Saturday, 14 October 2017

How the centralised generators are trying to strangle the decentralised energy revolution in the UK

Just as the UK Government has stopped onshore renewables (mainly wind power and solar pv) from getting all-important long term power purchase agreements (PPAs) through the feed in tariff system (the big one being now reserved for Hinkley C), so government agencies are moving to make sure that the rules of the electricity market favour centralised generators over decentralised ones. The Government says that no subsidies will be available for onshore wind and solar pv. Yet it is busy doling out subsidies and altering rules to favour big power stations over decentralised renewables.

In setting the regulations, the Government and the agencies, including OFGEM and the National Grid (NG) clearly seem to favour big power plant over other decentralised options for balancing electricity supply and demand including battery storage and demand side response (DSR). Really these technologies should now be routinely combined with renewable energy schemes to create 'virtual power plant' to deliver energy services for consumers. Yet despite the celebrated Clayhill 'subsidy-free' solar pv-battery project, progress is very slow. The revolution is being held back by the dead hand of the centralised power regime.

The Government's preferred solution of course is lots more large gas fired power plant - and nuclear power plants of course. Yet these technologies are falling behind the newer decentralised ones whose costs and information based technologies are becoming more and more economic. But instead of helping decentralised energy, the Government is pushing more and more subsidies towards the old, centralised, solutions.

This action to roll back the revolution is taking place in the 'boileroom' of the electricity system, with its  the arcane and often impenetrable rules and language of the electricity market, well away from the understanding of the wider public. However various trade and academic reports are flagging how the centralised generators are trying to hold back the decentralised energy revolution by whatever means are possible.

How is this happening? Essentially there are two strands. First there is the way that the so-called 'capacity market' is oriented to favour the interests of centralised power plant, and second is the way that the regulatory incentives are being geared to penalise smaller and more innovative players and to favour the big ones.

Capacity Market (CM)

Matthew Lockwood, in a recent working paper, tells the story of how the CM has largely been shaped to be a riverstream of income for the existing gas and coal and nuclear power plant. First came the decision to reward all existing generators for providing capacity, providing a subsidy for plants that have been built a long time ago. A much cheaper option would have been to operate a 'strategic reserve' that would fund a dedicated set of assets to be brought in to balance supply and demand. But that. of course, would not help the centralised power plant. Of course the mere term 'capacity' is biased against the decentralised solutions which include DSR and battery storage.

Then has come a series of decisions that have given centralised power plant an inbuilt advantage over decentralised options for balancing demand with supply. Cornwall Energy as well as Matthew Lockwood has written about some of these decisions and how they adversely affect the decentralised players.

First, DSR and battery storage are given much inferior terms compared to the big power stations in the CM. Their contribution is deliberately de-rated, subject to expensive monitoring and accorded much shorter contracts compared to the big power plant operators.

Second, OFGEM has issued rules which slash payments earned by distributed generators, that is small generators, through the TRIAD system. This is a mechanism whereby the system rewards companies which can reduce peak power requirements.

Third, the rules seem to favour the big operators even when it comes to providing storage solutions in what is called 'frequency response' services. This is a mechanism that incentivises those who can produce instant remedies to keep national electricity frequencies with a prescribed margin. Yet the decisions of the National Grid in awarding the contracts seem to favour the big boys.

Clearly the dinosaurs are thrashing about to great effect in an effort to delay the decentralised revolution. They will not win the war, but at the moment they are managing to delay the onward march of decentralised energy.

Without doubt they are winning the propaganda war. Any incentives given to renewables are deemed subsidies, whilst the reality is that these subsidies have been eliminated whilst the effective bank of subsidies given to big power station operators is growing rapidly.

For further info, read:

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Three cheers for Sturgeon as she announces pro-renewables Scottish energy company

In what must come as a welcome boost to the flagging hopes of renewable energy workers and supporters Nicola Sturgeon has announced the Government's intention to establish a publicly owned energy company that will be fuelled specifically from renewable energy.

Credit, of course, should also go to the Scottish Greens upon whose votes the SNP depend for a majority and who have been very influential in pushing forward the green energy agenda.

Of course a lot of detail remains to be worked out, but if what's in the can matches the label then this should be a big opportunity for an industry that has been laid low by Westminster's refusal to fund any further land based wind or solar projects.

The Scottish Government's emphasis is on keeping costs down, but that is not a problem for onshore renewable energy whose costs have been declining rapidly in recent times. What they lack at the moment is long term guarantees about income to be earned for energy generation. Nicola Sturgeon's proposal seems likely to plug this gap.

The Scottish Government (SG) could carry out its mission by various means, provided it achieves the central necessity of issuing long term agreements on levels of payment per unit generated from renewable energy projects. It would also be popular if priority could be given to schemes that are community based, that is owned whole or in part by ordinary people. This is what myself and others were arguing in The Scotsman this morning:

Long term power purchase arrangements are needed if renewable energy projects are to get cheap financing deals with banks and investors. Among the options there are two routes to progress in how the Scottish company could buy energy and give long term guaranteed incomes flows to solar, wind, and micro-hydro projects. One is that the company could conduct auctions for the right to be given long term power purchase agreements (PPAs), with companies competing to offer the lowest price per MWh to supply a given tranche of contracts. A second, perhaps more suitable for community renewable schemes, is to, in effect, offer them a standard rate for their power, perhaps linked to the wholesale power price (as argued in the letter to The Scotsman).

Recently a report published by Scottish Renewables suggested that 1 GW of wind power was available for no more than £49 per MWh. Yet renewable energy costs (including the costs of solar pv as well as wind) have continued to fall. See

Solar pv costs have been plunging, and if the Scottish Government can offer long term PPAs (for 15 or preferably even 20 years) then they may be able to entice cutting edge solar pv (and battery?) projects up North as has been developed in the Clayhill project in the South of England. 

In recent times the wholesale electricity price has been £45 per MWh. Yet with production of the cheaper gas supplies from the British and Norweigian parts of the North Sea under decline and with our other major supplier (The Netherlands) now restricting future exploitation of gas fields the Scottish Government looks like it will be a winner if it signs up wind and solar projects. They may be competing with electricity from gas power plant fuelled by increasingly expensive supplies from Qatar or other places.

Scotland's proposal for a state owned energy company stands in stark contrast to the nationalisation proposed by Labour which is tinged with support for nuclear power. If Labour's planned nuclear expansion goes ahead it will result in heavy state losses, whilst Scotland's renewable expansion will result in cost savings. 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

How the Scottish Government could implement a 'subsidy free' scheme for community renewables

The Scottish Government (SG) should open discussions to establish a mechanism to enable ‘subsidy free’ community renewable  schemes. It is great news to see a decline in costs of offshore wind schemes, but as good as they are, they are not involving ordinary people. Community renewable schemes, using a definition given to me by Jon Halle of sharenergy are:

'Community renewable schemes are majority-owned and run by members of the public, including both people local to the scheme and supporters from further afield. They are open and democratically controlled, ensuring wide popular ownership of the energy system and maximising the sharing of both benefits and responsibility.'

This could apply to wind power, solar pv or micro-hydro. A 'subsidy free' scheme should be done on a pilot scheme basis to begin with.

Because of the decline in wind and solar power costs it seems likely that some renewable energy  projects in Scotland could be established assuming current levels of power prices that generators can receive on wholesale power markets. The projects would  certainly count as ‘subsidy free’. But they need long term assurances about income streams, something that the Scottish Government could provide at minimal risk to the public purse.

 A scheme could be established by the SG to set up a back-up loan facility to give ‘top-up’ payments for community renewable generators. This could  ensure that the generators received at least the income that they would do if wholesale power prices were at the current level of, say, £45 per MWh. Any loans paid would be paid back when power prices rose above the £45 per MWh level. This arrangement could be guaranteed for 20 years and could be enshrined in agreements issued by the SG to specific schemes. This would give schemes long term financial confidence that could allow them to raise money from banks and investors.
A pilot basis would consist of the scheme being restricted, for an initial proving phase, of no more than 100 MW of capacity.

A recent auction for community wind power projects in Germany saw the projects winning long term power purchase agreements for under £40 per MWh, and this is in a country with much lower windspeeds than are available in Scotland. See
The Clayhill solar pv scheme  has recently opened on a ‘subsidy free’ basis, and this is helped by being able to earn payments for electricity system services by co-locating the solar farm with batteries. See

ARUP has published an analysis of market possibilities for ‘subsidy-free’ wind power suggested that schemes costing less than £50-£55 per MWh (in 2012 prices) would count as ‘subsidy free’. file:///C:/Users/Toke/Downloads/Enabling%20Investment%20in%20Established%20Low%20Carbon%20Electricity%20Generation%20(2).pdf

While the Westminster Government is reluctant to offer sufficiently good financial conditions to promote the development of much onshore wind, and solar pv, Scotland is in a good position to continue take a lead in promoting community renewable. Although £45 per MWh is not a large amount of money, it does at least ensure that the scheme is ‘subsidy-free’ and means that the Scottish Government, which does not have the power to levy charges on electricity bills (unlike Westminster), will not suffer large financial losses.

There are some harbingers that suggest that average wholesale electricity prices will rise in future years. These prices are dominated by natural gas prices. The UK is able to access a declining proportion of its gas from cheap British sources. The balance cones increasingly from Dutch and Norwegian fields, yet both sets of supplies appear to have peaked already and there is every indication that they may decline. This will leave the UK increasingly dependent on supplies of LNG from Qatar and other sources which are much more expensive than those from the North Sea or The Netherlands.

Brief financial risk analysis

Let us assume that the scheme was limited to 100 MW in order to demonstrate test the concept, and that this 100 MW consisted of wind power projects.  Even if the long term income available from power markets  was £10 per MWh less than the level of £45 per MWh that the SG would guarantee paid to  wind power generators (eg £35 per MWh compared to £45 per MWh) then the annual ‘loss’ payable by the Government would be less than £3 million (under this pilot scheme). Recently the wholesale power price has been around the £45 per MWh level. Of course if the average income stream is higher than a ‘strike price’ of eg £45 per MWh then there would be a surplus of income.