This is the second in a series exploring energy markets in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This article discusses the identification of coordinated benefits in moving toward renewable energy.

Previous article:  Plotting the Future of Clean Energy in Virginia

map pinRenewable vs. Traditional Energy Resources

­Renewables such as wind and solar function by 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 the required resources such as adequate wind speeds, water source, solar hours, and others. From a systems perspective, there are advantages to considering coordinated benefits of renewable energy growth and other initiatives such as economic development.

In Virginia, the current initiatives anticipate the need for 16,000 MW of solar generation by the year 2050, which requires nearly 125 square miles of area (with our current solar technology) – an area twice the size of Richmond.  A benefit of renewable energy systems is an ability to disperse energy production. Traditional power plants operate from a central location with vast transmission lines spanning across a territory; however, power sources such as solar and wind can be constructed across a vast geography. A dispersion of renewable energy enables even remote regions to improve their power capacity, reliability, and resilience.

With offshore wind, the location is fixed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) lease areas, but there are still questions of where energy storage systems (e.g. megapack batteries) should be located to accommodate variable energy production. Methods of data science and geospatial analytics inform stakeholders of opportunities for coordinate benefits of renewable energy production, energy storage, and community development.

Identifying Coordinated Benefits

The methods for identifying coordinated benefits include:

  1. Evaluate Candidate Sites:
    • Begin with a list of land areas that have been evaluated as candidates for new development, such as those identified with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) Certified Sites program or the Appalachian Electric Power (AEP) Quality Sites program. In some cases, a development opportunity is challenged by a lack of adequate or reliable power and would benefit from enhanced electric infrastructure generated by solar.
    • Identify potential sites in the region that are suitable for utility-scale renewable energy systems, prioritizing the opportunities to redevelop brownfield sites, such as the 100,000 acres of old coal fields in Virginia (visit the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy for more information).
  2. Renewable Energy Construction
    • With large-scale renewable energy system construction there is opportunity to support new manufacturing for composites, electronics, installation equipment, and other components of renewables. New workforce training can enable job growth in renewable system construction and lead to sustained regional development and permanent job growth.
  3. Long-Term Benefits
    • The development of new energy systems can promote a culture of sustainable development as a region sees new opportunities to develop a community with new homes, jobs, and retail enabled by reliable and resilient electric infrastructure enhancements.
    • Consider additional benefits, such as operations that use fleets of electric vehicles that could also serve as mobile energy storage with vehicle-to-building (V2B) and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging systems (such as Fermata Energy).

Good Data Leads to Good Decisions

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 plants and infrastructure while considering emergent and future conditions of the region. Uncoordinated land development can mean that new solar fields occupy land area that is prime for community growth and development. Coordinated efforts consider multiple factors and leverage otherwise undevelopable land, such as brownfield sites, to promote sustainable land development while achieving clean energy goals.

About the Author

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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