Updated: Jul 8, 2019
In 1995, Edward (“Ed”) Krapels was a successful, mid-career co-owner of Energy Security Analysis, Inc., a Wakefield, Mass.-based energy consulting business that he and his wife, Sarah Emerson, had founded in 1984. Little did Krapels know, the ground rules for the U.S. electric power industry were about to change radically.
Up until that point, explains the Berkeley Haas Energy Institute, most U.S. consumers received their electricity from regulated, vertically-integrated utilities that owned all of their own electricity generation, transmission, local distribution and retail billing and collection services. But that all changed in the spring of 1996 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an order requiring public utilities to open up their businesses to competition. The most significant changes to emerge from this “electricity restructuring” process included:
electric utility companies in some states were forced to split themselves into separate generation, transmission and distribution companies;
utilities that owned transmission lines were required to offer “open access” to those lines to local power generation companies;
non-utility generators gained permission to sell electricity to utilities; and
retail service providers gained the right to buy electricity from generators and sell it directly to consumers.
Against this backdrop, the Dutch-born Krapels, who holds a bachelor’s degree from University of North Carolina, a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, all in international relations, woke up to a new and career path-altering realization:
“It became clear to me,” he said,” that the foundation for this new healthy, competitive electric market would be #transmission.”
Renewing the Grid
Today, as the chief executive officer of Anbaric Development Partners (ADP), Krapels oversees an enterprise he calls “an inventor of projects that connect renewables to the electric grid.”
ADP is a partnership between Anbaric Transmission and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Based in Wakefield, a suburb of Boston, it specializes in early stage development of large-scale electric transmission systems, the transformation of energy infrastructure on college campuses, and the development of smart #microgrids.
Krapels founded Anbaric in 2004, but functionally, the company had its origins in another company, Atlantic Energy Partners (AEP), which he co-founded in 1999 with four other partner companies. Encouraged by the new, more competitive transmission landscape, Krapels and AEP began thinking about the smartest, most efficient ways to create long distance transmission grids. Their technology of choice? High-voltage direct current (HVDC).
A Smarter Approach
HVDC-based electricity can be transmitted longer distances with lower losses than the household standard alternating current (AC). HVDC transmission lines, while more expensive than AC lines, are typically smaller, less-bulky cables that can be easily buried underground or underwater. This characteristic makes them attractive for applications that seek to minimize disruption to a community’s visual environment. HVDC is also more controllable than AC, making it attractive for applications where engineering or economic conditions demand well-controlled power flows.
With AEP, Krapels played an important early development role in the Neptune Regional Transmission System, a 65-mile-long, 660-MegaWatt (MW) HVDC line that connects Sayreville, New Jersey to Long Island, N.Y. He later played a similar role for the Hudson Transmission System, a 660-MW HVDC system that connects upstate New Jersey to Manhattan by traveling underneath the Hudson River. Both the Neptune and Hudson projects were financed, constructed, and are currently operated by affiliates of PowerBridge, LLC of Fairfield, Conn.
Buoyed by these early successes in HVDC, Krapels has become a passionate advocate for creating large ocean transmission grids to support the burgeoning U.S. #offshorewind energy industry.
According to the Wind Power market intelligence website, the U.S. has plans to develop more than 21 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind electricity as early as 2030, much of it along the Eastern Seaboard. One GW provides enough electricity to power approximately one million homes.
“If we are going to build that many offshore wind projects, there ought to be more thought given to how we’re going to get that energy to shore,” Krapels observed. “If each wind project has its own cable delivering power from its wind farm to shore, we’re going to end up with a mess, a spaghetti-bowl full of cables going into and through fragile (environmental) areas.”
Infrastructure for All
His vision for this uncertain future is a concept known as “separate and independent transmission.” It calls for offshore transmission grids to be designed, produced, installed and operated by independent transmission companies. Each grid would collect the power generated by multiple wind projects and deliver it to shore in a single shared cable.
Krapels’ approach to ocean transmission grids keys off the state and federal highways model.
“We would never allow Walmart to build and operate a road that only goes to Walmart,” he emphasized. “Transmission is shared infrastructure, just like roads and highways. It must be built to create a level playing field for everyone, not just the operator of a single wind farm.”
Krapels, who writes regularly on this topic for Commonwealth Magazine, notes that ocean transmission grids would help lower the cost, increase the reliability and reduce the potential environmental impact of offshore wind energy.
How It Could Work
The initial offshore wind projects planned for the Eastern Seaboard are close enough to shore (less than 100 miles) that AC transmission technology will be sufficient to deliver electricity efficiently to shore. Where the water is relatively deep, cables can be laid safely directly on the ocean floor. Where the water is shallow, the cables could notionally be buried in trenches four to eight feet deep to protect them against errant anchor strikes and the like.
In the future, as the technology of how to construct deep-water turbine platforms matures, and community resistance to the visual impact of offshore wind farms potentially grows, wind farms will likely be built farther offshore, at distances greater than 100 miles. In this case, HVDC will be the transmission technology of choice.
Once the offshore electricity is brought on shore, explains Krapels, “it becomes one of the largest sources of power for the onshore grid. And you’ve not consumed a single gallon of fuel to produce that electricity. It is powered entirely by the wind.”
On a typical day, Krapels commutes the 15 miles from home to his office in Wakefield in a Volvo XC90 hybrid. He hopes to replace the Volvo soon with an all-electric Tesla Roadster. He shares the 25-minute commute with a cup of coffee and news headlines from WBUR, his local NPR station. At least one day per week during the summer (don’t forget he’s Dutch), he substitutes an electric bicycle for the Volvo.
“Getting on that electric bike makes me feel like I’m 15 again,” said Krapels with a grin.
His work days are filled with meetings with diverse groups of stakeholders – engineers, environmentalists, lawyers, politicians, local and regional planners to name just a few. And every engagement reminds him of the value of his training in international relations.
“Any complex issue is a mix of technical, political, economic and social forces,” Krapels observes. “I’m so grateful to my younger self for not wanting to be an expert in any one thing. Instead, it’s my job to pull together the ideas of all the stakeholders so that we end up with a coherent offering. And if we win, it’s the work of everyone. I guess you could call me the Bill Belichick (head coach of the 2019 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots) of Anbaric.”
Making a Difference
In the end, Krapels is convinced that offshore transmission will follow the path of terrestrial transmission as a concept dominated by the principle of open access. In this evolving market, he expects Anbaric to compete, to contribute and to earn its fair share of opportunities to make the offshore wind energy a successful part of the nation’s green energy future.
“If we succeed in doing what we want to do,” muses Krapels, “our company will have made one of the largest single contributions to combating climate change that anyone could have made in their career. I’d be so proud of that.”
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