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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Welcome Jay Shaw, New Expert in the Clean Power Community

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For observers of the energy transition working in and around the utility industry, it’s pretty undeniable that recent years and moving into the future have been some of the most exciting times to work in the area of clean power. While there’s much debate still raging on about the merits of various clean energy technologies, appropriate strategies from a market and regulatory standpoint, and how the coming decades will play out with respect to climate change, there’s little debate that important and compelling work is taking place on a daily basis.

As a hub of the best and brightest leaders in the clean power movement, Energy Central strives to continue to add to our community experts who can help guide conversations, lend their insights into the day’s news, and generally help us by contributing their perspective borne of years of experience, study, and more. With that in mind, I’m thrilled the introduce the Clean Power Community on Energy Central to Jay Shaw, one of our latest members of the Energy Central Network of Experts.

Jay has over three decades of experience in many different areas of the power generation sector, focusing these days on the management and mobilization of over a dozen utility-scale solar power facilities, among other work. With this expertise and experience, Jay brings his clean power intel to the community and was gracious enough to introduce himself to the community via an interview as a part of our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series’:

Matt Chester: We’re so happy to welcome you to the Clean Power Community of Energy Central as a member of our Network of Experts. The value that experts can bring is really predicated on the community knowing about you, your background, and what you can bring to the community—so can you start by giving a quick breakdown of your history and experience in the industry? And what are you working on these days?

Jay Shaw: I have over 30 years of power generation experience. In 2008, I took the leap and moved from burning fossil fuel to renewable energy and have loved working in the new energy world. My background in operations has allowed me to develop top-performing O&M teams in geothermal and PV Solar.

Currently, I am working as an independent consultant, assisting site owners in the acquisition and more particularly the turnover of their new assets after construction. I also spend time with leaders in the industry developing a performance culture within their teams.

 

MC: You’ve been worked on utility-scale solar facilities for quite some time—what are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in this sector over the years? And how are such installations continuing to evolve?

 JS: I have had the privilege of overseeing some of the largest PV facilities in the world. Since taking charge of my first PV plant in 2012, I have seen an explosion of new technology that has made plants more efficient and reduced the overall manpower necessary to maintain sites.

My first site was a fixed panel site of a little over 250 MWDC. The first thing I noted was the rat’s nest of wiring necessary to connect panels to the collection system. Now with new applications like Big Lead Assemblies and more sophisticated wire racking, sites are much cleaner and wiring issues greatly reduced.

I continue to see a consolidation in the inverter marketplace and expect two or three of the current manufacturers to remain in business while the others fade. The competition is tight. Also, there is a major need for rebuilds and retrofits now as inverters that were installed 8 to 10 years ago are approaching end of life. This will be a significant opportunity for companies who want to enter this niche market.

O&M providers are also going to be stretched. The consistent downward pressure created by many companies in the field has developed a market with very tight margins. This too should create a shaking out and consolidation of players in the O&M field. Survivors will have developed lean processes throughout their entire organization.

MC: A lot of your experience has been in energy-related startups. What makes a startup in this industry more likely to experience success, in your opinion?

JS: The challenge with startups, particularly on the owner’s side of the equation, is keeping a close eye on the finished state of the plant site. I have seen contractors who are anxious to bill for their next phase installment payment and make big promises about resolving outstanding issues “after the fact.” I am sure many of those promises are made with good intent, but contractors do not always have robust punch list remediation processes and things can get dropped or delayed. It is a risk that is placed squarely on the owner’s shoulders and the question is, “will the EPC contractor fulfill promises made?”

Competent oversite ensures punch lists are closed out properly, testing is complete, and everything is within parameters, facility infrastructure (buildings, roads, ditches, etc.) is complete and of course production infrastructure matches spec.

Additionally, owners would do well to ensure that permitting issues are managed properly by the contractor. I have seen turnover delayed by simple things like, not having all permits in place. Even in cases where permits were in place some contractors try to shortcut the permit requirements. Know your permits well and ensure your site rep is checking boxes.

Then there is the issue of NERC and other regulatory testing requirements. Know the requirements and demand your contractor understands, complies, and provides all the documentation necessary to fill out forms and applications. Often that process is put on the back burner. Delays in production are inevitable if this process is not managed well  

 

MC: What’s one area of the clean energy industry that you think doesn’t get enough focus and attention? What are some pet projects/strategies/technologies that you’d like to become more widely known and implemented?

JS: Having worked in the geothermal realm, I feel like this portion of the industry is overlooked. As new plants are being designed and permit work starts, they are put through an onerous process that delays the implementation of the project. As we in the industry are pushing for storage to augment solar and wind, we should also push for more geothermal that can sustain 24/7 baseload production.

Bi-facial solar is another technology that if developed and implemented well will decrease the overall footprint of large-scale PV plant sites. This would help with the aesthetics discussion held in communities regarding new projects.

 

MC: As you’ve started to get involved with Energy Central, what do you find to be the value that the platform brings to you and the industry? Why do you participate and stay so engaged, and how do you hope to bring value based on your experience and knowledge to fellow Energy Central users?

JS: Energy Central has been a go-to publication that I have leaned on throughout my career. As I was operating and managing coal plants, many of the issues that I was dealing with were addressed in Energy Central articles and presentations. It is also a place to keep up with new technology and ideas. Managing and operating power facilities is a dynamic role. New learning is essential to maintain the top performance of both teams and equipment.

As a participant in the body of information, I want to ensure I bring fresh ideas to the forums and articles. I am a big advocate of leadership and culture and believe I can add much in this area. Our plants are only as good as the people who work in them. Additionally, I have and always will be a safety advocate and hope to bring ideas forward that will influence industry leaders to no longer just talk about safety, but to integrate it in the very values and soul of their culture.

 

MC: Any last thoughts or facts about you and your career you want to be sure to leave our readers with?

JS: I hold an MBA from Saint Thomas University in St. Paul Minnesota. With over 20 years of plant management background, my experiences have given me skills and methods to deal with multiple issues. I am passionate about renewables and sustainable processes that will leave our children a better world.  

 


Please join me in thanking Jay Shaw for sharing his experiences and viewpoints with the community in this interview, experience that will inform his role as new expert in the Clean Power Community. When you see Jay engaging around the community, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask him questions in the comments sections or just say welcome.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Discussions

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jun 5, 2020 1:03 pm GMT

Congratulations on your successful move from fossil fuels to renewables. What were the challenges in making that transition?

I have seen contractors who are anxious to bill for their next phase installment payment and make big promises about resolving outstanding issues “after the fact.”

I guess this doesn´t change much, regardless of the industry.  It´s important to be able to view issues from the perspective of the EPC contractor in order to know when to "draw the line" or "give some slack."  Many factors go into managing that all-important relationship.  Some issues, e.g. regulatory compliance and safety, have to be pretty much non-negotiable. Others, may be a bit different.

Having worked in the geothermal realm, I feel like this portion of the industry is overlooked.

Regarding geothermal, I think it is a great point that you make.    Can you suggest why that is? Is it the relative lack of usable resources in the US? Lack of available expertise?

I look forward to hearing more. Thanks.

Jay Shaw's picture
Jay Shaw on Jun 5, 2020 4:34 pm GMT

Good questions Mark.

In terms of adjustment to renewables, particularly in the PV field, there seemed to me to be a lower sense of urgency to recover lost MWs. That, I am sure was driven by the fact that losing one component on a utility scale PV plant is significantly less loss overall. Whereas, losing a fossil fuel plant the entire plant is off and recovering the losses is critical.

The other adjustment, for the better, is the plants turn off at night and unless there is some preventative or corrective maintenance going on, the boss gets to sleep all night long. 

Lastly, when I got into the PV field, the mindset was much more entrepreneurial which at times led to having to explain my conservative actions in terms of preventative maintenance. I think that the arena has been able to take the best from traditional O&M and meld it with new views.

I must agree with you on the EPC relationships. What is interesting is I see some owners very aware of how this relationship works, and others who do not pay much attention. My point is it is a critical time for the owner and staying on top of it will help them avoid additional costs going forward.

So far as Geothermal, my best idea of why it does not catch on is that because it is heavy in the use of rotating equipment and is often looked at as “just another old power plant.” The perception is it is more like heavy industry than a light and nimble renewable resource. There is still significant green field opportunity in Western United States for geothermal, as well as many locations throughout the world. States would do well to review their environmental requirements to ensure that they are not placing undue restriction on Geothermal simply because it looks like more traditional fossil fueled plants.  

 

 

William Dixon's picture
William Dixon on Jun 8, 2020 6:56 am GMT

Jay- It’s great to have you as member of EC’s Network of Experts. The path you have traveled from the world of fossil fuels to renewables has obviously given you a unique perspective.

With regard to geothermal, I strongly agree with you. I am only somewhat knowledgeable on this subject, but it seems like its development could greatly benefit from what has been learned in the world of fossil fuel fracking. As you point out, it is a baseload alternative to fossil fuels. How does varying the output / dispatch of geothermal to fit demand compare with that of natural gas plants?

With regard to financing of renewable projects, could you share your thoughts regarding Green Investment Banks?  https://bit.ly/37eLxZd

Thanks.

Jay Shaw's picture
Jay Shaw on Jun 8, 2020 4:43 pm GMT

William, 

Geothermal performs much like a fossil fuel plant in that the plants can be dispatched real time. Plants can be controlled opening up or restricting flow rates. Many sites take wells out of service for turn-down operation. They are very flexible. One company I worked for has a plant on  the big island of Hawaii that is capable of and is called upon to provide reg control and other ancilliary services. Similar to fuel plants there are some seasonal outage requirements to maintain solid production, but these can be scheduled and managed. 

So far as Green Investment Banks, my forte is not on the financing side of the business. That said, having institutions dedicated to the industry definately removes roadblocks and provides a more efficient and timely manner of funding for new and existing projects. There are some institutional investment firms that while diversified, have set up divisions dedicated to the renewable industry and many understand that the financing can be difficult, However they do provide similar services to a dedicated GIB. 

Gareth Foulkes-Jones's picture
Gareth Foulkes-Jones on Jun 15, 2020 2:08 pm GMT

Mr. Shaw has made a very compelling point. I agree geothermal is underrated. Thank you for sharing this

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 15, 2020 2:10 pm GMT

I agree-- it's overlooked because it's not a solution that you can scale to every instance and all geographies, but in the places where it does work it's an invaluable resource

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