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As we prepare for the 35th CanWEA annual wind energy conference and exhibition, we sat down with Rochelle Pancoast, chair of the CanWEA board of directors. She will be providing opening remarks for this year’s conference as well as moderating a keynote luncheon panel of senior utility executives discussing disruptive technologies and related implications.
Rochelle is also General Manager of Utilities Business Development and Support for the City of Medicine Hat in Alberta, and a long-time CanWEA member. Here, she gives us a sneak peek at the conference program and reflects on her time as chair.
This year’s opening plenary will set the stage for the rest of the conference, focusing on how far the industry has come, where it’s going and how we’ll get there.
Without giving too much away, can you give us an overview of this roadmap? In general, where do you see the wind industry moving in the next few years?
Marking the 35th CanWEA annual conference, we’ve reached another milestone, of sorts. Wind energy has undoubtedly matured, to a level that has, perhaps, surprised its competitors.
That being said, the industry has a ways to go to achieve its vision of higher grid penetration and transition to a low-carbon economy.
Through ongoing technological advancements, the wind industry will continue its drive for lower costs, improved capacity factors, and higher grid penetration.
Market and policy advocacy will continue with increased urgency, as the grid and market rules need to more readily adapt to the disruptive nature of clean energy.
Wind and other forms of clean energy are more scalable, deploy rapidly, and benefit from zero cost fuel – contrary to traditional forms of centralized generation.
Suppliers will also advocate for rules that enable sales of wind-based ancillary and other such products and services.
Customers will be a central focus, with distributed energy resources and ‘smart’ technologies beginning to play a disruptive role to the traditional energy business model.
New customers will also emerge at an increasing rate as electrification efforts solidify.
Wind and the rest of the electricity industry will need to respond proactively to this higher level of customer engagement and the immense amount of data that comes in order to be successful.
In the shorter term, partnering will be a dominant theme – whether it be in the form of PPAs [power purchase agreements] between suppliers and sustainably interested corporate entities, or through integration of wind, solar, and storage technologies that collectively work to meet suppliers’ and/or customers’ pursuit of low-cost, reliable, and low-carbon energy.
Notably, we will also see this partnering extend at a conference level with 2020 seeing CanWEA’s and CanSIA’s annual conferences being presented collectively as Electricity Transformation Canada.
CanWEA members will likewise determine if there is sufficient value in joining forces with CanSIA towards a multi-tech wind, solar, and storage association going forward.
How crucial do you believe collaboration between wind, solar, and energy storage will be as we move forward? Is this the future of the industry?
No single technology will achieve the wish list from the multitude of competing interests today.
In an industry of long-life, high-capital assets, the evolution will require a complement of technologies to serve electrical customers with affordable, reliable, flexible, and low carbon energy.
This will not only include wind, solar, and energy storage, but it will also require the use of hydro and even a practical dependence on natural gas fired generation in grids where hydro or other forms of storage are scarce or uneconomic.
Collaboration across wind, solar, and energy storage will, nevertheless, be paramount going forward.
Not only will these technologies outpace traditional generation in future growth, but they have a collective interest in advocating for the system, market, and policy changes needed to accommodate the new characteristics they bring to the table.
Wind, solar, and energy storage can also work in harmony to drive up the overall reliability in a given location, particularly as storage capabilities and related economics improve.
This synergistic relationship will increasingly open doors to deliver customized energy solutions for remote customers and/or establishing community based micro-grids.
What do you think will be the role of municipalities in the energy transformation? Can you share any insight from success stories in the City of Medicine Hat?
Municipalities will continue to make choices reflective of their values in the degree they engage in energy transformation.
The City of Medicine Hat has a long energy history, in part because it is situated above an abundant natural gas basin.
Uniquely, the City owns both power generation and natural gas and petroleum production assets, so we are likewise ever-mindful of the energy transformation that is underway.
In addition to having local wind power, sample success stories for the City include our award winning Hat Smart program, the City’s deployment of AMI meters, and our participation in Peaks to Prairies.
Hat Smart’s mandate is to educate consumers and promote energy conservation and renewable energy initiatives in our community.
Launched in 2008, the program has provided residents with incentives to install micro-gen, purchase energy star appliances, improve insulation/air sealing, achieve EnerGuide ratings or better in new home builds, and more.
The City is also one of the first Canadian municipalities to deploy AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) meters for each of electrical, natural gas and water customers in the City.
This provides useful two-way communication of data between the City and customers on consumption patterns and more, and positions the City well for advancement of Smart solutions.
A third example is the City’s participation in Peaks to Prairies. This will establish an electric vehicle (EV) charging network across southern Alberta to provide EV drivers confidence in their travels.
What do you hope the panelists at the opening plenary will contribute to our understanding of where we’re heading?
I hope the panelists will openly share their experiences as innovators and as leaders in the industry, while also sharing their outlooks and insights on key disruptive trends with related implications for grids, customers, business models, policy makers, and more.
The panelists represent a broad spectrum of industry leaders that will help connect the ‘crystal ball’ dots — I am very much interested in hearing from them!
What do you think the audience will take away from this experience, and why is the opening plenary a must-attend event?
The opening plenary will set the stage for the future landscape that we face as an industry.
I am confident it will be thought provoking and inspire all of us to consider how best to competitively position for longer term success.
This plenary will set the tone and context for the rest of the conference – a strategic must attend event!
You’ll be stepping down as Chair of CanWEA’s board of directors later this year. What has been the most enjoyable part of your tenure?
That is a hard question, because this past year as Chair has been nothing but enjoyable, despite the hard work involved for the entire team in contemplating and possibly delivering a transformational change in the association.
But the first thing that comes to mind is the team engagement. Both the CanWEA staff, and the board members themselves, are such a professional and dynamic group of people it is hard not to enjoy the personal camaraderie and intellectual stimulation that we have when we get together.
What’s the most important or meaningful thing you’ve learned in your tenure?
Whether it is this past year as Chair, last year as Vice-Chair or any of the past six years on the board, I am especially appreciative of the diversity at the table and the importance of ensuring a broad spectrum of perspectives are shared and considered when developing a position or deciding how to proceed on behalf of the members.
The breadth of experience and insight in an open dialogue setting only work to enhance the outcome – and only occasionally challenge the Chair to keep an efficient process!
This is evident at the board table but as Chair it became that much more evident how highly credible the CanWEA staff are.
We’ve collectively set a vision and we work steadily to deliver on that vision – it takes courage and tenacity, but it will ultimately benefit all CanWEA members and even the industry as a whole.
Do you have a message you’d like to share with CanWEA members at the end of your term?
First, thank you for allowing me to play at least a small part in a maturing and now mainstream industry – and do keep the courage and tenacity of innovation and leadership ever-present, so that we can collectively reach our longer term vision of fully achieving an affordable, reliable and low-carbon electric industry.
Ultimately, why should people attend CanWEA? What’s the main benefit to policy advisors and people in the business community?
The CanWEA conference will be an epicenter of networking and dialogue that shares vision, trends, opportunities and challenges large and small — for wind but also for the industry as a whole.
Strategic insights, practical solutions, customer and competitor interests, relationship building, and much more will be at your fingertips and is a must-attend event!
CanWEA’s 35th annual wind energy conference and exhibition runs October 8-10 at the BMO Centre in Calgary, Alberta.