I’ve worked at ACP for almost a year now, so while I’ve attended some version of most ACP events, this was my first O&M and Safety event. Like many in our industry, I was hoping that ACP’s 2021 Operations & Maintenance and Safety Virtual Summit would also be my first in-person ACP event, but as Michele Michelic, ACP’s Sr. Director of Asset Management and Standard Development, said in her introduction, the O&M and Safety group “more than any other understands the importance of safety.” So, while we were unable to gather in person, I appreciated hearing from our industry’s operations, maintenance and safety experts and leaders each day as they shared their knowledge and expertise. Here are my top takeaways from ACP’s 2021 O&M Virtual Summit:
1. Working during the COVID-19 pandemic has seen its share of challenges but we can use this as a learning opportunity
The clean energy workforce has been on the frontlines through the COVID-19 pandemic and every panel during OMS in some way explored a lesson learned from the last 18 months. During the “ACP Leadership” panel on Day 1 of the Summit, Al Vickers, CEO of bp Wind Energy thanked the clean energy workforce for their dedication over these challenging months, “To do what you’ve done over the last year, which is to keep energy flowing to our nation when we most need it, has been a huge accomplishment. You’ve had to tackle professional challenges and personal challenges you’ve never seen before, and you really have been on the front lines of keeping America moving.” These challenging times have forced the clean power industry to take a deeper look at how and why we do things the way we do them, and how we can improve. The second panel on Day 1 dove into the challenges of the last year, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the winter storms in Texas to increased cybersecurity attacks. Matt Hartung of EDP Renewables noted these challenges and how the industry has pushed through them, saying “It’s shown both the areas of improvement that are necessary to continue producing reliable power and also is a testament to how resilient we are to unexpected issues.” Melf Lorenzen, CEO, Deutsche Windtechnik echoed this saying, “during the pandemic our industry has demonstrated that, indeed, we are reliable.”
“We address and take our challenges separately, but we are all facing them. Why don’t we solve them together as an industry? “ – Silvia Ortin Rios, COO Wind Onshore and Solar Photovoltaics Americas, RWE Renewables
As the clean energy industry in America continues its record growth and expansion, collaboration, participation, and networking are key to our collective success. The ACP Operations Committee is the platform for those opportunities for the industry, driving solutions, and engaging on challenges facing the industry writ-large. As Gerrud Wallaert, the Chair of the Operations Committee stated during the Summit, “this gives us a moment to reflect on what is Operations as we focus on multi-technology, and we found we can learn so much from each other.” Jason Allen, Chief Operating Officer of Leeward Renewable Energy agreed, saying “the ACP Operations Committee is a powerful force for the industry…We are all the voice for each other. It’s about doing the right thing now and for years to come...The value of the committee is really about the relationships we make in the industry. We get better together.”
Members of ACP’s Board joined ACP’s CEO Heather Zichal during an opening panel discussion during the 2021 O&M and Safety Virtual Summit.
2. This is a people business
This lesson is probably obvious to those who’ve spent a lot of time in this industry, but to me, going into the event I imagined a lot of technical talk, as if the whole conference would only focus on procedures, and efficiency and dealing with assets. But what I learned is that our people are our biggest asset. Whether it’s coming up with ways to retrofit new components to aging wind turbines, designing safety software to help us better track injuries or putting in the regular maintenance work to ensure a solar farm produces the maximum amount of power over its entire lifetime, our people solve problems. Our energy assets cannot function without our human ones. That’s why it’s crucial we keep our people safe. Day 2’s morning session explored safety through the lens of human performance, and all the presenters touched on two key ideas: Humans make mistakes, and most mistakes can be prevented through organization processes and systems.
But as the industry grows not only do we need to keep the workers we already have safe, but we’ll also need more front-line energy employees to help maintain and run our assets. We also need to ensure our workforce is diverse- which requires an intentional effort. Amy Caldwell of WTR Search, mentioned four strategies for increasing diversity in the clean power sector: networking, attracting talent, focusing on online presence, and committing to inclusion. But we’re also at the beginning of a major shift in the workforce. Baby boomers are on their way to retirement and Gen X, and Gen Y (Millennials) are replacing them. These younger generations are looking for different things from their employers and it’s crucial that we recognize that. Because of that shift, an online presence is more important than ever not just for increasing diversity but also for attracting younger workers.
Day 2’s “When Repower Isn’t an Option” panel brought together experts from the solar, wind and storage sectors to discuss how they approach challenges with aging fleets.
3. As the industry grows, collaboration in Operations, Maintenance and Safety is crucial
A lot of panelists mentioned the growth of the industry, and the “Clean Energy Market Update: Another Record-breaking Year?” panel, which introduced the ACP Q2 market report highlighted that growth with data showing 2021 is on track to be another record-breaking year for clean power installations. This growth in the industry further highlights a theme brought up at the CLEANPOWER virtual summit– clean power is no longer a budding industry, we are here, and we’re ready to power the future.
“We’ve grown up fast over the last 10 or 15 years…if you look at the 15 years ahead of us…we are going to move from being a small part of the energy system…to a major, if not dominant, part of the energy system. The face of that growth to the world is not going to be what happens inside boardrooms it’s going to be what happens in our operations and our businesses out in the community. As I look at the operations space this is going to be a huge part of our success and we have to get it right. We can’t wait to get into later after we’ve grown. “– Al Vickers, Chief Executive Officer, bp Wind energy
But doing so requires a paradigm shift in the industry- we can only power the nation as a collective of wind, solar and storage. No one technology can do it alone. Susan Nickey, Executive Vice President and Chief Client Officer of Hannon Armstrong said it well, “Renewable energy is here. it’s the future, we need to all be together around the table, driving it forward, unified, coordinated and punching at the weight we should be in Washington and around the country.” In the spirit of uniting the industry on the first day of the conference, ACP announced a merger with the Energy Storage Association.
4. Technology can make us more efficient, but it’s not a silver bullet
Companies like Dynamo that use apps to collect real-time health and safety risk data increase the amount of information we have at hand tenfold, but successfully implementing these technologies into standard operating procedure requires good leadership, planning and consistency. As bp exemplified during the “Re-imagining Health and Safety for Clean Power” panel, this can be done, and it can be extremely beneficial. And these technologies, as well as safety reporting in general, will continue to improve as we amass more data.
As more companies get involved in clean energy, and the industry grows, we’ve seen also tremendous leaps forward in the technology used to make solar panels, wind turbines and storage systems. This progress is exciting because it often lowers the cost of production or increases efficiency or yield. But it also comes with challenges. These rapid changes mean older parts may no longer be manufactured or may be considered outdated leaving owner operators with difficult decisions to make about the future of their assets. Tuesday’s panel. “When Repower isn’t an Option – Sustaining Reliability with an Aging Fleet,” discussed these challenges and noted how other technologies, such as drone inspections, can help inform those decisions, but this issue is relatively new and will require collaboration across the industry and utilization of collaborative resources like ACP committees to discuss the best way to decide the future of aging assets.
5. OMS 2022will be a perfect opportunity to continue this year’s conversations
After three days of content and what I’d consider a great intro into today’s most pressing OMS topics, my biggest takeaway is that next year’s event, which is less than six months away, is going to be a great continuation of the discussions. When we do all finally come together, we’ll have had some time to think about questions and further conversations we want to have following this year’s event and be able to explore topics like workforce development, aging fleets, and safety in greater depth. When we reconnect in March next year, we’ll be able to take our common narrative and explore our experiences to continue improving our standards, policies and procedures to ensure the clean power sector is safe, reliable and efficient as we power the future. I hope you see you all in-person next year!
In addition to the live sessions, OMS featured of 30+ on-demand presentations, which attendees have access to through December, and daily tailgate talks. Every morning we started the day with networking sessions focused on WRISE, Safety and Operations which were really successful thanks to all the attendees who showed up and got to chatting!
The ACP team would also like to thank our Program Chairs Early Deloach and Carla Hardy for their work planning this event as well as the program committee, and our sponsors. We couldn’t have done it without you!