 2017. Microsoft][Microsoft Press Release][ClimateAction News Story]
New Forms of Hybrid Renewable Energy
In related news from Australia, a consortium of energy developers and financing institutions is undertaking the next step in developing hybrid forms of renewable energy. One way to overcome the intermittency of wind and solar is to combine them with energy storage into hybrid systems to provide power at night and during times of low winds. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) reported that the ‘Kennedy Energy Park,’ located in the state of Queensland, will combine three elements, including 43.2 MW of wind and 15 MW of solar generation capacity as well as 4MWh of battery storage capacity. By adding wind energy to the mix, the project seeks to exploit the strong afternoon and evening winds typical for Queensland to complement the generation of solar energy during the day. If successful, the pilot project could be expanded by additional 1.200 MW of wind energy capacity to balance the substantial amounts of solar energy already connected to the Queensland grid. [ARENA Press Release][Vestas Press Release][Windlab Press Release][ClimateAction News Story]