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Breakthrough 2017: Reframing Energy Policy

Posted By Luke Clark, 10 January 2018

2017 has indisputably been the year of clean, renewable power. Low carbon overall generated a majority of the UK’s electricity for the first time ever and wind generated more than coal plants on more than 75% of days last year and proved itself as the low cost option for our future power system. September’s auction results showed just how low the costs of mainstream renewable technologies have fallen, with offshore wind – previously seen as the outlier for low carbon technologies – halving costs and coming in cheaper than new nuclear and gas plants at £57.50 per MWh.

 

The stunning result for offshore wind has helped to reframe the debate about renewables more widely and, in particular, how the UK can take advantage of our cheapest option for new power capacity – onshore wind. Following very difficult years for the sector, we begin 2018 with a new recognition from Government that, as BEIS Minister Claire Perry said in November, “onshore wind is absolutely part of the future”. Industry has much to do to ensure new projects can get to market and RenewableUK is working with our members to make this a reality.

 

For marine renewables, 2017 brought more mixed results. The Hendry Review concluded that tidal lagoons can deliver a secure supply of energy for a price which is competitive in the long-term. But as the anniversary of the Hendry Review approaches we are still waiting for the Government’s response and a decision to take forward this world-leading project. The wider wave and tidal stream sector is continuing to innovate and bring forward new technologies to deliver the broad range of low carbon technologies we need for our future power mix. Last year the MeyGen project in the Pentland Firth delivered the world’s first commercial scale tidal array and Scotrenewables’s tidal turbine smashed the record for generating one gigawatt hour of power in testing at EMEC in Orkney.

 

The ambition of the sector isn’t matched, however, by the policy framework. Government is starting to recognise the need for new ways to support innovative technologies and Energy Minister Richard Harrington has said that Government is examining industry’s Innovation Power Purchase Agreement proposal. We know that the sector needs a robust evidence base and in the coming months, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and RenewableUK are producing a new study on the potential for cost reduction, UK exports and cuts in emissions from the marine renewables.

 

Innovation in 2017 wasn’t confined to wave and tidal energy; October saw Statoil and Masdar’s Hywind Scotland, the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, beginning to deliver electricity to the grid, and in May the world’s largest turbines, the MHI Vestas V164-8.0MW, started turning at Ørsted’s Burbo Bank Extension. The Queen’s visit to the Siemens Gamesa blade factory in Hull last November was a powerful signal of how renewables, and the UK industries we have built up, are now a part of the new energy mainstream.

 

In 2018, we want to go further still in building an energy system fit for the future – and the UK supply chains to deliver it. The consultation on our Smart Power Future and the launch of the £246 million Faraday Challenge to support innovation in batteries and storage were clear signals that the Government recognises the direction of travel for our power system. Last year RenewableUK joined forces with a range of energy bodies to launch the Smart Power Industries Alliance to look beyond individual technologies and take a whole system view of a renewables-dominated power mix.

 

We ended 2017 with new projections from Government that underline the move to a low carbon mix with renewables as the main source of energy. Just as 2017 marked the crossover point where we proved our case on costs, so 2018 will mark the moment we begin to reshape the power system to seize fully the opportunities of a clean energy future: reduced electricity bills, secure power supplies and more productive industries and high-value jobs across the UK.

Tags:  CfD  Innovation  Offshore Wind  Onshore Wind  Smart Energy  Tidal  Wave 

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Budget blog - What might the Treasury say?

Posted By Gordon Edge, 15 March 2016
Updated: 24 March 2016

In all the frenzy about Brexit, one can be forgiven for forgetting that there is a rather important political/economic date imminent – the Budget. Given the apparent takeover of energy policy by the Treasury, the Budget this year is taking on even more significance, with some crucial announcements potentially on the cards.

The key issue to look out for is budget available under the Levy Control Framework (LCF), both in the immediate future and the longer term. This is a complicated area. Government’s recent policy changes have been primarily driven by a perceived need to rein in spending to within the current LCF envelope, which grows to £7.6bn in 2020 (in 2011 money). Early in the term of the current Government, figures were released indicating that they projected an overspend of £1.5bn above that figure. A number of factors were pointed at, including higher than expected demand for support through the Renewables Obligation and Feed-in Tariff, higher than expected load factors for offshore wind, and lower than expected electricity prices – this last driving greater draw on the LCF from the new Contracts for Difference (CfDs). However, Government has been less than fully transparent about how it has modelled the budget use, making assessment of whether there is any money left in the pot difficult.

We have been trying to model future LCF use within RenewableUK. With a number of the policy changes behind us, and the RO level set for 2016-17, the possible range of outcomes is narrower than it was in the middle of last year, but there are still uncertainties. However, best modelling efforts appear to indicate that budget use still overshoots the trajectory every year out to 2020. It’s worth noting that if the wholesale price projections that Government published when the LCF was set in 2012 (which are higher by about £20/MWh) were to be used instead, the story would be very different. There is a further problem, though: current and forward power prices are about 50% lower than those being used by DECC for the next two years. The risk is of further downward revision in DECC’s power price forecast and a worsening of the ‘overspend’.

So it appears unlikely that Treasury would sanction any budget for further CfD allocation ahead of 2020, unless there was an over-riding reason to do so, outside of meeting environmental or renewable energy targets. Security of supply could be one such reason, though a more pertinent one is likely to be to protect supply chains and project pipelines that will be needed post-2020, when new budget is available and tough decarbonisation targets need to be met. The things to look out for on Budget day are the latest OBR figures for the LCF, and any word on budget for the promised CfD allocation round later this year.

If Government determines that there is no more money before 2020, then budgets for future allocation rounds will have to come exclusively from the settlement that is made for the LCF post-2020 – and only projects delivering in the 2020s will have access. So far, that post-2020 budget has not been set out, and Budget would appear to be an obvious point at which to do so. While having clarity on that budget would be helpful, there is a worry with an imminent announcement: Government has made no attempt to consult with the industry about anything to do with the future level of budget, and nor has there been any indication of a change to the accounting for the CfD. The risk is that the structural problems of the current LCF are just continued, leading to a similar problem of uncertainty over the ‘buying power’ of the LCF as the volatile wholesale price leads to budget use depending on exogenous factors that are likely uncontrollable. The win-win opportunity of making the LCF a more dependable investment signal, reducing risk and therefore cost of capital and strike prices, would be lost. So look out for any statement on the LCF, but be careful to interrogate the meaning of a large budget number.

In all, there may be important news on Wednesday. It just may not be quite as good as it sounds.

Article originally posted on Business Green 14/03/2016

Tags:  2020  Budget  CfD  DECC  government  LCF  Treasury 

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What the Papers Say about our future energy market

Posted By Maf Smith, 15 February 2016
Updated: 18 February 2016
It’s been a busy media weekend for renewables. First up, Emily Gosden dug behind the exchange between Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom and Peter Lilley MP at DECC Questions on Thursday 11th February.

Peter Lilley asked the Minister about work on a no subsidy contract for difference, and asked if this will reflect the value of the electricity. For him the value of the electricity depends on the time that it is produced, where it is produced and how reliably it is produced and he is sceptical of the ability of renewable electricity to deliver.

In reply the Minister said “On the subsidy-free CfD, he is also right that we must take into account all the various costs. We are looking at the matter very closely. I am not making any promises here, but, alongside other subsidies and other CfDs, we are looking carefully at the proposition.”

Emily Gosden’s incisive Telegraph article looked at this issue in detail. What is interesting for me is how some are mistakenly thinking this is a debate about future support for wind. But it isn’t – it’s about how to make sure our energy market works properly to deliver a reliable, diverse supply at lowest cost.

My brief appearance in the article was to highlight that an energy market which excludes technologies like wind or solar would be anti-competitive. And if you look at the different views in the article you can see there is a lot of common ground hidden behind the contrasts.

The UK’s energy challenge is how to keep the lights on at lowest cost, while keeping within carbon reduction commitments. This means moving away from dirty coal toward low carbon options like renewables, CCS and nuclear.

One problem Government has is that wholesale energy price is a weak price indicator not strong enough to encourage new investment. It is effective as a “dispatch signal” in the day ahead and hour ahead markets; making sure that the lowest price options are used first each day. But it cannot work as a long term price signal to encourage the construction of any new power plants. Anyone who insists that only new power plants which can build at this wholesale cost is wishing on the UK an era of power station blackouts and instability. Instead Government is using an auction system to provide longer term price certainty for new power plants in a way that minimises cost to the consumer.

Everyone in this debate agrees that subsidies must end. They would like to see markets strengthened rather than undermined, so that competition forces innovation and reduces cost better than it is doing now. And they would like to see the market recognise the full costs of that energy system. Where the parties differ is that renewable generators want to see the cost of carbon, and the full system costs of different energy types both factored in. Others though only want to talk about the latter.

We can see that there is a lot of agreement on the principles, but disagreement on how to embed these into the market in practice.

The last five years have seen some significant changes in the energy market with auctions introduced to contract for new generation and subsidy programmes such as the Renewables Obligation all now scheduled for closure. This shift is necessary, but not complete. Innovation is transforming how we use energy, and there is no going back to a time when we simply relied on big power stations providing power via big energy utilities.

And this shift is what Danny Fortson lays out in his excellent piece about the future of energy utilities. It’s quite a coup to get two Big Six CEOs saying that the model needs to change, and they echo the views of National Grid CEO Steve Holliday who said last year that “The idea of large power stations for baseload is outdated.”

Both Emily Gosden and Danny Fortson are sketching out the fast evolution of our future energy market and the debate we need to have about this. Advocates of renewable energy want to see their technologies able to compete, and are confident they can deliver on cost and performance. They will do this because renewables costs are falling and new innovations are coming to market which better price in different system benefits and costs. They are also making energy generators and users more responsive to price signals. The question then is: why stand in the way of greater competition?

We already use the Capacity Market to ensure capacity adequacy and Contract for Difference auctions to provide low carbon power. Some further tweaks to these will make sure we can deliver lowest cost power free of any subsidy.

Commentators like Policy Exchange and the Conservative Environment Network are clear that onshore wind and solar are already cheaper than new gas plant. If we make sure that new gas plant pays its way and is not subsidised, then there is no reason not to continue these capacity and power auctions. Leadership from Government means action to ensure a stable power market: we can then be confident that consumers have the lowest cost route to a secure and low carbon source of power. This is something everyone wants.

Tags:  CfD  DECC  electricity  government  markets 

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