Change is inevitable, and it is happening fast in the energy sector. New technologies, competitive pricing, and shifting political climates each pose interesting questions for the future of wind energy. During our opening plenary, experts including Ethan Zindler, Head of Americas at Bloomberg NEF, will provide their forecast for the future of the electricity grid.
We sat down with Ethan to learn about the state of the grid, where it is heading, and how Canada’s wind energy industry can align itself for success.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To start, can you provide a quick overview of the state of North America’s electricity grid?
Ethan Zindler: In the United States, we have seen a tremendous shift towards lower carbon sources of energy. Ten years ago, about half of our power came from coal, but that is now down to about 30%. The main driver of this change has been natural gas, but there has also been a big investment in renewables, particularly in wind and solar.
In Canada, the shift towards new technologies has been similar. Overall, change is the new normal. Inevitably these changes come with interesting opportunities, threats, and challenges for those involved in the delivery of electricity. There are conversations taking place on both sides of the border regarding the future of the power utility and what its role will be in the development of new energy going.
What can people expect from your session?
Ethan Zindler: My talk will touch on a few key points. First, that changes in the electricity sector are no longer driven by policy, but by cost. Renewable technologies are already cost-competitive, and while we’re not there yet, we believe the price will soon drop so low that it will make sense to shut down existing coal plants and replace them with renewables.
I will also share Bloomberg NEF’s forecast for utility-scale wind builds in Canada. For now, the market is in a holding pattern, and we will likely see half a gigawatt to three-quarters of a gigawatt built per year over the next five. However, in the next 10 years or so, we predict that onshore wind builds will become the lowest-cost option, even against the incumbent generation. In our view, this is when the wind market starts to rebound.
Finally, I’ll discuss how this future is partially contingent on the assumption that the government follows through on its $30 per ton carbon tax. If that does not happen, the longer-term economics for renewables will not change as quickly or as dramatically.
That policy commitment is an important one for the market.
What are the most significant opportunities in wind energy right now?
Ethan Zindler: We think power storage is going to get cheaper and that will allow wind to become more of an around-the-clock source of generation.
How should grid operators and wind industry leaders be preparing themselves now to ensure their success as the industry innovates and evolves?
Ethan Zindler: For grid operators and existing power utilities, the challenges and opportunities lay in the intermittent nature of renewable generation. There are fundamental challenges that low-cost wind and solar pose to existing free power markets in the sense that they are so cheap they can blow up the economics of existing power generators and lead to unanticipated financial challenges. Grid operators and utilities need to find other ways of generating revenue beyond cents per kilowatt hour. We also need to make sure utilities are not threatened by renewable sources of generation, but encouraged by them and are willing to work with them.
Wind industry leaders, on the other hand, need to make sure they are vocal and heard by governments in a changing political climate. And we all need to be involved and constructive in conversations about the “utility of the future.”
Why is it important for Bloomberg NEF to be at the CanWEA Annual Conference and Exhibition?
Ethan Zindler: Canada is one of the most important energy markets in the world because of its outstanding resources, both natural and intellectual. I’m looking forward to the event because I want to learn what Canadian companies and innovators are up to.
I’m also keenly interested in understanding where the energy policy process in the country is going. Canada is a very interesting energy supplier and a fascinating place to understand better.
You can find Ethan on-stage during the opening plenary, “Wind Energy in the Future of the Electricity Grid” on October 23, 2.00-4.00 pm.
Ethan Zindler is Head of Americas at Bloomberg NEF, a provider of insight, data and news on
clean energy, advanced transport, commodities, and emerging technologies. In that capacity, Zindler manages the company’s analyst and commercial teams in New York, Washington, San Francisco, and Sao Paulo. Ethan also oversees Climatescope (www.global-climatescope.org), a project to profile clean energy investment conditions in emerging market countries underwritten by the U.K. and U.S. governments.
Zindler serves as BNEF’s primary spokesperson in North America, has been quoted widely in the media, and testified before two U.S. Senate committees and elsewhere. He is a Senior Associate (non-resident), Energy and National Security Program, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Previously, Zindler oversaw BNEF’s coverage of clean energy policy developments globally and served as BNEF’s Head of North American Research.
Looking for more wind energy insights?
The Annual Canadian Wind Energy Conference & Exhibition is the meeting point for all members of the wind energy industry – top business executives, technical experts, decision and policy makers, and government representatives – to come together and address the key issues facing the industry today. Join us October 23-25, 2018 at the BMO Centre in Calgary, Alberta.