Sunset for subsidies and a new day for batteries
Nearly all of the UK’s renewables generation was developed with the help of subsidies: feed-in-tariffs, the renewables obligation (RO) scheme and contract-for-difference auctions.
The gradual sunsetting of these incentives makes it a time of seismic change for the entire energy industry. That being said, it’s far from the apocalypse.
September’s energy auction, if anything, offered a glimpse of a future where advanced commercial and risk-mitigation solutions will become the best way to guard revenue streams, not public patronage.
The best place to observe this shift is in the case of onshore wind. These operators are vanguard for the end of subsidy, with schemes having been closed to new entrants for a few years. The first RO schemes for onshore windfarms will finish in 2027. It may not seem imminent, but the long-term investment required for renewables means that onshore operators should all be in advanced planning for future profitability.
The September CFD Auction turning point
The market was braced for big price movement well ahead of September’s contract-for-difference auction. It was still a surprise. Offshore wind went for under £40/MWH, 30% lower than the lower limit of 2017, and well under the government’s £49/MWH wholesale market price.
Far from a sign that onshore would never be able to compete with offshore peers, CfDs veering below wholesale prices only illustrated how close we have come to a level playing field – one where every operator needs every competitive advantage to succeed.
In the absence of subsidy, the challenge for onshore wind is maximising profits without offering too much of a discount on account of the unavoidable variability of its source.
Derisking the route to market
The two most straightforward routes to market for onshore wind are securing new long-term contracts outside of government auction or adopting an active next-day trading strategy, returning to the market every day.
An increasing number of corporations are looking to buy long-term power purchase agreements to secure a cleaner energy supply. This offers operators a welcome and predictable revenue stream, but at the cost of ‘paying’ the counterparty to take on the risk with discount prices.
The alternative is surrendering long-term security and deciding to ‘play the market’ with active day-ahead nomination. There are a number of options here: N2EX market, spot market or another balancing mechanisms. For those up to the challenge of a constantly changing supply and demand balance, the potential rewards are great. Unfortunately, so are the risks. Significant in-house expertise and attention is necessary to avoid one bad day wiping out a month’s worth of gains .
What both approaches share are returns which hinge on the risk of variability at the point of generation. This means any way of mitigating that risk will have a major impact on returns.
When bidding directly into the N2EX market, the operator must accept a variable day-ahead price for their forecasted wind generation, with any forecasting errors settled at a possibly lower, or even negative, price. While the mean day-ahead price will be higher than the mean price an energy supplier will be willing to offer in a PPA, the time-variance in the price leaves the operator at the mercy of wind forecasting errors – or simply untimely generation.
To make matters worse, high levels of forecasted national wind generation tend to lead to low prices.
A portfolio operator can mitigate forecasting risk by placing all wind farms under a single supply contract and nominating their aggregated volumes. This is because forecasting errors, while geographically correlated, will be lower on aggregate as positive and negative errors across the portfolio cancel out.
Managing day-ahead bidding, forecasting, and intra-day positions requires not only significant expertise but also robust IT systems. An energy optimisation platform with auto-bidding capabilities can do the heavy lifting cost-effectively, obviating the need to build this capability in-house.
To mitigate market risk, aggregated nominations are not enough, as geographical correlations in wind speed imply that times when wind speeds are forecasted to be high will also be times when N2EX prices will be low. It may not be possible to tame the wind, but what is possible is installing solutions that intelligently store energy and sell it at a time when prices are higher.
On-site batteries – to build or buy?
Wind operators who realise the value in installing (or upgrading) onsite batteries face yet another choice: install and manage the full operation of the new batteries, including the charge management, forecasting and market bidding, or – outsource it to a partner.
While most operators have highly technical teams, unquestionably the experts on the particular nuances of their own sites, a self-build strategy is still one where minor oversights or missed opportunities will rapidly erode ROI.
Take the deceptively simple task of choosing the right size of battery. Colocated batteries have the advantage of a shared grid connection point with wind generation on site, and a lower cost of installation due to easier access (compared to those out at sea). However, not every site will have the same amount of room before it hits its connection limit, or may have a wide range of forecasting error.
Making the most of each individual site, and avoiding wasted battery headroom or overflow energy spillage, requires careful battery selection.
Even with a wealth of site data, minor sizing errors will add up to significant loses in the long run. Lacking the size to conduct effective state of charge management, for example, significantly reduces the lifetime potential of each battery, and forces operators to either reinvest or seek external support after all.
Across larger portfolios, the benefits of a networked system of batteries is even greater. This is especially true for windfarms which have a greater potential for site-to-site variance than solar equivalents. With a connected system, the aggregation of risk and capacity means that the individual size (and cost) of each battery can be smaller, reducing overall cost. Larger portfolios allow for distributed risk, but also require more complicated systems to to apportion balancing between the available storage in the portfolio within the constraints of the battery systems’ warranties.
The most advanced management systems do more than simply manage a state of charge or capture overflowing electricity. Reducing variability and risk means also capturing every possible market access point, including accessing the ancillary services and capacity markets, and even the balancing market via a range of aggregators. Not only are these revenue streams decoupled from day-ahead market prices, diversifying market risk – they can more than double the value generated by the storage system.
Especially for larger portfolios, the potential ROI of an advanced management system far outweighs upfront costs. Forecasting day-ahead generation, managing charge levels and setting optimal nomination volumes for suppliers are all vital components of a long-term strategy to maximise return. Partnering with experts for both hardware and software is the most effective and rapid route to success.
In a year-long simulation using 2018 market prices, we found that a suitably sized battery storage system deployed on an on-shore wind farm running Open Energi’s DD2.0 optimisation software could annually generate £77.10 of value per kW of battery capacity (net of connection charges). The system helped buffer wind forecasting errors, reducing them by up to 75%, arbitrage day-ahead energy market price shape, and participate in ancillary services such as Firm Frequency Response.
At a portfolio level, the optimally sized batteries allowed the wind operator to take more risk with their PPA with day-ahead exposure, resulting in a 8% increase in portfolio turnover compared to a PPA with risk taken on by the supplier.
End to end optimisation
Wind operators don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which areas they would most like to see revenue optimised. Every advantage is necessary to survive in a post-subsidy renewables energy market. A comprehensive solution, and an experienced partner to install and run it, offers the best and fastest route to future returns.
Open Energi is one of the UK’s longest standing providers of solutions to mitigate risk and improve market access for renewable operators. We have spent over a decade working to build solutions and platforms that help operators protect their revenue streams, ensure they begin delivering value fast. One of our most recently installations, at one of the UK’s largest battery sites, was taken from ‘contract to commission’ within a week.
The UK is rapidly approaching a time when renewables are competing directly – without government subsidy – through a mix of both long term and day-to-day trading through a range of markets. An onsite battery solution offers a commercially optimised route to success in the UK’s post-subsidy future with a high potential for capturing returns.