November 1, 2016

Energy Career Trek 2016 student blog: Visiting RES Americas

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

During Fall Break of the 2016-17 school year, the Nicholas School Energy Club sent fifteen graduate students from the Nicholas School of the Environment, Pratt School of Engineering and Fuqua School of Business to Denver, Colorado, as part of the club's annual Career Trek. Coordinated by Master of Environmental Management (MEM) students Leah Louis-Prescott and Eleanor Johnstone, the event was supported in part by the Duke University Energy Initiative.

Below is a student's account of one of the eight companies and agencies included on the trek. Read the others.

RES Americas

By Saliha Kabaca
Master of Engineering Management Candidate

RES Americas is a branch of the UK energy engineering firm that develops, finances, constructs and operates wind and solar farms around the world. During the NSEC Career Trek, we visited the company's headquarters in Broomfield, Colorado and met Andrew Oliver, Global Head of Energy Storage & CTO and Jeff Fine, Manager of Energy Resources.

RES Americas has installed 32% of all the US energy storage systems to date. Energy storage is widely used to regulate frequency and balance supply and demand. Referring to the California Duck Curve, Mr. Oliver explained that in afternoons, high solar power is available however, there is low demand for it. Vice versa, in evenings there is very low solar power available that cannot meet high demand. To address this mismatch, batteries are charged in afternoons and switched on in evenings to supply electricity to our houses. The round trip efficiency of these Li-ion batteries is 90%. Mr. Oliver added that energy storage calculations are even more complicated than wind energy calculations. Keeping in mind that wind is naturally unpredictable, energy storage balances variables including changing battery prices and failure over time. However, he pointed out that with the electric vehicle industry driving the development of Li-ion batteries and pushing the price down, RES watches for the news coming out of these developers to gauge industry progress and potential.

Presenting on wind turbine development, Mr. Fine discussed the hardships of developing a site for wind energy production. Referring to data sets collected by RES, he explained that at least 12 months is needed to collect wind data on the site to understand if it is worth constructing a wind farm there and if it is worth it, what should be the height, length and distribution of the wind turbines. Additionally, transmission access and availability must be considered while selecting a spot to construct a wind farm. He concluded that it would normally take 2-3 years to construct a wind farm because of that long process. 

Fun aside: After our Q&A session, Jeff Fine and I had a chance to chat in Turkish, too. Noticing that I am from Turkey, he switched from English to Turkish and continued answering my questions that way. Everyone in our group was impressed. 

Read about the next stop on the Denver Career Trek: Rocky Mountain Institute

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