Interview with Amy Jo Miller, Qcells | $2.5B investment in the solar supply chain
Qcells has been all over the news lately with a handful of major announcements – from a $2.5B investment in the solar supply chain & more. Catherine recently spoke with Amy Jo Miller, Director of Policy & Market Strategy at Qcells, about what these recent developments mean for our industry, the most important upcoming policy rulings to follow, & the energy storage trends Qcells is seeing. They also spoke about how Amy Jo transitioned into clean energy, advice she has for those looking to join our industry, & some of the significant ways Qcells has revamped its benefits & work culture to attract top tier talent.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Amy Jo Miller. Amy is the Director of Policy and market strategy at Qcells. Thanks for joining me.
Amy Jo: Thank you for having me.
Catherine: I think you are my first St. Louis guest. And as I’ve told you before I have a great affinity for St. Louis, I go a lot because I have a family there. So they’re gonna be very excited that I’ve interviewed somebody from St. Louis. Can you introduce yourself and talk a bit about your current role and why you chose to work for Qcells?
Amy Jo: Absolutely. I am Director of Policy and Market Strategies at Qcells USA Corp. Qcells USA Corp is the affiliate of Qcells, that is developing standalone storage as well as utility scale solar plus storage. So how I picked Qcells was the fact that I consider myself an energy enthusiast. I absolutely love energy. I’ve been with energy board my entire 19 and a half year career to date. And I have never had the opportunity to go out and greenfield projects. So if someone asked me what has been your favorite experience to date, since you’ve been with Qcells it’s been working collaboratively with the development leadership team to figure out where the United States should be Greenfield and so me this has been an incredible experience. I have transitioned my career. I used to be in charge of policy, advocating for natural gas and coal policies related to those types of resources and now transition to clean energy space.
Catherine: It’s great to hear. Qcells has been all over the news lately. They’re knocking me off via social media. I’m competing with them on LinkedIn. And so there’s been a lot of major announcements I think two and a half billion dollars in investment in supply chain to partnership with to sorry, $2.5 billion in investment in supply chain to partnerships with companies like Microsoft and Summit Ridge Energy local, Virginia company I’m very proud of what are some of the key recent developments at Qcells and why are they so significant for the broader clean energy industry?
Amy Jo: I love that question. And first of all, it was so great because just this week, we had a new hire to Qcells. And that person said for me it was waiting for the right opportunity and having access to that supply solar chain. I think that is an incredible opportunity. And that was one of the reasons why he joined. And I joined Qcells a year and a half ago, long before the IRA even passed. Again, just knowing the fact that there is supply chain manufacturing is just a huge bonus, especially when you’re a developer. I feel like a lot of developers over the course of the past couple years have dealt with supply chain issues for a number of reasons. And so having access directly to US manufacturing is definitely a plus and I’m very excited for the $2.5 billion of investment and they’re excited about the expansion of the Dalton plants as well as the new Bartow County plant that will have ingots, wafers, modules and cells. However, I would still like to talk about some other items. I’m very excited to talk about things that don’t make the headlines all the way. So we are looking at long duration energy storage and we have a pilot project in California and really looking at how do we explore long duration energy storage and how do we become thought leaders and developers in long duration energy storage. So I’m excited to say that we’re getting into agrovoltaics. So that’s utilizing both the solar farm and then farming along with it. So we’re looking at sheep grazing and getting involved with that. And so it’s very exciting for the fact that we have both those items that don’t make news, if you will, but very exciting development.
Catherine: It’s great. No thank you for highlighting that. What do you think are some of the top challenges that our industry is currently facing and how can we address them?
Amy Jo: Sure. I think there’s a wide range of issues. Let me start at a high level one is interconnection right now all the different interconnection cues are very much jammed. Before, you know we were hoping to get through those type of applications in a couple of years. Now we’re looking at four years and beyond for most of these ISOs and so and again, ISO stands for independent system operator. So with that, how do we solve for those cue log jams? We’re anxiously awaiting the interconnection nope or so notice of proposed rulemaking and what could come from this. Another area is transmission. So transmission. I’ve read that there’s a DOE report in the past two months that said, hey, for this particular modeling scenario we have, we need an additional 47,000 miles of transmission line. That means a 57% increase of what we had today. I personally don’t think that we’re gonna get there by the timeline for this one was 2035. However, keeping on the forefront, where should be transmission corridors, where should we be building transmission? Where will we make the most impact so that we can solve congestion issues and get more renewable and clean energy online as fast as possible? As a developer, you’re up against many challenges, and you need a couple things. One is a point of interconnection, and two is available transmission capacity. So we need both those items.
Catherine: What are some important upcoming policy rules that we should be following?
Amy Jo: Sure, absolutely. So as I was saying in the other question, we have the interconnection noper. And so we’re looking to find out what’s going to come from commercial readiness. So who knows what comes from commercial readiness or if that will be addressed. But there’s a thought process of how do we break the log jams? Do we make the queues smaller size? Well, how do you make that you raise the bar. Raising the bar could be anything from needing a term sheet before you go into a cluster study, or needing to be making sure that you’re a part of a resource elicitation cluster, or you might be having LGIA before you even enter the cluster study. So these are all things on the table for discussion. And what I’m concerned about is customers. How do we have customer satisfaction as rules change. So what our customers want, they want reliable energy and an affordable price> And know the prices are getting into. So we will see as policy develops.
Catherine: I want to talk next about energy storage. Energy storage, of course remains a hot topic in the clean energy industry. What do you think is needed to see more energy storage on the grid? And what are some of the trends you’re seeing utility scale, solar plus storage?
Amy Jo: So I’m very excited about this solar plus storage industry because for someone who is not close to the renewable and clean energy industry, they’re thinking about, well what happens if the wind doesn’t blow or the solar is no longer available? Because it’s nighttime. And what I am seeing in the data that I’m seeing is that 50% of the utility scale solar projects that we’re entering into queues include a storage component, and so that is how we’re addressing what we call the new peaks. So the old peaks that we’re used to is hot days in July or August at 3pm. All air conditioners on full blast. Now a new peak would be in the nighttime when that solar generation rolls off. And the storage generation really picks up right then and there. I’m also bullish about standalone storage for many reasons. Number one is resource adequacy. So resource adequacy means that load serving entities have to go out and procure a need for their demand for their planning, reserve margin plus reserves. So having that be a part of the piece of a puzzle. That is fantastic. Number two is ancillary servicess. So ancillary services can be anything from regulation where there’s a drop of, for example generation for some plant that tripped and went offline, and that storage can instantaneously come on and within seconds, provide that extra support that was needed from that generator that fell off for XYZ reason. Also spinning reserves, so spinning reserves has a 10 minute timeframe where they need to be up and running to another service that can be provided. Supplemental as one reactive power, voltage control, making sure there’s adequate voltage on the system. These are all things that can be provided by energy storage, and then also Blackstar. I’m really happy with PJM they went out and they fired Byles recent tariff filing to say, hey, intermittent resources and hybrids, they need to be included in providing black start services. So Blackstar is in a case of situation of a blackout and how do we get a resource up and going without further and energization and so we have that through the standalone storage as well.
Catherine: Great. I just am really amazed by that statistic that 50% of new solar is has storage attached to it. I do not realize it was that high. That’s really incredible. So beyond your day to day policy work at Qcells, I know that you’ve been really involved in shaping the culture at Qcells. Can you talk a bit more about that?
Amy Jo: Absolutely. I’m so proud to be working at Qcells USA Corp. We have a culture committee at Qcells USA Corp. And I got to implement the following which is Qcells University. So monthly, we have speakers that have hot topics on explain the development process, explain the latest on TPAs and the latest trends with power purchase agreements. So that was a great change to improve communication and also improve others business acumen where they might not be the subject matter expert in an area. Also, I got to lead a committee that looked at our competitors and also all of our PTO offerings and looked at is our benefits plan competitive? And we ultimately made enhancements to our plan due to that research and analysis. And then we also implemented a questionnaire at the end of the year to really understand our employees how they’re feeling about Qcells and things that are going in fourth place with at Qcells.
Catherine: That’s great. I hope a lot of other companies do that. I think it’s so important. I think sometimes we get caught up in things like base salaries and things like that, but it’s also about the other benefits that can make a candidate choose one company or another. So how did you originally get involved in renewable energy? You mentioned you were in energy your entire career, but more recently, it looks like for the past few years, you’ve been in renewable energy. So how did that transition come about?
Amy Jo: Love that question. So when I was working at a utility, I was reached out by a recruiter and they said, Hey, we have a fortune 64 company. We want someone to run that energy department. So I went to that energy department and ultimately, I got to lead the CO2 E emissions reporting for scope two, and putting in and file all that data with my team members. So that was a very fantastic experience and also helped to figure out how to become carbon neutral by 2035. With that, that was in play into renewables and from there whenever Qcells had the opportunity to get into renewable and clean energy development, I had to step up and take that opportunity, and it’s been a fantastic ride.
Catherine: That is the best answer to that question that I’ve ever had on the show. A recruiter got you into the space. I’ll have to find that recruiter and say nice work. That’s wonderful to hear. And what advice if my last question is what advice do you have for new clean energy professionals who are looking to transition into the industry?
Amy Jo: What advice I have for you is we need you so come into the industry, please. I’m very excited. Being in the energy industry for nineteen and a half years. I’ve seen it grow. And I’ve also seen it be more diverse, and we need more engineers. We need more lawyers. We need more policy. Professionals we need across the board. So reach out by LinkedIn. I think people want to welcome you to this community as internships available. I think there’s people out there that would love to sit with you and talk to you about what they’re seeing as growing needs. But definitely in all areas we are looking to grow and expand the industry.
Catherine: Great. Thank you so much, Amy Jo for joining us.
Amy Jo: Thank you.