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Craig Cornelius
CEO
Clearway Energy Group

01 September 2022

What is Clearway’s footprint in North America and the projects you are the most proud of?

We are proud of the scale and geographic breadth of our operations, and the diversity of resources that comprise the business. We do this reliably, with 91% of TW hours produced last year from 0 emission sources.  We own and operate solar, wind, and storage facilities in 26 states -  34 states if you count our projects in development stages. 

That being said, these technologies by themselves are not enough to meet the entire need of the American economy today, and we will still need gas this decade to keep the whole system in balance. Yet, we proved that a company can operate in an almost carbon free manner, delivering to our consumers reliable and low-cost power. Now more than ever, with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, we expect the deployment of sustainable energy across America to soar.

What is the global outlook of solar in the near future, given the exponential growth it has experienced lately?

 

The most compelling aspect of solar technology is the combination of long-term reliability, its extraordinarily long life, and the ever-decreasing cost of deployment.

 

This combination of attributes is a huge advantage over other sources of electric power generation. Given that storage is on a similar trajectory, the two combined will be unstoppable.

The potential of solar and storage is seen across the world and here in the United States, where if you look at the long-term resource plans of most load-serving entities, solar power is at the centre of all of them - even in the higher latitudes of the US. Bear in mind that less than 20 years ago there were real debates regarding whether this would ever be a cost-effective resource. In 2007 we were celebrating the construction of the largest utility-scale solar array in the country, and it was 8 MW. Today,  people are regularly planning facilities that are ten, even 100 times bigger than that.

But is energy storage truly up to par, given challenges surrounding weight, cost or durability?

We will witness an interesting three years in the U.S. as we commission, construct, and operate stationary battery storage systems at scale for the first time. There were numerous projects deployed in the last 12-18 months, but if you scroll forward 24 months, the total amount will be one order of magnitude greater. That is unprecedented growth. The first commissioning of these plants will test the people in charge of them, as systems will probably take longer than we might hope to reach their full capacity. The demand for lithium-ion batteries, especially for EV and stationary power applications, is far outpacing the available supply, and that creates economic dislocation for the companies delivering vehicles or power to customers. It will also deepen supply chain issues. 

Overall, it is exciting that we are seeing storage systems integrated into the grid. They are really like nothing else in the electric power system today. Their valuable because of their ability to respond to fluctuations in the grid and to decide on the times of day when capacity is most needed, coupled with their low exposure to fuel supply risk.

What is the impact you expect the Inflation Reduction Act to have on the industry, and what is your vision for Clearway Energy during this transformative time?

I got into working on what we do today - which I call the terrestrial power industry - by working on the aerospace applications of our technologies. Spending my life working in the industry of powering society through resources that leave our planet habitable is my mission and privilege. If we cannot make the planet habitable for future generations, we are ruined. Before, whether we could do this was an uncertain proposition. Today, we are well on the way to making it happen. 

The Inflation Reduction Act means that industry stakeholders and society at large will see the landscape transform, as the U.S. will have large-scale utility plants ramping up in the next five years. The legislation is about changing the energy mix in the U.S while maintaining reliability and self-sufficiency. 

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