Tag Archives: renewables

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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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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3 Reasons for Measured Optimism about Climate Finance

December 4, 2014 |

 

A version of this blog first appeared on Responding to Climate Change: http://www.rtcc.org/2014/11/21/three-reasons-to-be-optimistic-about-climate-finance-flows/

This year’s UN climate talks opened in Lima earlier this week and for those who hope the world can avoid dangerous climate change, some major recent announcements have given cause to celebrate. Last month, the world’s two largest emitters – the U.S. and China – reached a deal to tackle emissions. Then, the U.S., Japanese, and UK governments joined others by pledging billions to the Green Climate Fund to help developing nations deal with climate change. These political announcements are clearly timed to inject momentum into the negotiations taking place in Lima. But key questions remain unanswered: What do these financial pledges mean in terms of existing investment in a low-carbon economy future? How should money be spent? And are we on the right track?

At Climate Policy Initiative, our analysis of global climate finance flows helps to identify who is investing in climate action on the ground, how, and whether investments are keeping up what is needed to transform the global economy. We have just released the latest edition of our Global Landscape of Climate Finance report. It shows global climate finance has fallen for the second year running and we are falling further behind the level of investment needed to keep global temperature rise below two degree Celsius – but reveals some positive news as well.

Firstly, that nations around the world are investing in a low-carbon future in line with national interests. Last year, climate finance investments were split almost equally between developed and developing countries, with USD 164 billion and USD 165 billion respectively. With almost three-quarters of total investments being made in their country of origin, the majority of climate finance investments are motivated by self-interest—either for governments or businesses. Motivations include increasing economic productivity and profit, meeting growing energy demand, improving energy security, reducing health costs associated with pollution, and managing climate risk including investment risks.

Secondly, that getting domestic policy settings right offers the best opportunity to unlock new investment. When policy certainty and public resources balance risks and rewards effectively, private money follows. In 2013, private investments made up 58% of global climate finance with the vast majority (90%) of these being made at home where the risk to reward ratio is perceived relatively favorably. Addressing the needs of domestic investors offers the greatest potential to unlock investment at the necessary scale. This is not to say that international and domestic public policies, support and finance don’t have complementary roles to play. It is significant, for instance, that almost all of the developed to developing country finance we capture in our inventory of climate finance flows came from public actors. But ultimately, it is getting domestic policy frameworks right, with international support where appropriate, that will drive most of the necessary investment from domestic and international sources.

Thirdly, that despite a fall in overall investment, money is going further than ever. While investment fell for the second year running, this is largely because of decreased private investment resulting from falling costs of solar PV and other renewable energy technologies. In some cases, deployment of these technologies is staying steady or even growing, even though finance is shrinking. In 2013, investment in solar fell by 14% but deployment increased by 30%. Technological innovation is reducing costs and because of this renewable energy investments in some markets are cheaper than the fossil fuel alternatives, particularly in Latin America. Achieving more output for less input is one of the basic foundations of economic growth, so this is great news. From solar PV, to energy efficiency and agricultural productivity, growing numbers of low-carbon investments are competing with or cheaper than their high-carbon counterparts. This despite a highly uneven playing field in which global subsidies to fossil fuels continue to dwarf support for renewables and where carbon prices do not reflect the true costs of emitting CO2.

So what do our findings mean for the recent China/U.S. deal and Green Climate Fund pledges? Increasing political pressure on other countries to keep pace in terms of their domestic action and international commitments is an encouraging sign as the deadline nears for finalizing a new global climate agreement in Paris just one year from now. Reaching a global accord offers the best prospect for tackling climate change. But we must recognize that international agreements are themselves, guided by collective national interests. There is clear recognition that international public resources should complement and supplement national resources where these are insufficient. But if we are to bridge the investment gap they should also be focused on finding ways to lower costs, boost returns and reduce risks for private actors. Public finance alone will not be enough to meet the climate finance challenge.

Many private investors are ready to act. In September, over 300 institutional investors from around the world representing over $24 trillion in assets called on government leaders to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and implement the kind of carbon pricing policies that will enable them to redirect trillions to investments compatible with fighting climate change. Businesses and citizens are investing, and technological innovation means more and more investments are making economic and environmental sense. Accompanying innovation with policy, appropriately targeted finance and new business models can build the momentum and economies of scale to make the low-carbon transition achievable. The low-carbon transition isn’t just a way of reducing climate risk, it also represents a huge investment opportunity.

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Video: New business models for a low-carbon electricity system in the U.S. and Europe can save billions

November 10, 2014 |

 

New finance and business models for a low-carbon electricity system in the U.S. and Europe can save consumers, investors, and taxpayers billions. Watch the video or read the analysis to learn more.

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Could one of the cheapest Concentrated Solar Power plants be a turning point for this technology?

July 2, 2013 |

 

Has Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) finally turned the corner, going from an emerging technology (albeit with 20 years of history) to an (almost) commercially-ready one?

Ouarzazate I CSP less expensive than average CSP plant

CPI recently published an update to an earlier report on a large-scale CSP plant to be built near the city of Ouarzazate in Morocco. CPI finds that the project has apparently broken two taboos with the successful completion of its financing: the widely held view that a large scale infrastructure project could not be financed within its planned budget, even more so in an emerging economy; and that technology costs for CSP could not come down from the USD 6000/KW mark where they have been stuck since the ‘90s.

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The next step for U.S. renewables is to drive low-cost private investment – and to do so as cost-effectively as possible

June 25, 2013 |

 

Today President Obama announced a goal to double renewable electricity generation by 2020 as part of a broader plan to tackle carbon pollution in the U.S.

Reaching this goal would add to the substantial renewable energy capacity the U.S. can already boast: Over the past five years, U.S. workers have built enough wind and solar farms to power over six million homes with clean energy. And in 2012, renewables comprised more than half of all new power generation in 2012 in the U.S. — surpassing all other sources including natural gas.

I recently worked with the American Council on Renewable Energy and CalCEF to look at the state of finance for renewable energy in the U.S. And in a paper released at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum – Wall Street today, we point out that this boom was enabled by the alignment of federal, state, and private interests: State-level renewable portfolio standards helped create a market for renewable electricity, federal incentives helped cover the incremental cost of that electricity, while private investors have contributed tens of billions of dollars to getting wind and solar off the ground.

So what’s the next step? What needs to happen to reach Obama’s targets?

We argue that the next step for U.S. renewable energy is to drive low-cost private investment — and to do so as cost-effectively as possibly.  CPI analysis points to five practical ways do this.

1. Maintain consistent, long-term policies by building on the success of current policy efforts. Catalyzing change in a highly regulated industry such as electricity is difficult.

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Banking on the sun

January 7, 2013 |

 

Last month, David Crane and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote in the New York Times about the potential of rooftop solar to make the United States more disaster-resilient and energy independent and at the same time democratize electricity generation.  They rightly pointed out that in Germany, where rooftop solar is now much less expensive than in the United States, renewable energy provides dividends to homeowners and is breaking records for clean energy generation.

While Germany is a great example of success in distributed generation, the advent of solar leasing in the U.S. promises to make investing in solar even easier. 

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Supporting wind energy and saving U.S. taxpayers nearly $5 billion in three easy steps

December 18, 2012 |

 

CPI’s recent study, Supporting Renewables While Saving Taxpayers Money, showed that U.S. governments could save a lot of money by adjusting how tax incentives for renewable energy are delivered. In particular, we showed that a $21/MWh taxable cash incentive for production (TCP) for wind could provide the same support to wind projects as the current $22/MWh production tax credit (PTC) and almost halve the cost to federal and state governments.

US Government could save 4.5 billion by adjusting current wind policy

The PTC is set to expire at the end of this year. The Senate has proposed extending it by one year, but at a cost to government in excess of $12 billion – a heavy lift given budget constraints. Replacing the PTC with a TCP could reduce that cost to $7.5 billion. A similar reduction in cost would apply to any proposal to extend the PTC, including the recent proposal by the American Wind Energy Association to phase-out the PTC over six years.

How does this work?

Well, wind project developers have limited tax liabilities. That means that by themselves, most project developers can’t use federal tax benefits until years after they are received, eroding almost two thirds of the incentive value. In order to get more out of these incentives, project developers bring in outside investors who have greater tax liabilities. This is called tax-equity financing. However, tax equity financing is more expensive and complex than conventional finance, and erodes about a third of the incentive value.

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Taxpayers could save on wind and solar

October 4, 2012 |

 

When something really good is advertised at half price, my first thought is “this is too good to be true.” After doing the research, if I find the deal is really all it’s cracked up to be, I spread the word to as many people as I can, so they can save too.

That’s why, when my research team discovered how much taxpayers stand to save through small changes to federal wind and solar policies, we quadruple-checked our numbers, asked other experts if what we were seeing was correct, and then made a commitment to let as many people know as possible.

It’s no secret that wind and solar in the United States are booming. Renewable electricity generation more than doubled since 2005. While this growth was financed largely through private investment, state and federal policies played a key role in helping these new, important industries expand.

Policymakers support wind and solar because renewable energy brings many benefits for the American people. But key renewable incentives are expiring just as federal lawmakers are looking for opportunities to reduce the deficit. Policymakers understandably want to balance support for renewable energy with these fiscal pressures.

It turns out there are ways to do just that. Let me explain.

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Supporting Renewables while Saving Taxpayers Money

September 18, 2012 |

 

In the face of the deepest economic downturn in decades, renewable energy in the U.S. is booming. With financing primarily from the private sector, U.S. workers have built enough solar and wind farms to provide clean electricity to over six million homes since the start of the recession in 2008.

This growth would not have been possible without steady support from state and federal policies like the $22/MWh production tax credit (PTC) for wind. But now, these policies are starting to fade away. A report by US PREF has shown that state policies are likely to drive far lower levels of renewable deployment than we’ve seen in recent years – and the PTC is set to expire at the end of the year.

On top of this, while the cost of wind and solar have been falling, rising deployment has led to rising costs to the federal government. With the steep fall in tax revenues and the increase in federal assistance that has come with the deep recession, lawmakers are looking for opportunities to reduce the deficit – and the cost of extending the PTC looms large. Policymakers want to balance support for renewable energy with these fiscal pressures.

So, we decided to analyze how the federal government can modify existing renewable incentives to save money, while sustaining strong support for U.S. renewable energy deployment. We used project financial modeling of three representative project cases based on actual deployed project cost, financing, and performance data and trends to perform the analysis. We aren’t alone in our interest in this topic; this work started as modeling to support a broader effort to examine ways to scale-up financing for renewable energy in partnership with the Energy Foundation, ACORE, and CalCEF.

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