Orsted's former onshore wind CEO Neil O’Donovan has joined global renewable energy investment company Bluestar Energy Capital as president and chief operating officer to push growth across key markets in the US, Australia and Europe.
The move sees O’Donovan reuniting with former colleague Declan Flanagan, Bluestar's founder and CEO. Both executives were involved in growing Lincoln Clean Energy (LCE) into one of the US’ largest wind and solar developers before its acquisition by Orsted in 2018.
Both O’Donovan and Flanagan stayed on with Orsted after its acquisition to shepherd the transition, with the latter leaving in 2021 and founding Bluestar a year later. O'Donovan announced his departure from the Danish group two months ago.
“I am delighted to team up again with Neil, who I had the honour to partner with on the success of LCE and later as we built the Orsted Onshore business around that platform in the US and Europe,” said Flanagan.
“Few executives in the global renewables space can match the breadth and depth of Neil’s experience in every facet of the wind, solar and storage value chains.”
Bluestar develops projects through its Nova Clean Energy firm in North America, and BEA Renewables in Australia.
O'Donovan's move comes as global renewable energy sectors are facing both unprecedented demand and mounting headwinds of high inflation and interest rates, and ongoing supply chain turmoil.
“I don't think there's ever been a better time to be a provider of green electrons in terms of market demand,” O’Donovan told Recharge.
“The flip side of that is it's becoming challenging,” he said, adding grid interconnection issues and permitting to the list of hurdles developers must leap.
Headquartered in Chicago, Bluestar is focusing on “huge momentum in the US market”, according to O’Donovan, as trillions of dollars in incentives included in the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) turbocharge growth.
Despite the incentives, onshore wind development in the US has slowed this year to its lowest capacity additions since 2019 as grid interconnection and permitting queues weigh on the sector.
“Ten years ago, you'd look for places of high resource, whether it's high wind resource or high solar resource, and then need to figure out a way to get the power to where it’s needed,” O’Donovan said.
“Now it's kind of shifted to where you're looking for where you can get good transmission or viable transmission and you're figuring out if it's windy.”
O’Donovan is confident Bluestar will be able to generate a pipeline of investable wind projects based on the experience of his team while conceding development is “potentially more challenging than the solar side”.
“The market needs all of these solutions, and so we see opportunities across all three main technologies of wind, solar and storage,” he told Recharge.
Bluestar is likewise looking to ramp in booming markets of Australia and Europe.
Australia has rich solar and wind assets and is investing heavily in renewable energy to reduce emissions 43% by 2030 off 2005 levels and reach net-zero by 2050.
“They've made good progress over the years, but there's still more opportunity to go for more developments in renewables,” said O’Donovan.
“We definitely see opportunity there for development and a pipeline of investable projects,” he added.
The European market offers similar opportunity as the US but also comparable complexity.
“Europe has huge ambitions and they've only increased in the last two or three years. So, the pie is pretty big,” he told Recharge.
That said “there's a lot of different markets within Europe and a lot of different countries, and so you have to be very specific about where you want to play and why.”
Across these wide-ranging geographies, development expertise in identifying and pushing good projects remains key whether “you're in Alabama, Italy or Australia,” he said.
“At the end of the day development is a local game, and you need local expertise, whether that's permitting, interconnection, landowners, all those type of dynamics that bring a project forward,” he added.