Ascend Summit Highlights

Summit Videos

The 2019 Ascend Summit concluded its final session on Thursday October 17th after a dense two days of presentations, workshops, and panel sessions covering renewable energy market dynamics across the United States.

With representatives from CCAs, planning commissions, IPPs, developers, and financiers, panels and presentations were represented by a wide spectrum of stakeholders in new energy dynamics.

Attendees this year included:

Austin Energy, Berkeley Lab, Bloomberg LP, Borrego, C2 Capital, Candela Renewables, City of Glendale, Colorado PUC, ConEd, Cypress Creek, Duke Energy, Enel, Exelon, GCL, Geronimo Energy, Idaho Power, Javalin Capital, LADWP, Lansing Board of Water and Light, Macquarie, Mortenson, NREL, Northwestern Energy, NRG, Ormat, Peninsula CleanEnergy, Plus Power, PNM, Public Service of New Mexico, Recurrent, Riverside Public Utilities, RMI, Salt River Project, Scout Clean Energy, Siemens Energy, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Southern Power, sPower, Strata, Swinerton, Terra-Gen, Tetra Tech, Tri-State, Turlock Irrigation District, Ulteig, Vaisala, Viridity, Wartsila, Western Area Power Administration, Western Resource Advocates, and Xcel Energy.

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Kicking off the summit was Chris Nelder of the Rocky Mountain Institute.  Always provocative, Chris spoke regarding the current state of PPA pricing in the market and the forecasted reduction of battery energy storage equipment costs, positing that we may already be at “Peak Gas” as distributed energy storage solutions cannibalize traditional gas-peaker solutions.  

Duane Highley, CEO of Tristate, followed Chris’ presentation with an overview of the challenges facing utility-entities as they integrate renewable resources into their portfolios; competing legislation and regulatory environments coupled with higher penetration of intermittent renewable resources and less baseload coal capacity contributes to a volatile and challenging transition.  RebeccaJohnson of the Western Area Power Administration echoed these sentiments; with over 17,000 miles of transmission assets and 3 balancing authorities, WAPA’s focus is on maintaining capacity for reliability and the analytics required to manage a forthcoming “data avalanche”.

Dovetailing nicely with the capacity challenges addressed by the opening session, the following panel included Erika Bierschbach (Austin Energy), Pedram Mohseni (Duke Energy), Monica Padilla (Silicon Valley Clean Energy), German Pichardo (AES), and Scott Wrigglesworth (Ascend Analytic’s Director of Analytics and Strategy).  With ERCOT seeing real time energy prices hitting the market cap of $9000/MWh twice in one week this last August, as well as issuing emergency alerts as a consequence, the panel addressed competing strategies for successful renewable energy integration.  Austin Energy continues to lead this transition, expecting to achieve 85% carbon-free generation by 2023, while Duke Energy anticipates a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 and a net zero CO2 emission by 2050.   Contrasting RMI’s“peak gas” thesis, a number of utility entities confirmed steady growth in their gas assets; Duke alone was expecting 15% annualized increase in natural gas thru 2022, though solar penetration continues to expand in parallel.

Closing out the first day of the Ascend Summit was the panel “Visions for 100% Renewable Energy”, moderated by David Millar of Ascend Analytics.  PNM, Xcel, and LADWP detailed their planning process and capacity obligations in light of their renewable portfolio objectives.  LADWP in particular addressed the obstacles facing transmission infrastructure in densely-populated urban centers.  Eliminating baseload coal assets by 2025 while on boarding 3000 EV charging stations and multiple MWs of solar, means adopting a complex mix energy efficiency programs, distributed battery energy storage resources, and transmission upgrades even while load growth is expected to reach 130% of current levels by 2050.  

Day 2 of the Summit expanded on many of the themes of Day 1, pivoting primarily around forecasting and optimizing asset performance in uncertain conditions.  Weather forecasting and (courtesy of Vaisala) complimented break out sessions on “Batteries as a Physical Hedge for Renewables” and “Risk Metrics and Approaches forPortfolio Management”.  

All in all, the 2019 Ascend Summit hosted a fantastic cross-section of utilities, owner/operators, and developers of renewable energy systems and provided best-practice guidance on how to successfully integrate renewable resources into the future.  Looking forward to seeing the same participants, with new strategies and lessons-learned in 2020!