The Art and Science of Energy Transformation
Part 1

Navigating the Uniqueness and Complexity of Energy Transformations

In 2013, one of DECARB’s subject matter experts permanently closed a three-unit, 1,650 MW supercritical coal power plant in PJM.

Closure activities encompassed plant operations, commercial operations in the PJM market, deactivation planning and execution, shuttered plant O&M and environmental requirements, demolition analysis, and site preparation for a 1,000 MW natural gas-fueled combined cycle development project to be constructed on the existing coal pile.

Today we live in a world where even the most complex things in life are simplified down to a few words, a tweet, or a sound bite. Transforming energy can’t do that. It’s complicated work. While there are many egregious CO2 emitters operating, coal plants are a poster child for “dirty” energy generation. Taking them offline is complex and strenuous community and regulatory work.

Decarbonization, the art of turning legacy fossil fuel power plants and its related transmission and distribution into renewables, is a massive undertaking that takes deep knowledge, strategic, inquisitive skills, and a sense of empathy for all the players who play a role in the story of a transformation.

Energy transformation is a concept that brings up a lot of questions. For many, the immediacy of a quick answer weighs more heavily than understanding its complexity. One needs to see it as a multi-dimensional problem first. Solving it takes a level of understanding of every issue and each perspective in order to make an energy transformation effective and ultimately successful.

It’s a long process of thinking before talking, questioning before answering, and planning before getting to work. In that, we must consider how to rethink all aspects of any transformation and suit them to each project. My take is that it is a three-dimensional model where owners must solve the problem of 1 – available technologies; 2 – economic viability and timing; 3 – and ESG benefits.

In every transformation, making choices based upon common examples does not address the uniqueness of each project. Each transformation is formed by a sense of personal economic and social evolution, created for people today and in the future to live a better life than before, free from carbon-emitting energy.

As is true for many corporations, responsibility for energy today has to reflect and reevaluate their sole responsibility to the bottom line. Financial results are now intertwined with impacts on the community and the environment around their business. All factors impact productivity and profit. Taking the long view and building the right metrics for success is essential in setting the right strategy.

In our experience, each transformation is unique and is never simply an engineering problem to solve. Thinking creatively and developing lateral strategies that utilize unused value from an energy-creating asset is essential in creating long-term value.

Companies have to consider people as one of the biggest opportunities in their transformation. Handled poorly, they can disrupt or dismantle any great transformation idea. Managed wisely, the workforce, the community, and all the other players can elevate a sensible idea into a transformative one.

Companies need to consider the cost impact to customers (especially in the current economy) and the reliability impact (dispatchable coal plants must be replaced by a technology that provides the same or similar reliability benefit).

And energy transformation. It’s a simple concept, but manifesting it is complex. Navigating is a multi-faceted collaboration of engineering, technology, empathy for humanity, and a sense of responsibility to the future. In the end, it relies on people …people that make energy transformation a reality.