This is the first in a series exploring energy markets in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This article summarizes where Virginia’s energy resources are headed and lays out three challenges in moving toward renewable energy.

­Virginia is positioned to invest in renewable energy to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050, which is projected to add 86,000 new jobs and $25 billion in economic output in the next 10 years [1].  Progress in the last 30 years has allowed Virginia to rely less on carbon-heavy coal and to grow renewable energy sources.  Virginia hosts the second offshore wind project in the U.S. with plans for substantial and rapid growth in renewable power sources. Today, the Virginia grid is primarily powered by natural gas and nuclear power, with less than 5 percent coming from renewables.  An inventory of the energy sources and trends in the last 30 years can be seen in the interactive business intelligence dashboard below.

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­Moving towards a greener, low emission grid not only brings health and environmental benefits but is expected to provide a great economical value for the commonwealth [2]. New job opportunities will come from the introduction, manufacturing, operation and maintenance of these renewable sources of energy. The effort also increases the commonwealth’s attractiveness for commerce because of possible reduced energy prices.

Progressing towards this reform comes with a unique set of opportunities, which CCALS supports with the help of industry partners and institutions such as the University of Virginia, Port of Virginia, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Virginia Department of Transportation, and others. We envision three initial phases to explore, which we’ll report on in future articles.

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Renewables such as wind and solar work on the availability of resources, like any other energy generation mode. The current challenge, however, is to identify the locations that are logistically sound, and to ensure access to these locations and to required resources such as minimum wind speeds, water source, solar hours etc. Multi criteria decision analysis based on data from GIS mapping, among other criteria, is being used to complete this task – seeking methods to rank sites best suited for renewable power plans and infrastructure while considering future conditions.

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The current energy grid is made to optimally handle one-way traffic. The electricity is produced at power stations and distributed to load centers. This will be incrementally disrupted with the introduction and growing use of solar panels in homes, vehicles supplying energy back to the grid and the intermittency from renewable sources of power. European nations which see a large share of their power derived from renewables, especially wind, have made the necessary changes to their grid structures. It is necessary that we study upcoming technology to update our grids to increase resilience and reliability while also enabling it to be flexible enough to accommodate new sources of energy.

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Efficient operation is the key to ensuring that equipment will last longer. The problem is that this continuous operation of energy generators such as wind turbines, produces excess energy. To ensure that the reliance on base load generators is kept low while also not wasting any excess energy creates the need for large scale energy storage. Currently, there are various large scale energy storage technologies competing to gain market hold. We are studying the various factors which will affect the viability of these technologies for the commonwealth, to investigate the final levelized cost of such energy storage and the scale required to satisfy future operations.

About the Authors

Shravan Sreekumar
Shravan Sreekumar is a Systems Engineering PhD Student at the University of Virginia. He received his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering (2017) and his MSE in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering (2018).
Cody Pennetti

Cody Pennetti serves as researcher and lecturer for the University of Virginia. Cody received his BS in Civil Engineering (2007) at the University of Virginia; his MS in Systems Engineering (2016) at Virginia Tech, and PhD in Systems Engineering (2020) at the University of Virginia. He is a licensed NSPE Civil Professional Engineer with over a decade of experience in design and management.

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