Robert Catell isn’t so much “busy” as “hyperactive.” Decades after serving as chairman of KeySpan and National Grid’s U.S. operations, the iconic innovator (last Debriefed by Innovate LI in 2016) remains integrally involved in multiple energy-efficiency efforts. As chairman of the New York Smart Grid Consortium and of Stony Brook University’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, Catell is all in on sustainability, a focus reinforced by his leadership of the National Offshore Wind and Research Consortium, which unifies resources from several states and private companies. With the consortium now doling out the first tranches of its $40 million R&D war chest, the energy industry veteran shares his views on the future of wind power – and the unique role SBU might play in the burgeoning industry’s bright future:
Blow me down: The National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium is supported by a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and a matching grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Its purpose is to research new technologies in the offshore-wind space to bring down long-term costs and make the industry more competitive.
Healthy start: To start, we’re going to give out $40 million – not all in one clip, but over a period of four years, to look at proposals for structural designs, foundations, modeling of the wind and how to be more efficient overall. Our long-term goal is to create an offshore-wind industry in the United States, and of course we’d like to see a lot of that here on Long Island.
More to come? (In April), we put out our first solicitation for $7 million – we may give half-a-million to one proposal, a million to another. We’ve developed a very complex score system to rate the proposals as they come in. And our hope is we can raise more money, so at the end of the four years and the $40 million we can keep going.
Urgency … but no rush: This is a long-term play. New York State has what is probably one of the most aggressive goals in renewable energy, and most of that is going to come from solar and wind. We’re located on the East Coast, so offshore wind makes a lot sense, especially for Long Island. Ultimately, the plan is to bring 9,000 megawatts of wind power into New York.
Not ready for prime time: Can you do that, physically? Yes. Can you do it from the standpoint of integrating it into the current system? The answer is no, not at the present time. One of the reasons is the wind doesn’t blow all the time – it does, but not at the same strength – so we need batteries and we need new research in battery storage.
Batteries not included: This RFP is not directly about storage. Storage research will be funded through the Department of Energy and through NYSERDA and will be developed in parallel with the technologies that improve the costs of wind power.
When the wind blows: Our focus is really on the wind. The first tranche is going to look at three things – the design of foundations, the control systems we’ll need to synchronize the windmills and things of that nature, and the modeling of wind, which is how and when and where it blows, which gets into where you locate the turbines.
Current events: We think the AERTC is right in the middle of this. The Stony Brook Advanced Energy Center was a very important part of the proposal to the Department of Energy, and now we’re looking for a Center of Excellence in wind to be located at Stony Brook University.
Center stage: I’ve had conversations with Empire State Development Corp. about this and we need to get legislative support. We need to get the (State) Senate and Assembly members to designate this. Stony Brook has two Centers of Excellence – the AERTC and the Center of Excellence in Information and Wireless Technology – and we think wind deserves a Center of Excellence. With all the emphasis on wind, it seems like a natural to me, and what better place to do it on Long Island than Stony Brook.
Room to grow: [The AERTC] is basically out of space. We have a 50,000-square-foot Platinum LEED-certified building that’s pretty much full with researchers and early-stage companies. We’ve already submitted through one of the Regional Economic Development Council processes and won money to do the design for a 25,000-square-foot-expansion – and a lot of that can be focused on wind.
Ready to roll: We have the design, but we need $25 million to get it built. Our goal now is to figure out how to raise that. We’ll go to the legislature, we’ll go through Empire State Development and whatever other means are possible, but the most important thing for us is to get matching funds from private industry.
Interview by Gregory Zeller