Renewable Energy Transition: The Future of Renewable Energy Policy

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>>Stephanie Bechler: Hello, everyone. I’m
Stephanie Bechler with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and welcome to today’s
webinar which is hosted by the Clean Energy Solution Center in partnership with E3 Analytics.
Today’s webinar is focused on the renewable energy transition, the future of renewable
energy policy. One important note of mention before we begin
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as video interviews with thought leaders on clean energy policy topics. Today’s webinar is centered around our presentation
from our guest panelist, Toby Couture. He has been kind enough to join us to go over
the key findings of a recently published report, “RE Transition, the Policy Frameworks for
Cost Competitive Renewables.” Before Toby begins his presentation, I’m going to provide
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Or, to find out how the Ask an Expert service can benefit your work, please contact Shawn
Esterly directly at [email protected] We also invite you to spread the word about
this service to those in your networks and organizations. Now I’d like to provide a brief introduction
for today’s panelist, Toby Couture. He’s the founder and director of E3 Analytics, an international
renewable energy consultant based in Berlin, Germany. He works on a wide range of topics
in renewable energy, including policy and regulatory analysis, market research strategy
consulting, and finance. He’s worked extensively with policy makers and regulators on renewable
energy strategy and has advised over 40 national governments around the world. With that, Toby,
I’d like to welcome you to the webinar.>>Toby Couture: Thanks, Stephanie. Let me
just get the presentation up. Does this work through my screen or do you have a platform
that will –?>>Stephanie Bechler: Your screen looks great.
If you could just put it up to full screen mode, that would probably be…>>Toby Couture: Sure. I think, in the past,
I didn’t have to so I didn’t have this ready. So, first, thanks a lot Shawn. Thanks, Stephanie,
for kicking us off. And thanks, everyone, for joining. I’m going to try to keep my overall
comments fairly streamlined so that we can open up a little bit more time for conversation
and discussion afterwards. I think there’s a lot of important aspects to the report that
we recently published, and I think there’s a lot of key issues that still haven’t really
had good answers – good, important questions that we just haven’t, in terms of the renewable
energy – analysts, and consultants, and researchers around the world that just haven’t
– we don’t really quite have good answers to yet. So I see this as an opportunity to
start having that conversation and start broadening the discussion around some of these key issues. [Crosstalk]>>Toby Couture: Let’s get started. First,
a few quick words about the authors. I’m not the only author on this report. A close colleague
here in Berlin, Doctor David Jacobs, has been leading the project in terms of project management.
We were also joined by three analysts from Enrel – Owen Zinneman, Jacquelyn Cochran,
and Carlin Corey, who has now recently moved on to Black and Lich, I believe in Colorado,
so she’s still in the area. We had a pretty strong team from day one, and we have managed
to get this out on time, which was also a pleasant surprise. Sometimes these projects
go well beyond the anticipated completion date. We had originally planned to finish
in March, and here we are. We’ve already done the quick profile, so let
me dive right in. Here’s a brief overview of the presentation and a short summary to
kick it off. Renewable energy policy has historically been
focused on bridging the cost gap between renewables and conventional technologies. That’s been
part of the underlying rationale for using renewable energy policy at all. There’s been
fossil fuels or nuclear options were considered, or were in the market lower cost, and policy
was used to help bridge that gap so that renewables could be integrated into the market or could
compete in the market with those technologies. But now, what we’re seeing around the world,
and as many of you, I’m sure have noticed in recent months and in the last couple of
years, renewable technologies like solar and wind are increasingly outcompeting fossil
and nuclear in competitive tenders around the world. So we’ve seen several recent examples
from the Middle East, from Latin America, as well as from the U.S. and Europe where
the price point of onshore wind and solar PV in particular is undercutting that from
fossil and nuclear projects. This has led to a bit of a debate around whether
there is still a need for renewable energy policy. In other words, is it time, perhaps,
for renewable policy to call it a day and declare mission accomplished? One of the conclusions
from the report is, not quite. There’s a range of factors including that a lot of renewables
compete against currently quite low wholesale market prices. There is, in many markets,
excess generation capacity. In many cases, renewable projects have to compete against
other power plants that are already amortized – in other words, where their actual costs
have already been paid off. And there’s the incomplete, or in many cases, non-existent
pricing of environmental externalities, so whether carbon or other. There’s also a certain
inertia associated with existing utilities in many markets, and inertia associated with
the existing asset base – so the existing power plants, the existing generation fleet
– that is in itself hard to overcome, and takes time. So if you add all of that and you combine
it to inherent capital intensity of renewable energy projects, it makes it difficult to
imagine a future – at least anywhere in the near future – where renewable policies
could be phased out completely. There’s still, in many cases, a pretty clear not only public
policy rationale, but also a regulatory rationale for some policy framework governing investment
in this sector. A further point that I think is important
not to forget is even though solar and wind have moved down the cost curve quite rapidly
in recent years and are now broadly cost competitive, there are many other renewable technologies
that are still higher on the cost curve, of which I have listed a few here at the bottom
– offshore wind, concentrating solar power, wave, title, and so on. We’ll get into that
a little bit more and what that means in a few moments. I want to kick off the presentation, also,
by saying that making predictions is tough, especially about the future. I think there’s
an inherent difficulty in talking coherently about where we’re going to be in 5 years,
let alone 10 or 20 years in terms of renewable policy. We approached this with some degree
of humility. So, the evolution. One of the key points underlining
the entire report is that policy evolution is fundamentally driven by cost evolution.
So as renewable energies come down in cost, the policies that governments have been using
around the world have also changed, and have changed in lock step. And we see certain kinds
of patterns and certain commonalities throughout this evolution. This graph captures some of
what we mean by that and some of how we’ve characterized this in the report. Building
on this overarching framework provides a way to understand the evolution of renewable policy
from the 1970s until today. So we break this down into three key phases.
The first phase is the early commercialization phase. In this phase, we really see governments
focusing primarily on research and development, R and D support, cash grants for particular
projects, and a series of pilot projects. The primary goal in this phase is just to
demonstrate the technical viability of a particular technology and improve the overall performance
over time. We saw this with wind power through the 1970s into the 1990s as wind power became
a more and more mature technology. Many early projects failed or only lasted a few years
while engineers and R and D experts really focused on ironing out the bugs and trying
to get the performance up and the longevity up. Some of the labs around the world, including
Enrel, have played a really key role in driving this early commercialization phase. After that phase, we enter what we’ve called
here the policy support phase. During the policy support phase, you see sort of standard
toolkit of renewable energy policies emerge – so feeding tariffs, feeding premiums,
renewable certificate markets, various tax incentives, as well as auctions and net metering.
This standard tool kit is really used fundamentally to try to bridge the cost gap between the
conventional alternatives and provide a better foothold in the market for these increasingly
mature renewable technologies. So we see these various policies being used, particularly
for wind, for solar, for biogas and biomass projects, as well as for micro hydro, and
in many cases, geothermal. So you see, the Policy Support Phase, there’s still a clear
gap to cover. Renewables are still more expensive, but the market is starting to scale up. The third phase – and this is really where
we focus in the report – is what we’ve called here the policy framework phase. This signals
a move away from explicit government support or explicit government subsidies towards more
of an overall enabling environment that supports investment. So the policy framework phase
is no longer really about providing explicit support. It’s more about maintaining bankability
and enhancing overall system flexibility to increase or improve the integration of renewables
into the system. We felt that we really needed a new phase
to capture what’s going on because in many markets, as I pointed out in the beginning,
technologies like wind and solar are broadly cost competitive. It’s not a question of providing
additional popups or additional support. What we’re really talking about is, how do you
maintain bankability for these technologies in different market circumstances? And that’s
really one of the key takeaways from the report and one of the things that we focus on as
we’ll see in the slides ahead. A bit of a visualization of how this breaks
down. There are three core benchmarks that renewables compete against. This is something
that is often lost in the debate around words like grid parody or socket parody. A lot of
these nuances are lost in that debate. So the first basic benchmark that renewables
were competitive with is the retail price benchmark. You can see that in the graph here,
sort of representing that basic midrange where retail prices fall. So in some countries like
Germany, where I’m based now, retail prices are somewhere around 30 cents a kilowatt hour,
whereas many states in the U.S. they are anywhere between 10 and 15, or 10 and 18 cents. In
markets like South Africa, you’re somewhere around the 8 to 10 cent range. You see different
jurisdictions having a different retail price benchmark, and that is one of the benchmarks
that renewables compete against but it’s not the only one, even though it’s the one that
we often focus on when we talk about grid parody or socket parody. The second core benchmark is the LCOE of conventional
alternatives. So that would be if you had an open tender or an open auction, what is
the LCOE of different technologies against each other? So natural gas versus wind versus
hydro versus biomass versus PV. What is the LCOE of various technologies against one another,
and are renewables competitive with that? So that’s the second benchmark you can see
there on the graph. And the third and final one, and in most markets,
the most difficult one to achieve or be full cost competitive with, is the wholesale market
price benchmark. Or, in markets that don’t have wholesale markets, what we would consider
at the utility of what it costs. In many cases, that is basically just the running or operating
costs of amortized power plants. So that would be the running or operating cost. The hydro
dam of a nuclear plant, of a coal plant, and so on. It’s important to really understand these
three key benchmarks and why they matter in this story, and we’ll get to this a little
bit more in the slides ahead. As I pointed out, the fundamental focus of
the report is on what happens when renewable technologies surpass LCOE cost competitiveness.
So what happens when renewables are actually cheaper on the levelized basis than other
technologies like natural gas, or coal, ____. That’s really where we try to focus in the
report. Another thing that’s worth pointing out and
that some of you may have noticed – I’ll just go back up – is the concept of the
policy bedrock. You’ll see this at the bottom, underlying all three phases. We felt there
was a gap in the literature and a gap in the thinking on renewable policy that needed to
be filled or at least needed to be addressed and sort of made concrete. So we coined this
term, the policy bedrock. That refers to the underlying regulatory and permitting related
elements that make investment in power generation possible. So that includes a whole range of
things like open access rules for the good connection, clear permitting, environmental
permitting, siting, etc. Environmental performance standards – so what are the actual regulatory
standards that a power plant has to meet? The technical standards relating to ISO compliance
and various things. A land access regime, so a way to actually get projects built, get
access to the land, etc., as well as R and D and innovation related funding. So all of these things are, in some sense,
present at all stages. As you can see here in the depiction, these aspects are critical
throughout the policy evolution, throughout the cost evolution. It’s not like we can suddenly
reach the current phase of advanced cost competitiveness and just stop doing R and D, or stop innovation
related funding, or abandon all technical standards. These things remain common and
consistent, though they change throughout the various phases. So that’s what we’ve called
here, the policy bedrock. Now, let’s turn to what we’ve identified as
the three key pillars that future power systems will need to have in order to transition to
a more sustainable power system. The first key pillar is projects will need to be bankable.
That sounds fairly self-explanatory or fairly obvious, but it’s surprising, particularly
looking at the developments in Europe recently, how little attention from a policy perspective
has been given to the actual question of fundamental bankability. Are projects investable in my
jurisdiction? We underscore this in the report as something of a litmus test for renewable
policy in the future. As markets get more complex – as the policy frameworks get more
complex, bankability can be used as a bit of a litmus test to check whether the overall
framework is still sufficient to enable scale up – to enable project investment to happen. The second main pillar is flexibility. As
the share of renewables grows in various jurisdictions around the world, flexibility is going to
become increasingly critical. I’ll try to explain a little bit why in some of the slides
ahead. The third and final pillar is establishing
a clear long term vision for a sustainable power sector in the future. In many countries
around the world – now we’re at over 160 countries that have renewable energy targets
of some kind, either for the electricity sector, the transport sector, or for the heating and
cooling sector. These renewable targets are one example of the ways in which governments
can establish some kind of clear vision – some kind of clear framework for where the system
is evolving, where we’re going, what’s going to be the market share of renewables in the
future? And that plays a number of key roles for investment security and investment certainty
as we’ll see in the slides ahead. We identified these three key pillars as some
of the most basic characteristics that future power systems will have to have in order to
enable a continued transition towards renewable energy, or primarily renewable energy powered
system. So first, bankability. A project is considered
bankable when it provides a sufficient risk adjusted return. One thing that we noticed
in really digging into this question a little bit more closely is that different investors
have different expectations. So we see, for example, in the German context a lot of retail
investors, or individual households, or cooperatives have quite low return expectations – sort
of sub five percent. In some cases, as little as one or two percent. And that’s sufficient
to attract capital and mobilize investment. Whereas, corporates, or private equity firms,
or even banks that are providing loans may have somewhat higher return expectations.
So I think it’s important when we’re thinking of bankability to ask, bankability for whom?
Bankability might still make sense for an individual household, but if they can’t find
a bank who is also willing to provide a loan for that, then the project as a whole may
not be bankable because they can’t get the debt component required to finance the project.
So, bankability for whom? One of the points that we make in the report
is in order to ensure that we have flourishing renewable energy market development – so
diversified, active, competitive renewable energy market with high level of social acceptance,
broad political support, as well as competitively priced capital. It’s key to have broad participation
from a wide range of different investor types, not just banks or not just corporates. I think
that’s one thing that we, collectively, need to put a lot more attention to in the years
ahead is making sure that the policy frameworks that are developed don’t just focus on one
or two investor types, that they provide a foundation for broad-based investment across
the market for different project sizes as well as different technologies. That’s going
to be critical if we’re going to reach high shares of renewables in the future, not just
for reasons of social acceptance, but also in terms of mobilizing all of the capital
that we have at our disposal to tackle the challenges ahead. So tapping in to the capital
available from different actors, from different individuals, from different entities is going
to be key. In the report, we break down the whole question
of bankability into different market types. In order to keep it simple, we broke it into
two – liberalized electricity markets and what are often called single buyer markets,
or sort of the traditional, regulated markets with one utility buying the power. So we’ll
focus first on what bankability means and what it could look like in the future under
liberalized electricity markets. One of the commonalities across liberalized
markets today is that there are, in most cases, virtually no technologies that are financeable
purely on the back of spot market revenues. Not renewable technologies. Not fossil technologies.
In most markets that have a wholesale market, prices are currently extremely low. We have
a situation in most cases of excess generation capacity, both in Europe and in many parts
of the U.S. Flat or negative electricity demand. Comparatively low carbon prices. We’re sort
of sub ten Euros a ton in Europe and have been for the last several years. Inconsistent
policies, in many cases, as well as limited overall investment certainty. So in liberalized
markets, because of the process that we’ve gone through to liberalize electricity markets,
overall long term investment certainty is increasingly lacking. We’ve heard that from
CEO’s of some of the largest utilities in Europe as well as from some of the largest
investors investing in renewables in these various markets, including the U.K. as well
as other parts of Europe. In liberalized markets, what are we seeing?
Bankability is primarily being maintained by tenders. So currently, auctions that are
tied to some form of long term agreement, long term PBA or to floating premiums. So
some kind of variation on what the U.K. is doing with CFD’s or contracts for differences,
or what’s happening in Germany, and Italy, and other markets in the E.U. with variations
on what are called floating premiums. So some kind of top up above the wholesale market
price because wholesale market prices are so low. We’re also seeing a number of bilateral contracts
being signed. Either bilateral with utilities or bilateral with different corporate off
takers as well as synthetic PPA’s, where there actually isn’t an exchange of power of electricity
– of electrons – but rather more of a financial agreement that a certain price will
be paid for those kilowatt hours once delivered into the market and once purchased on the
other side from somebody else. So synthetic PPA’s are basically a way to get around the
actual delivery of electricity from one party to another and more of a financial instrument
to just support bankability or enable the project to obtain financing. So that’s basically what we’re seeing currently
happening in most liberalized markets. Where do we go from here? In the report, we try
to outline this into two basic pathways. On the one hand, we’re seeing new kinds of contractual
arrangements. That’s sort of a general category for new ways of striking an agreement for
power sales. As I mentioned, we’re seeing synthetic PPA’s. We’re seeing more bilateral
contracts. We’re also seeing more partial offtake agreements. So someone saying, “Instead
of me selling you my ten gigawatt hours of year of wind power, I’ll sell you five and
then I’ll sell five onto the spot market. So you’re seeing these kinds of splits that
we didn’t really see in the past, where 100 percent of the electricity was sold to or
at least ____ behind the ____ self-consumption, the electricity will be sold directly to the
off taker. We’re also seeing more hedging instruments,
aggregators, new business models starting to enter the market. We’ve captured all of
that activity – sort of corporate PPA’s, all of the stuff that’s happening there – under
new contractual arrangements. The second main one is new revenue streams.
So what are the ways that renewable producers could maybe boost their bankability or improve
the bankability of the project by tapping into new revenues? We dug into that a little
bit and we tried to find out, what are some of the main options available – ancillary
services markets, carbon markets. In some cases, we’re seeing locational pricing playing
a role or emerging as well as floating premiums that compensate for current low wholesale
market prices. So these new revenue streams could also help basically boost bankability
in a market where electricity sales are supposed to happen primarily through the power exchange.
In other words, on a fluctuating basis. Part of the problem with the new revenue streams
is that in most cases, even for combustion turbines or natural gas plants, their revenues
that they can get from capacity markets or from ancillary services are still sort of
in the maximum 20 percent, 25 percent range of the total revenues. And that’s for some
of the most flexible, rampable generation assets that we have. Renewables are going
to find it tricky to really tap into those new types of revenue streams and make them
a meaningful part of their overall cash flows. I think that’s one of the challenges ahead. A third pathway that we don’t consider at
length in the report but I also think deserves much more concerted attention is a more fundamental
redesign of the electricity market. There have been a few researchers and academics
arguing for this. I think it’s definitely part of the conversation, and probably part
of the conversation that will need to be had as we move higher shares of renewables in
the system. So now, let’s turn to single buyer markets.
What does bankability look like in traditional, single buyer markets? Currently, bankability
in a single buyer market is tied almost entirely to the PPA that’s assigned with a particular
off taker. That’s the Power Purchase Agreement. In most cases, that’s either a private utility
or a government backed utility, or a directly government owned utility. In those cases,
in single buyer markets, the bankability is almost entirely dependent on the credit worthiness
of the off taker. In other words, how leveraged is it? Does it pay its’ bills on time? Can
it service its’ debts? And can it cover its’ overall cost by raising rates or by improving
its’ efficiencies like reducing line losses or making system investments? So the overall credit worthiness of the off
taker in a single buyer market is critical. It is the defining factor that makes investors
decide whether a project is investable or not. If the off taker, whether it’s S-Com
in South Africa or the leading utility in Brazil, or even in key markets in China – the
fundamental question is, is the off taker credit worthy, and will they pay the Power
Purchase agreement on the terms that are signed in the contract, including inflation indexation
and all the rest? Currency adjustments if needed. That plays the most critical, and
based on our analysis we don’t really see that changing a whole lot in single buyer
markets. Credit worthiness is going to remain fundamental to bankability no matter how you
cut it. I think a lot of the policy attention, therefore, needs to focus on derisking either
the off taker or the overall investment environment that the off taker is operating in. Curtailment rules play a key role, as well
as regulatory risk and sort of peripheral, political, and economic risks. These are all
factors that play a critical role in single buyer markets. So where do single buyer markets
go from here? As I pointed out, broader institutional and financial derisking is likely to remain
necessary in many, if not most, cases of single buyer markets. This is something that some
of the folks at UNEP have been doing a lot of great work on in a number of jurisdictions
with their sort of derisking framework. I think there’s a lot more need for more work
and effort in this space. A second component is – and you see this
in many single markets – credit guarantees, either on the loans or government guarantees
on the PPA’s themselves are also likely to remain necessary, again to overcome some of
the credit worthiness issues with the single buyer. Again, based on our analysis, we don’t
see that changing significantly anytime soon in many markets. So some degree of guarantee
is likely to continue to be required to maintain bankability, especially if we’re talking about
large scale scale up in the investment market. The third factor is PPA design itself may
change, and in fact, probably will change in most cases in order to incentivize more
flexibility from the different renewable generators or to provide ancillary services. So we’re
not just talking about a PPA sign just for kilowatt hours. PPA’s may come to bundle more
additional nuances in order to try to tap into more flexibility from the renewable generator.
We’re already seeing that in many of the contracts being signed in Europe as well as in the U.S.
The ability to provide reactive power is becoming increasingly sort of common, particularly
in wind power projects. So some of those things are likely to be layered into the PPA design
more and more in the years ahead. So I think that’s one other core change that we can anticipate
in the years ahead. And finally, it’s important to keep in mind
that all of this happens in a context. In order to really drive scale up in many single
buyer markets, renewable targets are likely to play a really important role, especially
if they’re binding. In most cases, incumbents adapt too slowly to the changing market realities.
If we really want to scale up – if we want to get to 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent,
80 percent – renewables in the mix, renewable energy targets are going to probably play
a key role in that, in driving incumbents sort of in a ratcheted way towards more ambitious
shares of renewables. In order to get to higher shares of renewables,
we’re going to need more flexible power systems. This is another core take home message from
the report, is transitioning to power shares with high shares of renewables is going to
require flexibility, and much more flexibility than power systems currently have. To varying
degrees, all power systems have flexibility reserves. They have these set of protocols
to provide flexibility and specific power plants often designated to support system
flexibility and system reliability. But this is going to grow even more as the share of
PV, in particular, and wind power – what are often called variable renewables – increases. In many cases, this is also going to require
focusing more on the flexibility of demand and not just supply. So not just opening the
gates at the hydro dam in order to do load following, but also tapping into some of the
flexibility on the demand side. I think we’re just at the beginning of the tremendous potential
of demand flexibilization in the years ahead. I think that’s going to play a key part. We
try to focus a little bit on that in the report, but the main focus is really on the kinds
of flexibility that renewables themselves can provide into this equation. In a lot of
cases, boosting flexibility is also partly about phasing out inflexible generation. One
of the main factors behind the phase-out policies that are being adopted in a number of different
jurisdictions – either phase out for coal power plants or phase out for nuclear power
plants is an underlying recognition by a lot of engineers and folks who work in the power
sector that these assets are insufficiently flexible to be properly integrated in the
marketplace. I think in the years ahead, boosting flexibility
is also going to involve phasing out inflexible generation, and that’s something that we get
into in the third component on establishing a long term vision for where the power sector
needs to go. This chart here captures some of the kinds
of options that are available for boosting flexibility. We didn’t have space in the report
to cover all of these. The primary focus is really on the green category, which is what
kind of flexibility can renewables provide. There’s a number of different case studies
for each of these three categories that gets into more detail on some of the various options
that are available. An important distinction that we set out – and
this was inspired from some of the work of the folks at Enrel that contributed and wrote
the section on flexibility – is there are two ways to think about flexibility. The physical
sources of flexibility that you have, as well as the institutional sources of flexibility.
So the physical refers to the overall transmission system, the characteristics of your generation
fleet, what does your fleet look like? What kinds of power plants do you have? Do you
have peekers? How quick is your ramp? As well as the availability of demand side flexibility.
Are there large sources of demand that can be ramped down in case the system runs into
constraints or bottlenecks? The second one, in some ways is almost more
interesting than just the physical in that it refers to the institutional mechanisms
that we use – that power markets use, that regulators use – to harness flexibility
in the system. So there may be all kinds of – and there is – all kinds of flexibility
available on the system that just may not be tapped under current market rules or under
current incentive structures. I think one of the interesting contributions of the report
and one of the areas more research needs to be done into is, how can the various rules
and incentives governing flexibility be adjusted so that that flexibility can be harnessed
more cost effectively? I think we’re just at the beginning of how that particular challenge
can be solved, and how this flexibility can be better harnessed in the years ahead. A few quick words on why flexibility matters.
I think it’s become a bit of a mantra in the industry that as renewable investments scale
up, we’re going to need a more flexible system, but it’s often difficult to fully appreciate
quite why that is. This has now become quite a famous graph known as the duck graph. I
included a little picture of a duck to capture this. And you can really see that during the
rise of PV during the daytime – so between sort of 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM, you can really
see that the actual load that needs to be met with additional generation declines during
the day. But then as soon as the sun sets, you have a steeper ramp rate. And with that
steeper ramp rate, you either need additional investments or you need to start trying to
shave that evening peak in some ways. Or you need to introduce new flexibility options
to improve the management of that increasingly steep ramp. This is one of the things that
is likely to remain a challenge in just about every jurisdiction that aggressively pursues
solar, in particular, in the years ahead. A more extreme, and in some cases, a bit of
a play on this was recently put forward by Hawaii. They’ve now coined the “Nessie Curve”
to refer to the even steeper evening ramp that they are facing, which is captured here
in the graph. It really underscores quite how dramatic the flexibility needs are in
order to operate a system that’s increasingly powered by variable renewables. Hawaii has
recently adopted a target to move to 100 percent renewables and though they’re going to be
doing that with a range of both dispatchable and non-dispatchable renewables, you can appreciate
a little bit through this graph, the magnitude of the challenge ahead in terms of flexibility.
I think this is why so much attention is being put on this question, and also one of the
reasons why we considered flexibility as one of the three core pillars of future power
systems. A similar snapshot can be seen here from Germany
– it’s power system. This is a forecast put forward to 2022, so now, I guess, six,
seven years ahead. You can see some of the same dynamics. With the rising share of PV
during the daytime, the residual load becomes increasingly spiky. We’re going to need much
more flexibility. In that kind of power system, we’re often not far during many times of the
day where basically PV and wind together basically represent almost 100 percent of instantaneous
load. Once you get into that environment, you then have either the need to export or
the need to curtail. This is one of the reasons why inflexible
baseload generation is increasingly mismatched from a fundamental engineering standpoint
for the kinds of power systems that we need in the future. The presence of inflexible
baseload is not going to be an asset. It’s going to be a hindrance to achieving high
shares of renewables in the years ahead. I think the debate around what we do with inflexible
assets is going to become increasingly critical as we move forward. I think this is also one
reason, if you focus closely on the German debate, why the phase-out of the nuclear – it’s
certainly not well received by all, but has been relatively well received, particularly
in the renewable sector is that people realize this is absolutely necessary in order to make
room for more variable renewables. Nuclear is fundamentally a comparatively inflexible
generation option. Shifting to the third on long term vision.
Since power assets or generation assets have long operating lives, investors typically
take a long term view of any investments they make in the power system, particularly on
the supply side. This makes signaling around long term power system planning critical to
the kinds of investments that take place and the sorts of investments that don’t take place
in a given market. So providing that long term signaling, that long term clarity is
key for reducing overall investment risks. That applies both to people investing in projects
as well as people investing in manufacturing and other service related installers, etc. A related component to this is that in order
to reach some of the ambitious climate and other long term targets that have been established,
having some kind of a vision of where the power sector is going is critical. According
to most models of decarbonization, the power system is likely to be responsible for the
lion’s share of decarbonizaion, at least in the near term, followed by the transport sector.
So we are going to – in order to reach some of the ambitious climate targets that are
in place, the power sector is really going to need to establish a clear pathway to that
low carbon future. Part of that is what we’re trying to capture here under the long term
vision. The report breaks it down into four basic
categories. Some of these we’ve already touched on a little bit, but we’ve really tried to
bring this under its’ own pillar, recognizing how important these aspects are. The first
is setting renewable energy targets – long term targets that provide an indication of
the overall market share that renewables will have in the decades ahead as well as sort
of reducing the market risks associated with investing in renewable energy projects. If
there’s a guaranteed, binding renewable energy target, investors are more likely to commit
capital to the market because they know there will be a buyer for their product in the years
ahead based on that mandate or that obligation. The second is the phase out component, so
phasing out non-renewable technologies. As I pointed out, this isn’t just for environmental
reasons. In many cases, this is driven also, if not even in some cases, primarily by the
need for flexibility. Both of these drivers are likely to play a key role in the overall
discussion around phase-out in the years ahead. The third is carbon pricing. I don’t want
to spend too much time on that but I think it’s broadly agreed that some level of carbon
pricing is likely in markets where it doesn’t exist already, and in markets where it does
exist, the prices are likely to ratchet up rather than down in the years ahead. So this
is one component of establishing that long term vision. We don’t get into the debate
around whether it’s taxes or cap and trade and how that plays out. But the idea of that
externality is what we price. I think as increasingly being modeled into existing investment decisions
in the power sector, and that’s unlikely to change. The fourth one is formulating emission standards,
or what we call here environmental performance standards for new and existing plants. It’s
often said in the building sector that most of the buildings that are going to be standing
in 2100 have not been built yet. The same applies in many respects in the power sector.
Most of the power generation assets that will be powering civilization in 2070 or in 2100
have not been built yet. Hence, the importance on having more robust standards on new power
plants. All four of those components are, in our framework,
essentially bundled under this idea of establishing a clear long term vision of where a government
or where a jurisdiction wants to go. A few concluding remarks and then we can kick
it open to questions. The transition to a sustainable low carbon power system will be
faster and easier if finance is available at scale. So if we have the large volumes
of capital, large scale investments taking place at reasonable cost of capital, both
for generation related investments as well as for flexibility related investments. So
we need to start thinking about bankability not only for the supply piece, but bankability
also for flexibility related investments. That includes a range of the things we discussed
earlier, but also things like storage, some of the new technologies that are being deployed
on demand response. More attention will need to be given to how we can make those kinds
of investments more bankability in order to boost the flexibility of the system in order
to deal with growing shares of renewables. A final point is that neither market type,
whether monopolized, single buyer, or liberalized, are likely to sustain the kind of scale of
investments. We’re talking about hundreds of billions, even trillions of dollars in
the years and decades ahead that are needed to really drive the kind of transition – the
scale of transition that is required without policies that somehow foster a fundamental
bankability, that improve system flexibility, and that provide investors with some kind
of long term certainty about the overall direction we’re headed in. That’s one of the reasons
why at the end of the report we basically conclude that contrary to many people – there’s
been a number of debates going on around what the future of renewable policy is, and do
we still need targeted support? Do we still need policy if renewables become the cheapest
sources of supply? I think one of the main conclusions of the report is, absolutely.
We still need policies governing investment. We still need policies governing basic thinks
like interconnection, technical standards. All of those kinds of things are going to
be important and we’re going to need to focus a lot more on maintaining bankability and
more flexibility throughout the transition. With that, I think I’ll stop. Here’s the link
to the report for anyone that’s interested in diving in in more detail, if you haven’t
found it already. We can open it up to questions.>>Stephanie Bechler: Great. Thank you so
much, Toby. That was excellent. We’ve got a few questions coming from the audience,
so right now if you have anything else to ask Toby, please use the Questions pane. Our first question is cost seems to be a major
factor in driving policy evolution. Could you elaborate on some of the other factors
that would contribute?>>Toby Couture: In the framework we lay out,
we identify or we frame cost as sort of the driving factor behind policy evolution. So
policy evolves as a function of the cost competitiveness of renewable technologies. A related aspect
is basically what’s happening, for example, on the innovation front. Are there other factors?
Are there other things that we haven’t anticipated yet? Are there new technologies that emerged
that could fundamentally change the analysis that we put forward, or even other business
models that could also come in and change the equation. One of the things that we discussed quite
at length during the writing of the report that we didn’t have a chance to really devote
specific attention to is the rise of things like pay as you go solar. The fact that solar
can be financed directly in many emerging countries, without the need for an overarching
policy framework or even regulations, is significant. I think it’s an open debate about whether
renewables could continue to scale up, in some cases, without any kind of policy intervention,
contrary to what we lay out in the report. Or there may be cases like in Sub-Saharan
Africa where there’s, in many cases, no electricity access. Is it possible that some investments
can be bankable purely on the basis of customer demand and local income levels without needing
an overarching government policy framework or targeted support? I think in some cases,
yes, absolutely. There are cases where that is happening and the question becomes whether
those kinds of trends, those kinds of patterns, those kinds of business models are going to
be sufficient to really scale up and get us to where we need to go in the long term. And
I think that remains open to debate.>>Stephanie Bechler: Great. We have another
question that comes in. You briefly mentioned the possible need to complete a redesign of
the power market. Given that there is an upcoming redesign at the EU power market, could you
give any preliminary ideas of what you think that might look like?>>Toby Couture: Great question. This would
require a whole webinar, if not multiple, in and of itself. Let me try to get a few
thoughts out. As I pointed out, the main pathway that European jurisdictions have been using
so far, at least in recent months and years, is some kind of top up – some kind of floating
premium that rides on top of wholesale market prices. So long as wholesale market prices
remain as low as they are across Europe, some kind of premium is likely. Some kind of top
up – call it whatever you want – is likely to be needed in order to make investments
bankable. That goes without saying. I think the question is, how do you design it and
what are the various components of it? How complex does it get? Another debate that’s being had in the European
context is, maybe wholesale prices are unsustainably low. Maybe we need to do something to boost
wholesale market prices. Though as a citizen, I get a little uneasy when governments start
contriving to increase prices artificially. I do think that that’s definitely been discussed,
and being discussed openly in the European context. What can be done to stabilize or
even increase wholesale market prices, maybe even to make them more volatile – more spiky
so that maybe new kinds of investments become bankable. So if you could remove price caps,
for example, on wholesale market prices and make scarcity pricing sort of more credible
or experience higher and more dramatic spikes, then you could perhaps target or attract certain
kinds of investments and make certain kinds of projects bankable. Again, I think that’s going to be a partial
solution at best. I don’t thinking making soft markets more volatile is going to be
a sufficient basis on which to drive the kind of transition, the kind of scale up and capital
investment that’s needed. We’re going to need something a little more robust – a little
bit more foundational than just making scarcity pricing a little more dynamic, or even a lot
more dynamic. A further factor that makes this more complex
in Europe is there is a growing trend towards expanding interconnection. So Europe is moving
to a more integrated power market. That’s going to mean, likely, not higher wholesale
market prices, but rather, more stable or flatter, if not lower, wholesale market prices.
If that’s the future – if Europe continues to expand interconnections, which I fully
expect to be the trend – then it’s questionable whether wholesale market prices are ever going
to be robust and high enough to make investments bankable. Now, if you get down to solar at one cent
a kilowatt hour, then perhaps you could see a project start to scale up and be investable.
That remains to be seen, so I don’t want to discount that some of the existing changes
and some of the existing market tweaks might be enough in some future, but for the near
term, I think some variation on a floating premium is likely to be necessary to maintain
bankability, at least at the kind of scales that is needed to drive the level of investment
required. It’s hard for me to see another way that the level of investment required
could be mobilized without fundamentally providing the bankability of those projects. I think it won’t be lost on many people in
Europe, or analysts who work in this space in Europe, that renewable energy investment
is largely happening elsewhere outside of Europe. Europe led the way for a few years,
sort of just before and just after the financial crisis, but most of the activity now in project
investment is happening elsewhere. Europe is falling behind and I think that’s why this
discussion around what the future of renewable strategy, renewable frameworks looks like
is so critical. I hope I’ve provided a few thoughts. I could
certainly keep going and listing off different ideas, but I do think this is definitely a
timely question and one that definitely needs more concerted attention.>>Stephanie Bechler: Thank you. Actually,
there is a bit of follow-up to that question. Some people would like to know a little bit
more of your ideas concerning what elements being the most crucial for bankable projects.
You touched on it a little bit. Where do you see the most room for improvement given the
current status on policies in different countries?>>Toby Couture: It depends on the context
of – for the resource mix in some country, for example. Like in Italy, PV is already
more than cost competitive with retail price. The same PV is competitive with retail prices
in Germany. So there’s a lot of the investment that can happen on a distributed sort of prosumer
basis, either on commercial rooftops or residential rooftops, that isn’t being tapped. So one
area that I think Europe could certainly make a lot more progress on is trying to find more
innovative ways – maybe attracting new business models or even assisting in loosening the
regulatory frameworks around new business models for tapping into the tremendous potential
of distributed rooftop PV, both on commercial and residential roofs. There’s also constraints in Europe around
access to land, so agricultural land is, rightly, quite prized and in order to achieve high
shares of renewable Europe is going to need to also make maximum use of the built environment
– making use of existing areas and existing infrastructure, and also citing supply near
load makes perfect sense. So the more this can be bundled into urban areas, like in Barcelona,
or Madrid, or Italy, Florence – the need for targeting the prosumer aspect of this
and the role that distributed renewables can play, I think, is huge particularly given
that the economics are so attractive at the moment. Myself, in Germany, I pay roughly 30 cents
a kilowatt hour for each kilowatt hour consumed. If I can do solar on my roof for somewhere
around 12 cents to 13 cents on a levelized basis, that’s a very attractive proposition.
I just need a business model that’s going to help me unlock that. There is innovation
happening on this. There are important signs of that starting to take place. So I think
a part of the challenge can be solved through the distributed pathway, as I’ve discussed
with the rooftop distributed route. But when we’re talking about larger scale
projects – larger scale wind, onshore wind, larger scale solar – I think the challenge
for bankability becomes more critical. One option that’s being discussed or that is currently
being implemented, to some degree, in the U.K. is very generous inflation indexation.
So you start with a very low nominal tariff that may seem to be sort of fairly cost competitive
with existing wholesale market prices, but with a fairly generous indexation. So basically,
under that kind of inner approach, you’re basically back loading the cost by indexing
the tariff over a longer period of time. Countries like Germany have traditionally not offered
inflation indexation. In most cases, the inflation indexation wouldn’t
need to be very generous in order to attract investment because interest rates are at historic
lows. Investors are looking at anything that will provide a sort of reliable long term
yield. One of the ways that I think that could be done is a combined strategy around inflation
indexation, so thinking more carefully about how the various offtake agreements can be
indexed in order to still secure that bankability. So even if your nominal price starts off quite
low, it escalates and that may provide a way that bankability could still be achieved.
Fundamentally in the long term, that will decouple it from wholesale market prices and
that may become unsustainable in the future. Again, there’s an inherent possibility that
wholesale market prices are set for a period of sort of eternal suppression.
There are some energy economists out there who think that wholesale market prices are
going to magically bounce back once we get better carbon pricing and we phase out existing
fossil or nuclear generation. I tend to think that unless you can really phase back, we’re
talking 50 to 100 gigawatts of capacity in the years ahead, it’s going to be difficult
to see wholesale market prices recover in a meaningful way. I tend to think we should
rather accept the reality of lower wholesale market prices. This is what Jeremy Rifkin
calls the sort of zero marginal cost paradigm. The electricity system is increasingly moving
towards a zero marginal cost paradigm. I think we need to redesign or rethink the way we
achieve bankability of capital intensive assets under that kind of an environment. As I pointed out, there are no easy ways to
do that. Counterintuitively, we may actually move back. Another possibility in this space
would be to move back to some of the early kinds of policies that were used in the 1970s
and 1980s, that offered basically a capital investment subsidy to just buy down the capital
cost. In some cases, if you covered, say, 30, 40, 50 percent of the capital cost, then
the renewable energy project may be bankable from a purely wholesale market price basis. This is effectively what the U.S. is doing
with production and investment tax credits. The investment tax credit shaves off 30 percent
of the cost up front. If you add depreciation provisions, you get close to 50 percent. So
the U.S. is essentially, through the tax code, slicing almost 50 percent of the cost of a
renewable energy project off at the beginning and then allowing the project to sell its’
power to whomever it wants or on to the wholesale market. A similar approach could be deployed, as much
as its’ been criticized in the past in the U.S. as being vulnerable to congress and all
the rest – again, it’s a controversial thought but there may be an insight there. There may
be a way that could provide a pathway to secure bankability. So if you provided some kind
of investment tax credit, then the upfront cost of the investment could go down and you
could make it financeable or bankable on the back of wholesale market prices. One of the downsides of that is that you lose
in the diversity of investor types. Who can participate? Who has large tax liabilities?
And then you see a concentration of the investment market come on those who have large tax liabilities.
This is exactly what’s happened in the U.S. There may be more intelligent ways that Europe
can do that that avoid some of those negative while tapping into some of the positives,
so sort of the fiscal route – the fiscal policy oath to achieving bankability. I could go on, but that hopefully provides
a few additional thoughts for the time being. If anyone wants to discuss this further, I’d
be glad also to have a discussion by phone or follow up after. You can find contact details
on my website.>>Stephanie Bechler: Excellent. I’ll shift
the conversation away because I know we can keep going. Given that the existing power
infrastructure supports fossil and nuclear power, how big of a hurdle is it creating
a renewable energy policy given that the current economic and political power of fossil fuel
companies and their interest in maintaining the way things currently are?>>Paul Couture: I tend to take a different
reading on that. I think if you look at what’s happening in the U.S., coal companies are
going bankrupt left and right. In Europe, the large utilities – the large incumbent
actors that were essentially the feudal lords of the previous electricity system – are
now posting annual losses in the billions. We are in a radically different power environment
than we were even a decade ago in relation to the power system – even a few years ago
in relation to the power system. So I’m actually more optimistic on that front.
I think – what is it John Maynard Canes once said, that the power of vested interests
is often vastly overestimated versus the power of ideas in history. I tend to agree. I think
though there are very real power interests – there are very strong incumbent interests
in the power sector as there are in any sector – I do tend to think that if you look at
trends in recent years in the coal and in the nuclear sector, let alone natural gas
sector and natural gas plants. Europe has mothballed something on the order of 40 to
50 gigawatts of gas Europe wide in the last six or seven years. So we’ve seen a lot of
power being disrupted in recent years of renewable energy scale up. The question is, and I think part of the underlying
debate in Europe is it seems that that has shifted now and that the – it’s kind of
the empire strikes back. There’s a reassertion of the conventional utility thinking and conventional
utility logic around controlling the pace of renewable growth and scaling back policies.
I do think that’s a very real part of the debate so I don’t want to downplay it. I do
think that it’s a very real factor and we see the impacts of that on the renewable investment
landscape in Europe. I think if you take a broader step back, the trends are still definitely
globally in the right direction.>>Stephanie Bechler: Thank you. Along those
lines, many IMBC’s are taking nuclear as part of non-fossil fuel energy. Do you have any
other suggestions on how those countries should meet their energy demands, if not nuclear?>>Paul Couture: Yeah. The problem with nuclear
is that it isn’t cost competitive and it never – if you do true accounting – it never
was. The hope was that nuclear would come down in cost and that it would become cost
competitive. But nuclear is the only generation technology in history that has become more
expensive over time rather than less as the market has developed. I don’t see any signs
of that changing. If you look at recent nuclear reactors that have been built or are being
built, the trend is definitely in the other direction. It’s towards getting more and more
expensive and finding a harder and harder time to attract investors. Nuclear plants,
if rate payers interests were respected, we probably wouldn’t see another nuclear power
plant built anywhere in the world because there are cheaper and more cost effective
ways of moving to a low carbon path than investing in nuclear. So I broadly think that wherever
nuclear is being built, it’s fundamentally a regulatory failure. If regulators were doing
the job of protecting rate payers, it would never get built. It would never get approval
because it’s quite obvious to anyone who is paying attention that nuclear is not cost
competitive. So I think, should nuclear be part of INDC’s?
In my view, we should be trying to maximize the amount of impact with the finite resources
that we have. So if we have 10 billion dollars or 20 billion dollars to invest to achieve
our nationally determined contributions, we should be trying to maximize the impact – maximize
the reductions from that. And on any fair accounting of emissions reductions, nuclear
is one of the most expensive ways to reduce emissions, both in the near term and in the
long term. It does not even begin to compare to other ways of reducing emissions. I think any government that’s thinking seriously
about investing in nuclear at the moment, especially if climate is being used as an
argument, they need to go back to the data and really look at what the most cost effective
ways of reducing emissions are. Nuclear wouldn’t even stand a chance against efficiency – wouldn’t
even stand a change of doing something about clean cooking – wouldn’t even stand a chance
against a host of other measures, including renewables. That’s my thoughts in a nutshell on that.
I broadly do think that investors have already caught on to this. It’s very difficult to
find any private investor who is willing to invest in nuclear. I think the bond markets
are also going to look increasingly unfavorably on governments that try to finance nuclear
plants on the back of the tax system basically by plowing their own money into it because
of the risks around cost overruns – the uncertainty that poses fiscally as a fiscal
risk for the government. Anyone in finance who is paying attention
– anyone in the energy sector who is paying attention should recognize by this point that
nuclear is not cost competitive and is not the best way to reduce emissions. I probably
went on a little longer than I should there, but hopefully that is helpful.>>Stephanie Bechler: Great. Someone wants
to know, what are your thoughts on the EU’s state aid guidelines? Do they reflect a move
towards phase three of this policy evolution driven by cost, or rather, an attempt to bring
everyone up to phase two?>>Paul Couture: Interesting. I think the
state aid guidelines has a complex history. It’s probably caused more harm than good insofar
as the renewable energy sector is concerned. I think it’s probably done a lot of good on
balance in terms of limiting the ability of governments to do things they probably shouldn’t.
But in relation to renewables, I think the state aid guidelines have probably – and
again, I should preface this by saying I’m not an expert in the state aid guidelines.
But they’ve probably overstepped their bounds and have made it increasingly difficult for
governments to design the kinds of policies that are going to help achieve a low carbon
system in the future. I’m of the opinion I think the state aid guidelines
– provisions should be made to establish clear, if not exemptions, clear provisions
governing renewable energy or low carbon related investments, recognizing the strategic importance
of decarbonization globally as well as in the European context. In many cases, the amount
of time and effort and essentially the opportunity cost – the lost time of having to navigate
or negotiate – the state aids has really cost Europe quite dearly.
For anyone that’s not in Europe, this probably sounds quite esoteric, so I don’t want to
spend too much time on this, but in my view, I think the state aid guidelines have definitely
caused more harm than good in the renewable energy sector and need to be revisited or
rethought with an eye to the strategic interplays that are at stake. We need to be transitioning
to a lower carbon system, and for that, I think in many cases governments are going
to need a bit more latitude than the current state aid guidelines provide.>>Stephanie Bechler: Excellent. That is all
the time we have for questions right now. If anyone listening still has another question
they’d like to ask, please submit it and we can always send those out to be answered later.
Toby, do you have any closing remarks before we begin the survey?>>Toby Couture: No. I think, generally, the
effort in the report is really to try to capture where we are and also to provide an indication
of where we might be going. I don’t think there is anything definitive. This is very
much an ongoing conversation. We tried to provide indications of where we think things
might trend, but I think perhaps more important than that is the overall framework that we
set out in terms of understanding the evolution of policy, understanding their continued need
for a basic policy framework that supports bankability and increases flexibility. I think
that really is valuable and I hope that other researchers, other analysts, other policy
makers can find that useful, as well.>>Stephanie Bechler: That will move to our
first attendee survey question. The webinar content provided me with useful information
and insight. You can select Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree. Thank you. And now we’ll move on to the next
question. The webinar’s presenters were effective. Our third question – overall, the webinar
met my expectations. Great. And our fourth question – do you
anticipate using the information presented in this webinar directly in your work and
or organization? Thank you. And our final question – do you
anticipate applying the information presented to develop or revise policies or programs
in your country of focus? Great. Thank you all so much for answering
our survey. On behalf of the Clean Energy Solution Center, I’d like to extend a thank
you to Toby and our attendees for participating in today’s webinar. We’ve had a terrific audience
and we very much appreciate your time. I invite our attendees to check the Solution Center
website if you would like to view the slides and listen to the recording of today’s presentation
as well as any previously held webinar. Additionally, you will find information on upcoming webinars
and other training events. We are also posting the webinar recordings on the Clean Energy
Solution Center YouTube channel. Please allow about one week for the audio recording to
be posted. We invite you to inform your colleagues and those in your networks about the Solution
Center resources and services, including our no cost policy support. Have a great rest
of your day, and we hope to see you again at future Clean Energy Solution Center events.
This concludes our webinar.

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