By Dave Elliott
PV solar is doing well in the UK with, on some reckonings, nearly 3 GW installed so far and much more planned, perhaps 10GW by 2020 being likely and possibly even near 20GW. On-land wind is also doing quite well, with 7.3GW in place, and despite planning conflicts and local opposition, a total of 13 GW likely by 2020, based on projects already built, under construction or permitted. Offshore wind is doing well too, with 3.7 GW in place and near 1GW likely to be added this year, including Gwynt y Môr (576MW) and West of Duddon Sands (389MW). All being well, similar amounts are expected in 2015 and 2016, taking the total to maybe 8GW by 2016/17, on the way to 10-11GW by 2020, maybe much more. www.windpowermonthly.com/article/1301372/windpower-data-offshore-installations-2014-16
However that all depends on new projects getting support under the new contract for a difference (CfD) system, and, although five offshore wind projects have got CfDs under the interim ‘early’ round, the government has announced a £205m p.a. cap on future rounds- and that’s to be shared across all the renewables. http://www.gov.uk/government/news/over-200-million-boost-for-renewables
The cash allocation cap is set up under two categories- ‘Pot 1’ with, from 2019, £50m.pa, for well established options, like on-land wind and large PV solar, with costs falling and support needs reducing, and ‘Pot 2’ with £155m p.a, for less established options like off-shore wind, geothermal, AD biomass, wave and tidal stream projects, which still need more support to get prices down- some more than others. Offshore wind is amongst the cheapest of the Pot 2 group, with the CfD strike price set at £155/MWh for 2014-2017, falling to £140 thereafter, and costs seem likely to fall to around £100/MWh after 2020. By contrast, the strike price for wave and tidal stream is set £305/MWh over the whole period up to 2019. So who will get the money? A 100MW tranche has been set aside for wave and tidal stream, so there will be less room (and cash) for the others. Gordon Edge, director of policy at Renewable UK, noted that even if offshore wind got the full £155m pa allocated to ‘Pot 2’ that would fund just one typical 500MW offshore wind farm ‘which is significantly less than we need’. Given for example the recent planning go-ahead for E.ONs 700MW Rampion project off Sussex and the many others in the pipeline, that’s quite an understatement!
It’s even tighter in Pot 1, where there are to be competitive contract auctions. With only £50m available p.a. for hydro, energy from waste, onshore wind, landfill gas, sewage gas and large-scale solar, the Solar Trade Association (STA) complained that, ‘even if all of this went to solar – which it won’t – this is only enough for 1GW of solar in this round, a considerable reduction on the current market’. The STA was particularly incensed by the government’s proposal to exclude large solar power projects (over 5MW) from support under the Renewables Obligation (RO) system from April next year, given that all the other technologies were not excluded, with the RO system still planned to be available up to 2017 for new projects and existing contracts under it running beyond that.
Large solar could seek support under the CfD, but the STA said that solar, with relatively small projects promoted by small business, was not well suited to it, and was ‘being exposed to this new Contracts for Difference system without having the back-up of the old scheme’. The CfD strike price offered was £120/MWh for 2014-16, falling in stages to £100 by 2018, but it would be in competition with on-land wind, with a strike price of £95/MWh falling to £90 by 2019, and with land fill and sewage gas at ever lower strike prices (£55 and 75/MWh respectively). Small PV can continue to get support under the microgen/domestic Feed In Tariff (FiT) and it’s still booming despite a cut in the FiT level, but otherwise, solar growth looks likely to be seriously limited. The STA said the cap could cut large-scale solar installations by about 65% to 80% next year.
What’s behind this? It would perhaps have been reasonable to expect solar to compete within the CfD system if it had the RO in the interim, so why exclude it? Well firstly, with solar farms booming around the UK (several hundred are in place or planned) visual intrusion concerns were rising, and local objections were emerging. And secondly, the rapid expansion was costing too much. DECC’s impact assessment says closing the RO to solar above 5MW from April 2015 will save up to £200m a year, from 2017, from its Levy Control Framework clean energy subsidy budget. That’s the extra it says it might cost if large solar farms were left to expand, perhaps reaching 6.3GW by 2020, under the RO, getting 1.4 ROCs/MWh this year, 1.2 ROCs in 2016. They said this money could be better spent. www.businessgreen.com/bg/analysis/2344769/are-solar-farms-really-too-costly-for-decc-s-budget
Well, we will see. The first full CfD auctions start this October, and then happen annually after that. Will large solar get squeezed out by on-land wind? That’s surely not what the Conservatives want. They have talked of constraining on-land wind, reflecting pressure from their (anti-wind farm) political base in the shires. Well maybe, actually, the £50m pa cap for Pot 1 will do that. Even if on land wind got it all (so killing off large solar), the rate of growth of on-land wind would also be cut: it’s been suggested that it might be halved: http://realfeed-intariffs.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/government-cuts-onshore-wind-deployment.html.
Will offshore wind also get squeezed? That too would be perverse. Although more expensive, it was meant to be one of the main alternatives to on-land wind! Or will the overall cap be raised? It’s set under the Levy Control Framework (LCF) to limit low carbon support (i.e. the RO, FiT and the CfD) and consequent pass through to consumer bills. That has imposed an overall limit for 2014/15 of £3.5bn, rising in stages to £7.6 billion in 2020/21.
There have been calls for a rethink on the LCF cap. Certainly when and if the Hinkley nuclear plant project goes ahead, with its guaranteed £92.5/MWh CfD strike price, the overall cap will have to be raised. As the Daily Telegraph noted: ‘The budget post-2020 is yet to be set but at a minimum will have to expand to accommodate new nuclear plants, the first of which could start generating power – and therefore using up susbidies – from around 2024.’ www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/10989789/Offshore-wind-farms-in-doubt-as-subsidy-pot-can-fund-just-one-project.html
The Hinkley project CfD allocation was not subject to a price cap or to the competitive contract auction process that now faces new renewable projects – Edf was the only player and also won a promise of a £10bn loan guarantee. It’s not clear what will happen with regard to next lot of major nuclear projects that the governments want us to support- 16GW initially, maybe more later. If a competitive CfD framework does emerge across the board, we can expect further head to head collisions as rival options seek funding. However with wind and PV solar likely to be cheaper than Hinkley by the time it starts up, any similar new nuclear projects will face stiff competition.
Meanwhile, what should the priorities be? Well, keeping consumer costs down is obviously important, but we are only talking small amounts -the RO has only added around 2% to bills, the FiT 1%, while the competitive CfD is expected to drive prices down, although DECC’s most recent impact assessment carefully noted that its estimates didn’t yet cover nuclear costs. We shall see! But if it was left to the public, the most recent poll indicated that 79% backed renewables (67% liked on land wind, 72% offshore wind, and 82% solar) and only 36% backed nuclear: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/public-attitudes-tracking-survey-wave-10