Tag Archives: energy finance

EU winter package brings renewables in from the cold

December 1, 2016 |

 

Joint press conference by Maroš Šefčovič and Miguel Arias Cañete on the adoption of a Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy

Christmas came early yesterday in Brussels, with the release of some heavy reading for the EU’s parliamentarians to digest over the festive season. Or at least that was the more jovial take on the launch of the EU winter package from Maroš Šefčovič, the EU vice-president in charge of the Energy Union (pictured).

Targets to cut energy use 30% by 2030, the phasing out of coal subsidies and regional cooperation on energy trading are central to the proposals, which updates the regulations and directives that support targets set out in 2014 as part of the Energy Package 2030.

Whether this gift is not just for Christmas will be down to the EU parliamentarians who have two years to debate these proposals and implement them.

So where does it leave us with the growth of renewables, the underpinning for a decarbonised power sector? If the EU meets its 2030 target, 50% of electricity should be renewable compared with an EU average of 29% today. That target remains unchanged, so those engaged in producing clean energy for Europe’s electricity grid should be reassured – up to a point.

A great deal was made of scrapping priority dispatch for renewables after that proposed change was ‘leaked’. In the end, the Commission merely soften its language but the outcome remains the same on priority dispatch, implying that policymakers think that renewable generation should be more responsive to the market.

Yesterday, Šefčovič and the Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete both acknowledged that renewables need to be more integrated into wholesale markets, and those markets need to be more coordinated with each-other. Specifically, the package encourages member states to:

  • ensure that renewables participate in wholesale and balancing markets on a “level playing field” with other technologies. In particular, the new package removes the requirement for renewables to be given priority dispatch over other generation types (which most, but not all, member states currently abide by). It instead requires dispatch which is “non-discriminatory and market based”, with a few exceptions such as small-scale renewables (<500kW). In addition, renewables should face balancing risk and participate in wholesale and balancing markets.
  • increase integration between national electricity markets across the EU. Requirements include opening national capacity auctions to cross-border participation and an interconnection target of 15% by 2030 (ie, connecting 15% of installed electricity production capacity with neighbouring regions and countries). Earlier this year, the Commission established an expert group to guide member states and regions through this process.

What does this all mean for investors? The obvious concern is that removal of priority dispatch and exposure to balancing markets will increase revenue risk for renewables generators.

So, why is the EU removing these rules on priority dispatch once the mainstay of the Commission’s wholesale market rules? The main argument is to help reduce the costs of balancing supply and demand, and managing network constraints. Generally, it is most economic to dispatch renewables first because their running costs are close to zero regardless of whether they have priority dispatch.

But, when there is surplus generation, the most economic option is sometimes to curtail renewables ahead of other plant. For example, turning down an inflexible gas plant only to restart and ramp it up a few hours later can be expensive and inefficient. By contrast, wind generators can be turned down relatively easily.

Therefore, giving renewables priority dispatch can sometimes increase the overall costs of managing the system. When renewables were a small part of the market, any inefficiencies caused by priority dispatch were small and easy to ignore, while it helped reduce risks around renewables investment. But now renewables are set to become the dominant part of electricity markets it is harder to ignore.

Nevertheless, risks around balancing for wind can cause real headaches for investors. In our report from earlier this year, Policy and investment in German renewable energy we found that economic curtailment could increase significantly, potentially adding 17% to onshore wind costs by 2020.

The amount a generator is curtailed depends on a wide range of uncertain factors which wind investors have little or no control over (eg, electricity demand, international energy planning, network developments and future curtailment rules).

What could happen next?

So to maintain investor confidence (and avoid costly lawsuits) existing renewables investments need to be financially protected as rules are changed. There are many ways to do this. For example, priority dispatch status could be grandfathered for existing generators (as the winter package suggests) or, as set out in our recent report of Germany, generators could be fully compensated for curtailment through “take-or-pay” arrangements.

More generally, very clear rules around plant dispatch and curtailment are needed to avoid deterring investment. Ideally, dispatch will be determined by competitive, well-functioning balancing markets, where renewables are paid to be turned down based on what they offer, rather than by a central system operator curtailing without compensation.

The move to integrate renewables into balancing markets means they will compete with other options to balance the system such as storage and demand-side measures. These flexibility options should benefit from the sharper price signals and greater interconnection implied by winter package. But there is no clear consensus yet on the right business and regulatory models to support investment in flexibility. However, CPI is currently working on a programme as part of the Energy Transitions Commission to explore the role of flexibility in a modern, decarbonised grid and will be publishing our findings soon.

Ultimately, there is an unavoidable trade-off in designing electricity markets: it is very difficult to provide incentives for generators, storage and the demand-side to dispatch efficiently through market mechanisms without also exposing them to some risk. Yesterday’s announcement in the winter package means more countries will have to face this dilemma.

Disclaimer: Unless otherwise stated, the information in this blog is not supported by CPI evidence-based content. Views expressed are those of the author.

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Four ways to jumpstart rooftop solar power in India

September 15, 2016 |

 

The Indian government has rightly made rooftop solar power one of its top clean energy priorities – here’s how they can jumpstart the nascent market.

With a bold goal of delivering 100 GW of solar power by 2022 India is helping to create one of the world’s fastest growing solar markets. Impressive strides have been made towards building out the 60 GW of utility-scale solar power necessary to make good on the goal. However, the remaining 40 GW of rooftop solar power needs a boost. Getting this market right can help put a serious dent in the energy poverty suffered by 80 million households currently lacking electricity, and is critical for supporting the country’s growing middle class.

Rooftop solar power has enormous potential in India and has experienced steady growth in recent years. It offers electricity consumers a lower electricity bill (on average 30% savings for businesses and 18% for industry), and a reliable alternative to intermittent electricity from the grid. The problem is, while the market is growing at a “blistering 300% pace”, even more is needed to get from approximately 1 GW today to 40 GW in 2022. A new report from Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) shows a few ways we can unleash even greater growth.

India's rooftop solar power - Solar power generation forecast

Support Third Party Financing

A third party financing model consists of a rooftop solar developer, a third party financier, and a consumer. The developer installs a rooftop solar plant on a consumer’s property and the third party financier invests in the project. The consumer agrees to purchase electricity at a specified price for 15 to 25 years, with no upfront cost except their monthly electricity bill. The third party financing model removes the burden of high upfront installation costs for the consumer, as well as perceived performance risk, or the perception that the technology may not perform as expected over its lifetime.

The third party financing model has been a significant driver of growth in the rooftop solar industry globally, especially in the US where up to 72% of rooftop solar installations in 2014 were third party-owned. The model has also started picking up recently in other countries, including China and Japan.

But in India it only supports 13% of rooftop solar installations under operation or construction. The industry believes that there is potential to increase the total installed capacity under the third party financing model to more than 20 GW by 2022, meaning that it could unlock more than half of the government’s 40 GW target.

The third party financing model is also a good opportunity for investors. With government incentives, all states in India offer internal rates of return (IRR) of at least 14% and as high as 42% for rooftop solar projects financed by third parties. And, as the cost of solar falls, more sectors in Indian states are becoming profitable without these incentives. Over 40% of the opportunities  already offer IRRs of 14%-34% even without government incentives.

Train Banks to Help Unlock Local Debt

It’s no secret the solar business is capital intensive. That means access to debt finance is critical to its long term success. Since the rooftop solar sector is new and transaction costs are high (due to the smaller size of projects), bankers don’t yet feel comfortable lending to projects. The most significant challenge to the third party financing model today is low access to debt finance.

To increase access to debt for rooftop solar power, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) can work with development banks to provide a system of trainings to bankers in India to increase their understanding and comfort with rooftop solar loans. Trainings can include how to assess rooftop solar projects, how to process solar loans, and the dynamics of the rooftop solar industry and associated risks.

Given the depth and breadth of the local banking system, and the $625 million it now has to solve this problem thanks to the World Bank, high leverage interventions like these can get the money flowing.

Get DISCOMs in the Game

Another important step is addressing consumer credit risk. Consumer credit risk is the second biggest challenge to the third party financing model. Low availability of credit assessment procedures, low enforceability of agreements, and lengthy and costly legal processes in the case of a dispute or payment default all conspire to hold back investment.

One way to reduce consumer credit risk is for MNRE and state governments to include India’s state-level public electricity distribution companies (DISCOMs) as a party to the power purchase agreement between the developer and the consumer. While DISCOM balance sheets don’t exactly inspire confidence, they do have the power to terminate grid supply which can provide an effective ‘stick’ to ensure customer payment.

DISCOMs are also responsible for implementing net metering, which is a policy that has been passed in nearly all states that makes rooftop solar power more viable by enabling consumers to use solar power generated during the day at night. However, at present, there is little incentive for DISCOMs to prioritize net metering implementation which means most rooftop solar companies don’t take advantage of it. One way to overcome DISCOMs’ reluctance would be to incentivize them to fulfill their Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) requirement – a government requirement to install solar power – via rooftop solar installations, by providing 30% more credit to rooftop solar power generation compared to utility-scale solar power.

Invest in Financial Innovation

Last but not least it’s clear that financial innovation has been key to unlocking clean energy abroad, and it is likely to be useful inside India as well. The India Innovation Lab for Green Finance, a public-private initiative, administered by CPI and modeled after the successful Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance, is currently developing several instruments which have the potential to drive significant investment into third party financing for rooftop solar power.

The first, Loans4SME, is a peer-to-peer lending platform that connects investors directly with borrowers and could help improve access to debt financing for the rooftop solar industry. The second, the Rooftop Solar Sector Private Financing Facility backed by the IFC, could increase access to debt financing for the rooftop solar industry by creating a warehouse structure that aggregates and purchases large numbers of small projects helping to inject liquidity into the market. This also enables an aggregate deal size large enough and of sufficient credit quality to attract more attention from investors, especially institutional investors.

Taken together, these policy and financial solutions can jumpstart India’s rooftop solar industry and put it on track to achieve the government’s target of 40 GW of rooftop solar power by 2022, a goal the whole world should get behind.

This post was co-authored by Gireesh Shrimali of CPI and Justin Guay of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. A version of it first appeared in Greentech Media and also in The Huffington Post.  

 

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Two policy improvements to drive more renewable energy deployment through mini-grids in Uttar Pradesh, India

April 26, 2016 | and

 

This post is co-authored by Stephen Comello, Associate Director of the Sustainable Energy Initiative at Stanford Graduate School of Business and a Research Fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance.

With about 80 million households across rural India lacking access to electricity, the country’s policymakers have been searching for solutions to close this development gap. At the same time, the public-sector electricity distribution companies (DISCOMs) are unable to systematically extend the central grid to where it is needed.

Off-grid alternatives include kerosene lanterns and small, individual home solar systems. However, another alternative, called mini-grids, offers what these lanterns and small solar systems cannot ­­– the promise of at-scale, off-grid electrification with productive capacity; that is, the ability to simultaneously power multiple loads such as lighting, tools, appliances and machinery.

A mini-grid is a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources that acts as a single entity. On a per unit basis, mini-grids offer electricity at least 50% lower life-cycle cost than diesel generators, kerosene lanterns and individual home systems. Moreover, mini-grid development could spur entrepreneurship and local business opportunities in the energy sector.

Enabling mini-grid development by the private sector is mainly the purview of the State Energy Boards (SEBs) across India. While the central government has developed national mini-grid guidance, clear policy that creates the mini-grid market must originate with the state governments. Formation of such a policy is a delicate balance, as there are multiple significant barriers to mini-grid development, such as financing, revenue collection and system maintenance. Most of these hurdles can be overcome with well-formed business models, supported by effective policies.

Uttar Pradesh (UP), which has some of the lowest electricity access rates in the country, has recently announced a promising first-of-its-kind new policy promoting mini-grids, which could set the benchmark for other states to follow.

Mini-grids in Uttar Pradesh Photo credit: Flickr user sandeepachetan

The policy offers developers flexibility with respect to the general business model to be pursued through the choice of two models. Model 1 offers a 30% capital subsidy, in exchange for the DISCOM regulating project location, mini-grid technical specification, the service level, and, customer-wise tariff rates. Model 2 is arguably the diametric opposite; no subsidy offered, with the developer free to choose location, technology service level and rate charged. Given the flexibility, there has been great interest in Model 2, with 85% of applications made under this scheme.

The policy also provides guidance with respect to the key risk for mini-grids – the threat of central grid extension. There have been multiple instances where the central grid eventually extended to a mini-grid and forced the operator out because entrepreneurs couldn’t compete with DISCOMs’ highly subsidized rates. This situation is known as a hold-up problem, where a developer is deterred from making any investment, given the lack of safeguards to provide the confidence of earning an appropriate return.

The UP policy specifies that if or when the central grid extends to the mini-grid, mini-grid electricity would be purchased by the DISCOM at “the tariff decided by UP Electricity Regulatory Commission or a tariff decided on mutual consent”, and “based on the cost-benefit analysis of the installed project, the project will be transferred to the DISCOM at the cost determined on mutual consent between DISCOM and developer by the estimation of cost (or profit loss) of the project installed by the developer.”

Unfortunately, the UP policy does not fully address the hold-up problem, primarily because of the ambiguity faced by the developer in terms of securing his investment at the time of central grid extension. Specifically, the prospect of the stated “cost-benefit analysis of the installed project”, provides no guidance or methodology necessary for a developer to understand the expected value of the mini-grid in the event of grid extension before the initial investment is made. This raises concerns about the effectiveness of the policy in deploying mini-grid capacity.

Thankfully, based on a recent study at Stanford Graduate School of Business, this policy gap can be closed with two amendments which ensure that the entrepreneur would be indifferent between the event of grid extension and continuing as an independent operator.

First, the entrepreneur should have the unilateral right to transfer ownership of all distribution and generation assets of the mini-grid to the DISCOM.

Second, the transaction price must be given by the current book value of these assets. The book value must be calculated so as to reflect economic fundamentals, based on the concept of replacement cost accounting. What this means is that if revenues are set so as to cover all operating costs, depreciation and a fair return, the developer will be indifferent between receiving a one-time buyout of the mini-grid equal to current book value, or continuing to operate the mini-grid.

Taken together, these amendments would significantly improve UP’s mini-grid policy, leading to UP maximizing mini-grid investment and, therefore, deployment. The success of UP’s mini-grid policy would send a positive signal to other states, and enable them to help India move towards its off-grid deployment targets of 3 GW.

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EU Curtailment Rules Could Increase German Wind Costs by 17% by 2020

April 14, 2016 |

 

This week, members of CPI’s Energy Finance team traveled to Brussels to present and discuss findings from our analysis of financing for European low-carbon energy transitions to a panel of EU policymakers and regulators including representatives from DG Energy and DG Competition and investors. This followed a meeting in February to present findings on the German low-carbon energy transition to the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF). The discussions focused in particular on the subject of economic curtailment an issue that is not yet fully appreciated by most investors but has the potential to reduce the availability and increase the cost investment. BMWi are in the process of designing policy to help mitigate this risk.

Analysis from our latest report suggests that without appropriate policies to lessen curtailment risk the cost of onshore wind in Germany could increase by over 17% by 2020 and by even more in future years. German policymakers are in the process of designing policy to help mitigate this risk.

So what is economic curtailment? Under European Commission state aid guidelines, renewable energy generators should have no incentive to generate electricity at times of negative prices. In other words, revenue support should be suspended during these times so that suppliers of renewable power will stop generating electricity because they will be out of pocket if they continue to do so. We have defined this issue as ‘economic curtailment’ (as distinct from ‘grid curtailment’ which occurs when the grid has no more capacity to take on power) and, as renewable energy deployment increases, it is an issue that is likely to become more relevant until such time as effective energy flexibility solutions (e.g. storage and demand response) are found.

Germany has an agreement with the European Commission that this rule does not need to be applied until prices are negative for six consecutive hours or more. This reduces the potential impact on the levelised cost of electricity somewhat. Curtailing support on an hourly basis could increase the cost of electricity by over 30% in 2020. Applying a six hour rule almost halves the cost increase requirement to 17% by significantly reducing the number of negative price hours affected and therefore lowering the cost of investment by increasing the amount that debt investors would lend.

We identified and tested additional approaches that could further address the needs of policymakers and investors. The solutions we evaluated were:

Take-or-pay: One option would be to curtail production from renewable energy but continue to pay generators for the lost output. This option provides the lowest cost and risk while still offering flexibility, but under current interpretations would fall foul of EU state aid regulations by incentivising production when it was not needed.
Proportional curtailment: Negative prices generally occur when wind or solar generation is high. Our analysis shows that on average a reduction of only 15% of wind output during negative price hours would move prices into positive territory. Thus, a system that could curtail only the excess generation and allocate the cost of this curtailment amongst all fixed tariff generators would better reflect system economics. This option would only be 5% more expensive than the cost of electricity under the take or pay option.
Add to the end: Under this option any hours that are curtailed during the 20-year support period – after incorporating the 6 hour rule – can be accrued and power generation beyond this support period can claim additional support until such time as the accrued hours are used up. However, high discounting of cash flows 20 years from now, as well as the fact that such a policy does not extend the operating life of the generation assets (and therefore would add no value if future energy prices are at or higher than the fixed tariff prices), means that this policy would add almost no additional value to investors.
Cap: under this option we assume that in addition to the 6 hour cut-off there is a limit to the number of hours that can be economically curtailed each year. The impact varies depending on the cap level.

Figure 37 - Impact on bid prices of hourly, 6 hour rule and proportional

The appeal of these additional approaches depends on policymakers’ priorities and investors’ needs but our analysis suggests that if take-or-pay was not available as an option to remove economic curtailment risk then a low level cap or proportional curtailment would be the next best approaches for attracting levels of investment consistent with meeting renewable energy deployment targets and doing so at low cost.

The analysis presented in Brussels was financed by the European Climate Foundation and the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate to examine how policy impacts the availability and cost of investment for low-carbon energy transitions. It aims to inform thinking on how renewable energy deployment targets can be achieved whilst minimising the cost to consumers.

For more information, please see our paper ‘Policy and investment in German renewable energy’.

And keep a look out for a forthcoming paper that will also examine finance for renewable energy in other European countries, namely the UK, Nordic countries, Spain and Portugal.

A version of this blog appeared on EurActiv. Click here to read it.

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Could New Investment Structures in the German Renewable Energy Market Make the Market More Cost-Competitive?

June 2, 2015 |

 

Germany is in the midst of a major energy transition, one that could serve as a model for the rest of the world. At the core of the challenge is the need to continue to grow renewable energy (and drastically reduce dependence on coal) while containing the cost of renewable energy to government and ratepayers.

German policymakers are looking to control costs by replacing the feed-in tariffs that have driven renewable energy deployment and cost reduction with new competitive mechanisms. However, if these policy changes are made without considering their impact on how projects are financed, they could inadvertently increase costs. Any changes to policy should be made with a comprehensive understanding of the current and potential investors in renewable energy and the impact that different policy mechanisms and financing structures could have on their costs and ability to invest.

CPI, with the support of the European Climate Foundation, is examining this important aspect of the transition to inform policy and financing activities that could allow Germany to advance its energy transition at lower cost. In this project, we will:

  1. Size the investment potential for different types of renewable energy across potential German investor groups in the sector – utilities, developers, financial investors, large energy users, small energy users, and municipal and other governments.
  2. Assess the market opportunity for new financing instruments, including new financing structures such as YieldCos, crowdsourcing, and municipal funding, which we identified as potential opportunities in previous work.
  3. Identify policy options that seem to have the most favorable impact or provide the biggest barriers to investment. Starting with opinions expressed by investor groups and their analysts and advisors, as well as a review of investment cases and our financial modelling, we will analyze the impact of policy changes to financing costs for different market segments.

 
Alongside this project, CPI is also working with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) on a New Climate Economy project, to identify and analyze the barriers faced by investor groups across five European countries/regions (Germany, UK, Nordic countries, Iberia, Italy).

The lessons from these projects will be relevant for Europe and beyond. With Europe’s new, more ambitious renewable energy and carbon emissions reduction targets for 2030, changes to European policies and regulations will be necessary, as well as policy and regulation in EU member states.

Ultimately, the transition to a low-carbon electricity system will require wholesale changes to policy, technology, market design, consumer behavior, industry structure, and finance. Addressing the finance portion of the equation is critical to develop a true picture of the priorities for policy development in Germany and beyond.

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India Needs to Fix Finances to Make Renewable Energy Dreams a Reality

February 16, 2015 |

 

Over the past few years, the government of India has set ambitious targets for wind and solar energy: current targets would see wind and solar capacity grow by 600 percent through 2022, to 60 GW and 100 GW of energy, respectively, from current cumulative installed capacity of about 25 GW. To put those numbers in perspective, 1 GW provides power for 700,000 modern homes; 160 GW would power a sizeable portion of India’s energy needs.

These targets are good for both India’s energy supply and for economic growth – a theme emphasised by US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently in announcing their joint commitment to increasing investment in clean energy and low-carbon economic growth.

However, this task is made difficult by the government’s limited budget, which is constrained by a large fiscal deficit and multiple development priorities.

Further, markets will not provide finance to meet these targets alone. In fact, our analysis shows that the single biggest challenge to scaling up renewable energy is the cost of finance – in particular to debt. Unfavourable debt terms add 24-32 percent to the cost of renewable energy in India, compared to similar projects in the US. Domestic debt is expensive due to unfavourable macroeconomic conditions as well as underdeveloped capital markets, and foreign debt becomes expensive once hedging costs are added.

The good news is that India can address this situation in a way that also saves money for taxpayers, electricity customers, and scales up renewable energy.

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