Monday, 12 August 2013

Capacity market and strike prices

Earlier this summer the UK Government issued a press release about the new energy infrastructure investment and reforms vital to “keeping the lights on and emissions and bills down”. In more detail, the Government expects to unlock £110 bn of investment and secure 250,000 jobs until 2020; it expects to achieve this with two main policies. The first is the Strike Prices for renewable technologies, which aims to reduce exposure of renewable generators to volatile energy prices. The second is the introduction of a capacity market, which the Government hopes will incentivise a new generation of gas plants that will be needed to support the increased role of intermittent sources.

These policies supplement the Electricity Market Reform which introduced the Contracts for Difference (CfDs) and is part of the more comprehensive Energy Bill. The strike prices for renewable energy recommended by the Government will shield investors from volatile wholesale electricity prices and in this way encourage investment. The strike price for offshore wind is £155/MWh for 2014/15 declining gradually to £135/MWh in 2018/19 while the respective figures for onshore wind are £100/MWh and £95/MWh. Solar PV projects are set to receive £125/MWh declining to £110/MWh for the same period. There are strike prices for most types of renewable sources apart from tidal range, which, according to the Government, will be further considered by DECC.

A certain degree of number-crunching is required to compare the CfDs with the existing RO and FiTs, but the Government claims that the support given by CfDs is in line with that offered by the existing schemes. The main advantage now is protection against wholesale price volatility. Price volatility and uncertainty over climate change and renewable energy targets have been blamed for deterring investment worth billions of pounds in the UK. This is not a UK specific issue, but is reported across the EU, where slow economic recovery has made governments hesitant to commit to new targets. It can therefore be assumed that if the financial support offered by the UK Government removes uncertainty in addition to being similar to existing schemes, the results will be positive.

The predicted increase in renewable energy in the UK's electricity fuel mix has forced the Government to introduce a capacity market, whereby certain generators are paid for the essential service of stand-by operation. The increased role of intermittent generation makes this auxiliary service particularly valuable for the system operator, and the introduction of the capacity market acknowledges that. Quite disappointingly, Davey was fast to name gas-fired power plants as the main benefactors of the capacity market. Plants that could use renewable energy to offer capacity services have not been mentioned and they will be examined on a case by case basis by DECC. Unfortunately, that means that there is no news for medium/large-scale hydro and tidal range plants. Their dual role of renewable energy generation and storage has been overlooked in favour of gas (and the Government's ambitions for a shale gas sector boom in the UK).