Anybody remotely connected with utility solar and wind-scale project development knows how critical the owner’s representative role can be. Wind and solar projects have numerous and interconnected complexities that must be tracked through to the point of resolution: Where to locate each turbine or solar array? Do roads need to be built or upgraded? Do transporting those massive towers, blades and nacelles - or relocating a crane – risk damage to a county bridge? Is all the equipment in the right place? There are literally thousands of variables to track, facts to verify, processes to coordinate among multiple players, and things that can go wrong.
TREIA member Aegean Energy Group’s job is to make sure that all those things go right. Aegean’s role is to act as the owner’s representative in the development process, to make sure that what was agreed upon by the developer gets done correctly and on time, right up until the final close and the project delivers its first electron. To do so, they bring significant expertise and a suite of novel and highly productive technology tools to the game.
Representing the Owner Means Owning the Issues
President Bernie Holst characterizes the project development effort as being similar to a large real estate deal. “Contractually, at end of the day, everybody is trying to close a financial transaction. Documents have been worked on for months...We make sure it’s all been done. It’s a lot of activities going on, and it’s an art to try and manage various problems, ranging from weather delays to contractual changes that may occur. Every project is the same and every one is unique and different.”
Better Tools Yield Better Outcomes
To perform the owner’s representative position well requires technical experience, an eye for detail, and the skill of a diplomat. But one also needs good tools. And Aegean has really good tools. Those who attended last year’s GridNEXT may remember Woody Duncan – Aegean’ s Senior VP of Technology – and his powerful presentation. At that time, he demonstrated Aegean’s “Maps to Megawatts” platform that combines visual drone footage with GIS data to explain how critical information could simultaneously be made available to multiple actors on smart phones or tablets. That’s a critical part of their ‘secret sauce.’
When the three principals of Aegean came together and formed the company less than two years ago, they had roughly 10 gigawatts of renewables development experience among the team. They had seen all aspects of the renewables game, and they were convinced there was a better way to represent the owner while bringing efficiencies to the entire development process.
Holst indicates that one thing they all agreed upon was that the volume of information was overwhelming. At the same time, different levels of information needed to be shared among different parties – often immediately - and across multiple locations. “We had to find a way to streamline that process,” he comments. So the team identified what information was needed, by whom, and how best to present it. They combined critical project documentation with aerial imagery, tied that information into ESRI’s GIS platform, and then moved it online. That act dramatically improved efficiencies and facilitated shorter decision timeframes by providing accurate data that all parties could agree upon. The online platform became their trademarked Maps to Megawatts solution.
Senior Vice President of Technology Woody Duncan asserts that it’s the aerial imagery that truly sets the company apart from competitors. It’s not only the efficiency of communication that’s important, he notes. It’s also the efficiency in determining what to look at. He cites the example of a wind farm where they initially thought they needed to acquire 30,000 acres of imagery. “What we found is you don’t need everything – you need the turbine locations, the substation, the laydown – it can be much more targeted – you need 300 acres, not 30,000. And the speed with which we can get out there and capture and deliver results all in a web based environment is pretty tremendous.”
At the end of the day, that picture really is worth a million words. “You can all get around the computer screen and have someone say, ‘Oh I see what you are talking about.’”
Sharing a common view creates efficiencies
The ESRI hosted solution has been extremely helpful to them in their project activities, but along the way they found that there was widespread interest from others in the approved solution. So today, Maps to Megawatts is being used by numerous wind and solar developers across the United States, accounting for a non-trivial part of Aegean’s revenues.
Duncan comments that the decision to join TREIA was an easy one, and relates his experience at last year’s GridNEXT, where the value “was simply the sharing of information. It’s a big industry, but in some ways it’s not. That nexus of sharing allows us to see what other folks are doing and how they are approaching it – it plays such a valuable role.” That ability to learn from others, such as wind developers, is very helpful, he says. And of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s an opportunity to share Aegean’s technology and information with others, “So it’s really a win-win.”