Q&A Series: David Millar highlights areas of opportunity in U.S. renewable energy sector

David MillarDavid Millar leads Ascend Analytics consulting practice, providing utility clients with expertise in risk-based long-term resource planning, energy regulation, policy, strategy, economics, analytics, and decision analysis.

Please describe yourself and your work.

David: I lead Ascend Analytics’ resource planning practice. We work with utilities and other retail load serving entities to plan their energy supply portfolios for higher levels of renewables and lower levels of carbon. We run requests for offer (RFO) processes for renewable and storage resources and calculate the valuations of power purchase agreements. We also generate long-term power price forecasts using supply and demand fundamentals for use in valuation activities.

Describe your passion for renewable energy and how you have put it into practice in the United States.

David: Renewable energy, along with energy efficiency and electrification of heating and transport, form the basis of a decarbonized energy future. We work with those who are leading this transition helping them make sound decisions under increasing uncertain energy markets, policies, and technology costs.

How would you like to see your work implemented on a global scale?

David: We would like to take what we’ve learned in the U.S., including the analytical tools we’ve developed, and expand to utilities and renewable project developers across the globe. For example, Ascend has used its analytical tools to create long-term resource plans that dramatically reduce emissions while also maintaining reliability and managing costs. We can apply these tools and methodologies at the country level or at individual utility levels in other countries as they too drive towards zero emissions by mid-century.

You have said that some of the greatest opportunities for the U.S.’s renewable energy journey is in hybrid solar and storage, long-duration storage, and distributed energy resources. How can the U.S. better capitalize on renewable opportunities in these areas?

David: There is an ongoing debate about whether large “utility scale” renewables or small “distributed energy resources” are most effective at reducing emissions, enhancing reliability and resiliency, and reducing power costs for everyday consumers. The reality is we need more of everything, including more large-scale renewables like onshore and offshore wind, solar and solar/battery hybrids, and geothermal as well as small-scale solar, storage, electric vehicles, demand response, and other types of flexible load. We should retain our existing nuclear fleet. We need new technologies like long-duration storage to become commercialized and we need to reduce barriers to siting and building transmission. Achieving these goals requires federal policy leadership. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is a great start, but we also need the climate and energy sections of the Build Back Better deal to pass as well as leadership from the Federal government at FERC, EPA, and DOE.

Why do you believe that transmission infrastructure not being able to keep up with the demand for renewable projects is one of the main barriers the U.S. faces on its path to clean and affordable energy?

David: It is notoriously difficult to site and permit new high voltage direct current (HVDC) as well as more traditional AC transmission in the United States. The best renewable resource areas tend to be in locations far away from load centers on the coasts, and renewable energy is more easily balanced when there is wide geographic diversity in the resources and multiple pathways for power flow. Across the country, renewable and storage interconnection queues are backed up because of insufficient transmission. FERC needs to be given the tools and the mandate to designate transmission pathways as having national importance so that development of those lines can be fast-tracked.

Finally, how can the U.S. lead the way towards 100 percent renewable energy? And what progress do you foresee for the region in the coming years?

David: I see the U.S. leading in technology development, market design, power system integration, and RD&D. The U.S. will rapidly deploy renewable energy and storage; however, eliminating fossil fuel powered resources will continue to pose a challenge for reliability until long duration storage (including “green” hydrogen or other clean fuels) is commercially available and more load flexibility is unlocked on the demand side.

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