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.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

How far have we really gotten with alternative energy?


Electricity generation from coal, oil and natural gas represented 60% of all power generated world-wide this year, down from 67% in 2010, according to data and consulting firm IHS Markit. That is likely to drop to 42% to 48% by 2030, depending on how aggressively countries move toward renewables. Each of the alternative fuels has its own potential, and its own obstacles. Here’s a closer look at current status and outlook for five types of carbon-free energy that could play a bigger role in the future. To learn more, read “How Far Have We Really Gotten With Alternative Energy?” Reading this article may require a subscription from the media outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Energy Department says the U.S. now gets just 3% of its power from solar sources. 
    • Globally, just 4% percent of power generation this year is from solar, up from 1.4% five years ago, according to IHS Markit. 
    • Global installations will likely increase 20% this year to 175 gigawatts, according to IHS Markit. 
    • That’s about enough to power roughly 35 million U.S. households for a year.
  • About 10% of global commercial electricity production came from nuclear power in 2020, well below the high point in the mid-1990s of 17.5%, according to the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report.
  • Wind provides about 7% of the world’s electricity, a share projected to at least double by 2030, according to IHS Markit. 
    • Installations last year reached a record 93 gigawatts, up 53% from 2019, according to the Global Wind Energy Council industry group.
  • Geothermal plants provide less than 1% of the world’s electricity, but drilling has been on the rise for the past six years. 
    • An estimated 180 wells are being drilled each year for power generation, and that number is expected to rise to 500 by 2025.
  • The International Energy Agency says hydrogen currently supplies less than 1% of the world’s energy, and adds that only 1% of that amount is low-carbon, or green, hydrogen. 
    • The Hydrogen Council trade group forecasts that hydrogen could supply 20% of the world’s energy by 2050.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Natural gas is a necessary factor in the transition towards cutting carbon emissions. Yet to achieve a net-zero goal, it is crucial for coal and oil fired plants to diminish entirely if we have any chance of reaching the proposed targets. Natural gas can be used to reduce carbon emission and aid in the transition to implementing alternative fuels once available, and economically priced. The urgency of the climate crisis demands that the power sector pioneers the rapid decarbonization of economies worldwide. The technology needed to reach net zero already exists, however, planning and investment are needed to accelerate the energy transition. Critically, it’s not just economics that’s driving the energy transition. Today’s global targets for 2030 are nowhere near enough to meet the Paris targets, as the United Nations (UN) has made clear. Globally, emissions must be cut in half over the next decade. It is the job of every power company to now put strategies and capital in place to navigate to net zero and to embed flexibility at the heart of grids to unlock 100% renewable energy systems. To achieve this, utilities must commit to front-loading their efforts and investment strategies. 


Photo by Nuno Marques on Unsplash

300 companies chart path for CO2-free energy technology


More than a decade ago, a host of U.S. companies capitalized on voluntary energy purchases to help drive down wind and solar energy costs, revealing the financial strength of the nation’s power sector to spur the nation’s access to clean energy. Now, those same companies are being asked to once again give similar treatment to much-needed next-generation clean energy technologies. An alliance of nearly 300 major corporations, whose members also include Microsoft Corp., Walmart Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and General Motors Co., is seeking to channel financial support to clean energy options such as long-term batteries, geothermal energy, hydrogen fuels, hydropower installations on existing dams, CO2 capture from gas-fired power plants and new nuclear reactor projects to help jump-start these technologies. To learn more read, “300 companies chart path for CO2-free energy technology.”

Key Takeaways:

  • According to studies by Princeton researchers and other analysts, a huge ramp-up in wind and solar power and infrastructure in this decade could bring the share of clean power in the U.S. to roughly 70 percent. 
  • Over the past 15 years, business and industry have been catalysts for the addition of over 42,000 megawatts of new renewable power in the U.S., and so far this year they have been responsible for 40 percent of new renewables additions.
  • Google has also signed purchasing contracts with startup Fervo Energy, which is adapting oil and gas fracking methods to the production of geothermal energy to generate power 
  • A study which used a complex electricity planning model from Princeton and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, assessed the effect on carbon emissions in California and the PJM Interconnection grid of switching to an around-the-clock clean energy procurement rather than contracts for annual totals. 

Path to 100% Perspective: 

The alliance of companies seeking to capitalize on voluntary energy purchases is accelerating decarbonization by identifying the fastest, most reliable and  most cost-effective ways to reach net-zero energy across cities, states, and nations. Over the past 20 years, the cost per kilowatt of wind power plants has decreased by 40%, while the cost of solar generation has dropped by 90%. Renewable generation is attracting more investment dollars than fossil-powered generation year after year. Current market trends show the energy landscape is in transition towards more flexible energy systems with a rapidly increasing share of renewable energy, declining inflexible baseload generation and wider applications of storage technology.


Photo by Sander Weeteling on Unsplash