Electricity is essential to our lives today: our connected world, our economy and our society depend on it in a way we never have before, and this will intensify as we embrace innovations like electric vehicles. At the same time, more intense weather patterns are testing our infrastructure in new and challenging ways. Meanwhile, policymakers are looking for ways to lower CO2 emissions and employ clean energy solutions. These trends provide an amazing opportunity for energy companies like AVANGRID to lead the way in delivering safe, reliable and clean energy to meet changing demand.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the use of wind, solar and other renewables is projected to increase by nearly a third by 2050. However, the shift to renewable energy brings its own set of technical challenges, to which the industry must adapt. Responding to these challenges – and capitalising on the opportunities that arrive with them – requires us to think differently. That’s why AVANGRID embraces innovation as a core value. We invest significantly in talent and technology to unlock innovation across our businesses. Moreover, we have implemented a corporate governance system that firmly entrenches a commitment to sustainable development and ethical conduct – guiding everything we do.
AVANGRID is a young company, formed in 2015 from the merger of Iberdrola USA and UIL Holdings. Today, it is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has approximately $32bn in assets and operations across 24 US states. While AVANGRID’s utilities have been providing electric and gas services to communities on the East Coast for more than 150 years, we are also at the forefront of the transition to a clean energy future. In addition to our focus on bringing innovation to our utility business, the company is a leader in renewable energy through Avangrid Renewables, which owns and operates 7.1GW of electricity capacity and is the third-largest generator of wind power in the US.
More intense weather patterns are testing our infrastructure in new and challenging ways
At almost nine times lower than the US utility average in terms of CO2 emissions intensity, AVANGRID is among the cleanest energy generation companies in the country. We have also pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. Further, we are investing in better, smarter, stronger power grids that are hardened against extreme weather and can be restored quickly after sustaining damage.
As one of the largest US operators of renewable energy facilities, with approximately 6.5GW of installed renewable capacity, AVANGRID is already at the cutting edge of the clean energy revolution. Now, we’re turning our attention to the largely untapped resource of offshore wind.
The US is ripe for development in this field, particularly in the Northeast corridor, where wind potential is among the best in the country. Currently in the permitting stage, Vineyard Wind – Avangrid Renewables’ joint venture with Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners – is poised to develop an 800MW offshore wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. With construction due to begin later this year, it’s expected to be the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the US at the start of operations in 2021.
Vineyard Wind and AVANGRID have also won Bureau of Ocean Energy Management lease sales and rights to develop wind farms on additional sites off the coast of Massachusetts and North Carolina. Meanwhile, other East Coast states, including Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, have announced requests for proposal in a bid to bring more offshore wind energy to their power grids.
As part of the global Iberdrola Group, AVANGRID is well positioned to kick-start the industry’s development. Indeed, Iberdrola has the global experience and expertise to help develop offshore wind capacity in the US. Incidentally, offshore wind power is one of the key drivers of Iberdrola’s growth, with 544MW of installed capacity as of 2017, mainly in the UK, Germany and France.
As renewables account for an ever-growing share of the national energy portfolio, we’re imagining new ways to deliver their full benefits to our customers. One such initiative is Avangrid Renewables’ new ‘green’ Balancing Authority, which launched in 2018. The Balancing Authority allows Avangrid Renewables to deliver a tailored blend of energy from various sources to customers in western US states, thereby ensuring a stable, low-carbon supply.
Number of US states in which AVANGRID has operations
AVANGRID’s installed renewable energy capacity
Another project, still in the approval phase, seeks to capitalise on the growing demand for clean energy in New England and the availability of abundant hydropower resources in Canada’s Quebec province. New England Clean Energy Connect proposes to deliver up to 1,200MW of clean, reliable hydropower via a transmission line running from the Quebec border to Lewiston, Maine. If approved, the project will be New England’s largest source of carbon-free electricity through 2063 and beyond. Moreover, it is expected to produce nearly $1bn in economic benefits for Maine through to 2027.
As the energy industry responds to the call for more clean generation, transformational change is also underway on the distribution side of the business, which manages the grid that brings electricity to homes and businesses. The proliferation of private solar power and the rise of electric vehicles, among other trends, threaten to upend decades of conventional wisdom about managing demand and loads on electric grids. Energy companies are challenged to accommodate these new demands on existing infrastructure, while providing customers with opportunities to reduce their energy usage too.
In New York, Avangrid Networks companies recently launched four pilot programmes to evaluate how energy storage systems can help offset load during system ‘peaks’ – when grids are near capacity and energy prices are high – and take advantage of low-cost energy supplies available during low-demand periods.
These systems use batteries to store energy when demand and costs are low, and either return that energy to the power grid or deliver it directly to end users to offset system peaks. For instance, the battery-supported electric vehicle chargers recently installed in Rochester, New York, can provide a quick charge without taxing the grid, and then recharge when demand is low. A similar concept is being tested at the circuit, substation and individual customer level. Broadly applied, these technologies could help Avangrid Networks companies to use existing infrastructure more efficiently, thus avoiding the need for costly upgrades, while also helping to shift demand to periods when clean energy is available at low cost.
We’re also employing new technology to empower customers to better manage how they use energy, thus helping them to reduce their overall usage and lower their costs. Digital smart meters, coupled with web-based customer portals, provide customers with insights into how they use energy, so they can discover opportunities to save. These tools also support programmes and technologies that can incentivise customers to shift some of their energy usage away from peak times. They can even unlock the prospect of improving grid efficiency through remote energy management.
Safe, reliable service
All of these efforts contribute to our provision of a modern and resilient grid that is capable of delivering energy to customers safely and reliably. We are already seeing the impact of increasingly frequent and severe storms on the power grids we operate, so we’re taking action to protect our customers from absorbing the brunt of these weather effects.
In 2013, floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy threatened to inundate a critical power substation in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which could have potentially left thousands without power for weeks. Since then, we’ve launched a project to relocate that substation to higher ground. It is expected to be in service at its new location by 2021.
In New York and Maine, we’ve proposed a $2.5bn, 10-year ‘transforming energy’ initiative to harden our power grids against storms. These measures aim to reduce storm-related outages through accelerated pole replacement, increased preventative vegetation management, and the installation of independently powered microgrids that can keep critical facilities up and running, even when the surrounding power grid goes dark. This initiative includes a full rollout of smart meter systems to electric
customers in New York.
AVANGRID is also taking action to protect customers from the growing threat of cyberattacks, which, if unchecked, could disrupt our systems or even damage our electric and natural gas infrastructure. Through ongoing collaboration with our industry peers, regulators and other partners, we are working to detect attacks and prevent them from endangering the energy grid we all rely on.
Our leadership team is engaged with industry groups, such as the Edison Electric Institute, the American Gas Association and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), to combat this issue. We also participate in joint training and drills, such as NERC’s biennial GridEx grid security exercise, to share information and maintain a high level of readiness. Meanwhile, our employees receive annual cybersecurity training that teaches them to recognise and report potential cyberthreats, including malware spread by email, which could leave the organisation vulnerable to intrusion.
Through our scholarships, internships, partnerships with top universities and employee development programmes, AVANGRID actively invests in the next generation of energy leaders, who have the skills and talent to rise to the energy challenges of the future. At our annual Innovation Challenge, AVANGRID employees partner with students from top universities to compete for scholarships and cash prizes in a competition, where they propose solutions to some of the sector’s most profound issues. We see this as a model for how our company and the industry can develop the forward-thinking mindset necessary to adapt to a fast-changing energy landscape.
We live in a world that’s rich in resources and alive with energy. Our challenge is to have the vision and imagination to use them productively and wisely. By harnessing renewable technology, investing in modern, reliable infrastructure and focusing on innovation, AVANGRID is well positioned to lead the industry into a clean energy future.