A business case for wind: A conversation with a wind energy expert

Posted on Dec 14, 2014

PR Associates met with James Crouse, Senior Sales Engineer/Sales Manager at Nordex USA to discuss the future of wind energy for Canada and across the globe. Nordex, is a wind turbine manufacturer based in Hamburg, Germany, with its North American headquarters in Chicago. The company has a total of 10,711 megawatts (MW) of installed power across the globe.

PR Associates sat down with a wind energy expert from Nordex to discuss the future of wind energy for Canada and across the globe.
Photo courtesy of Nordex.


PR Associates (PRA): In your view, what are the main factors affecting the growth of the wind energy industry?

James Crouse (JC): In my experienceCanada, US, and Mexico all have different drivers for getting more renewable energy in the generation mix. In Canada, I view each province as its own little country. As such, each province comes with a unique set of opportunities and risks. In addition, the lack of a federal incentive mechanism, that would otherwise tie the country together with one “renewable energy voice,” is a missed opportunity for Canada.

PRA: How do you see the relationships between the provinces and with the federal government?

JC: There is no real synergy or agreement across provincial lines regarding Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), Climate Change or renewable energy in general. This creates opportunities in some provinces where governments are more aggressive in terms of reducing carbon emissions and stimulating business in the renewable energy industry that in turn, stifles opportunity for others.

PRA Communications Insight

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are mandatory regulations that power suppliers have agreed to implement based on an escalating set of power generation goals. The goals involve making sure that a certain percentage of total electricity produced is by renewable sources including wind, solar, biomass and hydro. An RPS rule places responsibility for meeting these goals on the power producers, often with financial penalties for non-compliance. Typically, an effective RPS program will work well for a state or province where the cost of compliance is shared fairly across all utility users. It is also important to have adequate transmission capacity/lines already in place to speed up the process. 
From a communications perspective, the lack of agreement between provinces and the federal government can make it difficult or uncertain for independent power producers (IPPs) and manufacturers to conduct business in Canada. Skilled communicators and facilitators can help create a singular ‘renewable energy voice’ to forge relationships and policy and create conditions that enable business to flourish.

PRA: What do you think the public; government and business need to be aware of that is not being communicated about wind energy?

JC:  The technology cycle needs to be communicated. Wind turbines and their associated technologies have a growing track record of producing reliable and predicable returns over the long term. Like computer technology, wind turbine technology is seeing an increased trend of development. For example, Nordex has about a 24-36 month technology cycle. This gap is narrowing as tools for product development are improving and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are able to bring new and innovative solutions to the market much quicker. It is this reduced technology cycle that, in many cases, is beating traditional forms of generation technology and eventually will contribute to equal Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE). This cycle and trend should be closely monitored. Augmenting this technology cycle is the ongoing continuous improvement of operating assets. As the installed base grows, so does the industry’s knowledge of how to reduce the overall cost of operations. This, in turn, is fed back into the product development cycle quicker and implemented in the form of new and improved technology again increasing client returns and reducing overall cost of energy.

PRA: In terms of cost competitiveness, how does wind energy compare against other renewables and fossil fuels?

JC: The cost of wind in particular has come down over the past few years. Although the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) may not be as low as Natural Gas ($20 higher in some places in Canada), wind energy is still lower than solar power. [Levelized Cost = Net Cost to install a renewable energy system divided by its expected life-time energy output.]

PRA: How do the relationships with First Nations affect business in Canada?

JC: First Nations relationships are key to our client’s success. Some are better than others. In B.C., where approximately 75% of the Canadian Bands are located, it is even more critical.

The island of El Hierro is now entirely powered by wind and hydropower. As the wind turbines turn, they pump water uphill to a reservoir. When the wind stops, the water is released back down the hill, spinning a turbine to create a continuous flow of electricity.
Photo courtesy of The Independent.

PRA: Energy storage is likely the most needed technological development for intermittent energy sources such as wind. What are you seeing happening with energy storage?

JC: Energy storage and hydrogen electrolysis make sense as an upcoming technology. I like the combination of hydro and wind in a pumped storage hydroelectric project. I have spoken with a few companies about this technology, and there is an increasing trend in this direction. Although Nordex focuses on wind energy rather than storage, it is clear that hybrid renewable energy solutions will be the wave of the future. I could envision two, three, or even four energy sources working together to provide a good base load case.

PRA: What have been the most surprising or welcome opportunities for you and Nordex to date?

JC: I like the Standing Offer Program (SoP) offered by BC Hydro and the Green Options Partners Program from SaskPower. Nordex can thrive in small megawatt opportunities. It aligns well with our competitive strategy and is similar in many aspects to our business in Europe. These programs also encourage new energy types and more competition among smaller players in the market, thus giving our customers’ competitive options and greater flexibility.

In Europe and the United States wind energy is growing at a rapid rate. In Canada, more projects are taking shape, but Crouse reminds us that a national renewable energy policy is needed that will speak with one voice for the nation.

Edward Munro is a Communications & Sustainability Consultant with PR Associates, a Vancouver-based public relations and communication firm.

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