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Central banking and the energy transition

Continuous renewable energy deployment may be less certain than previously thought. If interest rates rise, the cost of renewable energy is disproportionately affected compared to fossil fuel alternatives. Thermostatic policies can help ensuring renewable energy deployment in such environments.

Image above: Continuous deployment of wind farms may be less certain than previously thought. Aerial take from a wind farm. Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash

Unfortunately, no rooftop bar in Singapore and no conference dinner in the foothills of Tuscany mark the beginning of this research project. Instead, the development of this paper demonstrates the gradual nature of research. Over the last two years, we spent an awful lot of time discussing the role of finance in the energy transition as part of the EU Horizon 2020 research project INNOPATHS. We met with investors to try to understand their behaviour, we interviewed policymakers to figure out what their intentions and constraints were in designing policy and we collaborated with academics to find out what exactly we already know about the enabling role of finance in energy transitions.

In this process, we discovered the pivotal role of experience in the financial sector, which led to a paper in Nature Energy (free read-only) demonstrating that decreasing financing costs contributed a large share to making renewable energy cost competitive with fossil fuel alternatives. In fact we discovered not only the importance of experience, but even more so the decisive role that general interest rates play in determining the competitiveness of renewable energy. Our analysis showed that lower general interest rates decreased the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) by 4% to 20% for utility-scale German solar photovoltaics and onshore wind respectively between the period of 2000-2005 and 2017. Soon we asked ourselves; to what extent does large-scale renewable energy deployment depend on extremely expansive monetary policy as we have seen it in the aftermath of the 2008/09 financial crisis?

So we set off to find out. In a new paper in Nature Sustainability (free read-only), we looked at the same two technologies, onshore wind and solar PV, in Germany and developed three scenarios. A flat scenario, where interest rates stay at the current record-low levels. A moderate scenario, where interest rates recover with the same speed as they declined after the financial crisis. And an extreme scenario, where interest rates rise to pre-crisis levels at twice the speed they declined before. In the extreme scenario, LCOEs for the two technologies increase by 11% (solar photovoltaics) and 25% (onshore wind) over just five years (2018 to 2023). Even in the moderate scenario, the higher financing costs outweigh the expected decreases of hardware cost for onshore wind (LCOE +9%) and almost entirely eat up these technology cost reductions due to learning (LCOE -2%) for solar photovoltaics. As a result, we show that adding new renewable energy capacity becomes economically unviable compared to hard coal power plants takes a severe hit if interest rates rise again.

In light of the recent EU decision to scrap binding renewable energy deployment targets for member states these results may announce difficult times for renewable electricity deployment and hence climate targets. However, one may ask, are these scenarios realistic? The temptation is to respond with a sounding no. Just this month, the European Central Bank confirmed record-low interest rates, its president Mario Draghi openly speaks of evaluating new ideas, such as venturing more into fiscal domains using the Modern Monetary Theory, and there is an ongoing debate about expanding the toolkit of central banks to provide cheap liquidity. In the United States, the central bank acted differently: it steadily increased interest rates since December 2015, until it changed course in August 2019 and lowered the interest rate twice. Some commentators see more structural factors (e.g., aging population, low immigration, few investment opportunities) behind the ongoing struggle to unleash economic growth and judge expansionary monetary policy as the wrong remedy for the curse. Proponents of the secular stagnation, like Larry Summers, would favour rising interest rates in combination with rising government spending in education and infrastructure and potentially more liberal immigration laws.

Image 2: The decision hub for European monetary policy – and renewable energy policy too? Night shot of the European Central Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt. Photo by Paul Fiedler on Unsplash

In sum, the discussions around appropriate monetary policy and hence future interest rate levels are far from being resolved. While interest rates currently remain low in the European context, it is far from certain that this will be the case in the future too. Consequently, climate policy and renewable energy policy in particular need to keep an eye on interest rate developments. Ideally, thermostatic policies would be in place that automatically adjust given the current interest rate environment. In the short run, renewable energy auctions fulfil this criteria and counter potential cost hits on renewables due to interest rate increases. In the longer run however, a transition away from renewable specific support policies seems likely. In such a case, existing emission trading schemes, such as the EU or the Californian ETS, could be equipped with a price floor to ensure renewable energy deployment even in high interest rates environments.

Unfortunately, even countries such as Germany, which used to be known for progressive renewable energy policies, remain rather far from this ideal. For example, to reach its Paris target, Germany would need to install about 5 new wind turbines a day, but only connected 35 to the grid so far this year. A natural next step for research would hence be to investigate, how significant interest groups can be formed to support thermostatic policies and how these policies can be designed in order to survive government changes after elections. Comparing the results of our paper with reality, we circle back to the start and find the next exciting research question… Perhaps we should have a kick-off meeting at a fancy place this time!

Originally published on the Nature Sustainability Research Community page, Wednesday 25th September 2019.

Why matter matters: How technology characteristics shape the strategic framing of technologies

Previous work stresses that actors use strategic technology framing—i.e. purposeful language and rhetoric—to shape technology expectations, persuade stakeholders, and influence the evolution of technologies along their life-cycle. Currently, however, the literature predominantly describes strategic technology framing as a sociopolitical process, and provides only limited insights into how the framing itself is shaped by the material characteristics of the technologies being framed. To address this shortcoming, we conducted a comparative, longitudinal case study of two leading research organizations in the United States and Germany pursuing competing solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies to examine how technology characteristics shape the strategic framing of technologies. We show that to frame PV technologies in their own favor, executives made use of four framing dimensions (potential, prospect, performance, and progress) and three framing tactics (conclusion, conditioning, and concession). Moreover, we show that which framing dimensions and tactics actors selected depended on the maturity and evolution of the technology they pursued, respectively. By highlighting how technology characteristics shape strategic technology framing, we contribute to the literatures on social movements, institutional entrepreneurship, and impression management. Additionally, by providing a coherent framework of strategic technology framing, our study complements existing findings in the literature on the sociology of expectations and contributes to a better understanding of how technology hypes emerge.

Written by Joern Hoppmann, Laura Diaz Anadon and Venkatesh Narayanamurti

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Halving energy demand from buildings: The impact of low consumption practices

Limiting global warming below 1.5 °C requires rapid decarbonization of energy systems. Reductions of energy demand have an important role to play in a sustainable energy transition. Here we explore the extent to which the emergence of low energy consuming practices, encompassing new behaviors and the adoption of more efficient technologies, could contribute to lowering energy demand and thereby to reducing CO2 emissions.

To this end, we design three detailed energy consumption profiles which could be adopted by individuals in current and future wealthy regions. To what extent does the setting of air conditioners to higher temperatures or the widespread use of efficient showerheads reduce the aggregate energy demand? We investigate the potential of new practices at the global level for 2050 and 2100.

The adoption of new, energy saving practices could reduce global energy demand from buildings by up to 47% in 2050 and 61% in 2100 compared to a scenario following current trends. This strong reduction is primarily accounted for by changes in hot water usage, insulation of buildings and consumer choices in air conditioners and heat pumps. New behaviors and efficient technologies could make a significant long-term contribution to reducing buildings’ energy demand, and thus facilitate the achieval of stringent climate change mitigation targets while limiting the adverse sustainability impacts from the energy supply system.

Written by Antoine Levesque, Robert C. Pietzcker and Gunnar Luderer

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Energy decarbonization & Coal phase-out: financial, technological and policy drivers

The 24th Conference of the Parties (COP) closed in Katowice on December 15th, 2018. After two intense weeks of talks and crunch negotiations (with ‘overtime’), the almost 200 parties in the conference managed to agree on a 133-page rule-book which guides the implementation of the Paris Agreement. These guidelines specify how the Paris commitments will be measured, implemented and monitored. The “Katowice package” represents an important achievement ensuring a high degree of transparency in decarbonization, especially in light of recent geo-political challenges to this process. Yet, the parties could not see eye-to-eye on several key issues, including the rules for voluntary carbon markets of Article 6 of the Paris Treaty.

Indeed, the slow and convoluted negotiation process clashed with the call for urgency by the scientific community. According to the latest Special Report of the IPCC on 1.5 degrees, time is of the essence. Inaction has high costs. At current rates, by 2040 the world mean global temperature will be 1 degree higher than in 1990. And this could happen even sooner, with greenhouse gas emissions rising again this year after a couple of years of stagnation. Furthermore, limiting temperature increase to 1.5 degrees (rather than simply ‘well below’ 2 degrees as called for in the Paris Agreement) would significantly lower the risk of negative climate impacts. But the more we wait to take mitigation – and adaption – actions, the more expensive it will be to tackle these problems.

The need to find political consensus to push forward the decarbonization agenda is only one of the barriers to decarbonization. Other crucial financial, technological and policy barriers exist, especially with respect to the need to phase out fossil fuels, and coal in particular. Some of these barriers were presented and discussed at the COP side event “Energy decarbonization & Coal phase-out: financial, technological and policy drivers” held on December 3rd, 2018 in the EU Pavilion. The session showcased the latest research insights from ongoing research projects and from practitioners engaged in promoting decarbonization on the ground in energy and carbon intensive European countries.


Crucial role of technologies, policies and finance

Elena Verdolini from the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment, presented initial results from the INNOPATHS project, a four-year EU H2020 project that aims to work with key economic and societal actors to generate new, state-of-the-art low-carbon pathways for the European Union. Her presentation was structured around three key INNOPATHS outputs. First, the “Technology Matrix”, an online database presenting information on the cost of low-carbon technologies and their performance, including both historic and current data, and future estimates. The key feature of this database is the collection of a wide variety of data from different data sources, and the computation of metrics to measure the uncertainty around values. The matrix will thus contribute to mapping technological improvements (and associated uncertainty) in key economic sectors, including energy, buildings and industry. It will show that many low-carbon technologies options are available in certain sectors, but also the specific technological gaps characterizing many hard-to-decarbonize sectors, including aviation, or energy-intensive manufacturing sectors such as chemicals and heavy metals. For these technologies, additional and dedicated Research, Development, Demonstration and Deployment funding will need to be a priority.

The second key output is the “Policy Evaluation Tool”; an online repository of evidence on the effect of policy interventions against key metrics, such as environmental impact (i.e. emission reductions), labour market and competitiveness outcomes. The tool will become a repository of evidence on what approaches and policy instruments work, or do not work, helping policy makers to understand how best to achieve various goals related to the energy transition.

The third key output are insights from INNOPATHS researchers focusing on the financing of the decarbonization process. First, similarly to the process of industrial production, financing costs benefit from “learning-by-financing”, as lenders develop in-house abilities and experience in the selection of renewable energy projects. Second, researchers focus on the importance that public investments can play in signaling change and promoting a shift of investments away from fossil and towards low- and zero-carbon technologies. In this respect, public banks are crucial actors, which can act as catalysts for private investments.


A shrinking role for coal

Laurence Watson, from Carbon Tracker, summarized the main insights from a recently-released report and online portal that provides a well-rounded assessment of the economics of coal-fired power plants across the world. The key point emerging from this analysis is that coal is that nearly half of all coal plants are currently unprofitable, set to rise to three quarters by 2040. Prevailing economics, nascent carbon pricing and an increased focus on the impacts of air pollution are driving this trend. In many regions renewables are rapidly approaching a cost that will be cheaper than operating existing coal plants, and by 2030 this will be the case in most markets. This means stranded assets in the power sector, and pressure on policymakers to not subsidize ailing coal fleets.

There is good evidence that coal’s contribution to gross domestic product and employment has shrunk over time – including in coal-intensive regions. This novel analysis provides important evidence for policy-makers and investors willing to align with the Paris Agreement climate targets. All the data is easily accessible through a data-driven interactive web-based tool which shows the cost and profitability of almost all of global coal-fired capacity.


Coal decline visible also for Silesia

Oskar Kulik of WWF Poland presented the impact of the declining role of coal through the example of Silesia, Poland, the largest hard coal mining area in the EU. While coal mining does still play an important role in the regional economy, its role is declining: from over 15% of the regional GDP in 1995 down to 6% currently, and from 300,000 jobs in the early 1990s, to around. 75,000 today (while maintaining unemployment rates below the national average).

Based on recent research by WiseEuropa the most important factors in this decline are the growing costs of coal extraction, driven by factors largely independent of low-carbon policy. Irrespective of the drivers, the region will be faced with socio-economic challenges as a result of such pressures. As such, the main recommendation is to plan for this transition in a way that will be just for the local communities and region as a whole.


Supporting stakeholder in the low-carbon transition

Alexandru Mustață from CEE Bankwatch Network discussed some of the challenges of the low-carbon transition encountered at the grassroots in six coal-intensive Eastern European countries, but also possible solutions. Through a project supported by the European Climate Initiative (www.EUKI.de), CEE Bankwatch Network is able to support knowledge between post-Soviet countries (such as through study tours in to the Czech Republic and Poland during the COP), and by collecting resources from researchers, trade unions, political parties or NGOs on a central platform. Many stakeholders from these regions are ready for alternative growth pathways, but lack the support (in the form of politics, policy, experience or infrastructure) to make it happen.

The common thread across all contributions was the importance of focusing on how macro-level decarbonization goals and commitment are presented, communicated and implemented at the local level. The core concern underlying COP24 was the need to tackle climate change but ensuring a just, inclusive transition that supports those groups and regions that may be hit hardest.



How do policies mobilize private finance for renewable energy?—A systematic review with an investor perspective

With the urgency of climate change, and billions spent globally on renewable energy (RE) support policies, it is crucial to understand which policies are effective. Substantial scholarly research on RE deployment policies has been carried out over the last two decades, resulting in inconclusive findings regarding the effectiveness of mobilizing private finance. Here, we take a novel perspective and review 96 empirical studies concerning the impact of policies on two key investor decision metrics: investment risk and investment return. Only if both metrics correspond to the investors’ expectations are they willing to engage in RE projects. First, our rigorous literature review shows that effective policies address risk and return simultaneously. Second, we find that generic instrument design features, such as credibility and predictability (continuous evaluation and monitoring), considerably impact investment risk. A more focused analysis of the specific design elements of feed-in tariffs, auctions and renewable portfolio standards reveals that these instruments are most effective when they are designed in such a way that they reduce RE project risk while increasing return. We distil important implications for policymakers who aim to foster renewable energy and clean technologies more broadly.

Written by Friedemann Polzin, Florian Egli, Bjarne Steffen and Tobias S. Schmidt

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A quantitative analysis of 10 multilateral development banks’ investment in conventional and renewable power-generation technologies from 2006 to 2015

Multilateral development banks (MDBs) play a pivotal role in the financing of electricity-generation projects in developing countries, thus having a major impact on the emission pathways of these countries. While information about the MDBs’ investments is publicly available, it is dispersed and hard to compare. A comprehensive compilation of all MDBs’ power-generation investments over the years has been missing. To address this gap, here we assess power-generation financing by all ten relevant MDBs during 2006–2015, in different regions, and through different branches of the banks. The study assesses technology choices by compiling a bottom-up dataset drawing information from 841 projects and programmes. We find that MDBs financed a major portion of all power-generation growth in the developing world, with an increasing share of renewables. However, MDBs have ‘greened’ their portfolios to different extents, and the activities of their public- and private-sector branches differ substantially.

Written by Bjarne Steffen and Tobias Schmidt

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A dynamic analysis of financing conditions for renewable energy technologies

Renewable energy technologies often face high upfront costs, making financing conditions highly relevant. Thus far, the dynamics of financing conditions are poorly understood. Here, we provide empirical data covering 133 representative utility-scale photovoltaic and onshore wind projects in Germany over the last 18 years. These data reveal that financing conditions have strongly improved. As drivers, we identify macroeconomic conditions (general interest rate) and experience effects within the renewable energy finance industry. For the latter, we estimate experience rates. These two effects contribute 5% (photovoltaic) and 24% (wind) to the observed reductions in levelized costs of electricity (LCOEs). Our results imply that extant studies may overestimate technological learning and that increases in the general interest rate may increase renewable energies’ LCOEs, casting doubt on the efficacy of plans to phase out policy support.

Written by Florian Egli, Bjarne Steffen and Tobias S. Schmidt

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Promoting the energy transition through innovation

With the striking exception of the USA, countries around the world are committed to the implementation of stringent targets on anthropogenic carbon emissions, as agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement. Indeed, for better or for worse, the transition towards decarbonization is a collective endeavour, with the main challenge being a technological one. The path from a fossil-based to a sustainable and low-carbon economy needs to be paved through the development and deployment of low-carbon energy technologies which will allow to sustain economic growth while cutting carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, not all countries have access to the technologies which are necessary for this challenging transition. This in turn casts serious doubts on the possibility to achieve deep decarbonisation. Developed countries accumulated significant know-how in green technologies in the last decades, but most of developing and emerging countries do not have strong competences in this specific field. Yet, it is in these latter countries that energy demand, and hence carbon emissions, will increase dramatically in the years to come. The issue at stake is how to reconcile the need for a global commitment to the energy transition with the reality of largely unequal country-level technological competences.

Public R&D investments play an important role in the diffusion and deployment of low-carbon technologies. Public investment in research is the oldest way by which countries have supported renewable energy technologies. For instance, following the two oil crises of the 1970s, the United States invested a significant amount of public resources in research and development on wind and solar technologies, with a subsequent increase of innovation activities in these fields. The same pattern can be observed in the last two decades in Europe, where solar, wind and other low carbon technologies have been supported by public money. But innovation policies and R&D investments are only one of the possible ways in which governments can stimulate low-carbon innovation.

Environmental policies are another way to stimulate clean innovation, which comes as an additional pay-off of emissions reduction. Usually, governments rely on two different types of environmental policy instruments: command-and-control policies, such as emission or efficiency standards, and market-based policies, such as carbon taxies or pollution permits. The former put a limit on the quantity of pollutant that firms and consumers can emit. The latter essentially work by putting an explicit price on pollution. Both types of instruments have the direct effect of lowering carbon emission in the short term. In the longer term, they also have the indirect effect of promoting low-carbon innovation. This is because they make it worth for firms to bring to the market new, improved technologies. Over the past decades, countries have implemented different low-carbon policy portfolios, namely a combination of different policy instruments to foster the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies. The combination of R&D, command-and-control and market-based policies varies greatly across countries.

A crucial question often debated in the literature is: which policy instrument is more effective in promoting innovation in renewable technologies vis-à-vis innovation in efficient fossil-based technologies? Importantly, low-carbon innovation can refer either to renewable technologies, which effectively eliminate carbon emissions from production processes, or to more efficient fossil-based technologies, which decrease the content of carbon per unit of production. Favouring the former type of innovation over the latter is strategically important in the long-run: renewable technologies allow to completely decouple economic growth from carbon emissions. Conversely, fossil-based technologies may give rise to rebound effects, namely increase in overall energy demand (and possibly also in overall emissions) because they make it cheaper to use fossil inputs.

A recent study by Nesta et al. (2018) shows that certain combinations of research and environmental policy instruments are more effective in promoting renewable energy innovation than others. More specifically, there is no ‘one-fits-all’ solution when it comes to choosing the optimal combination of market-based or command-and-control environmental policies. Au contraire, to be effective in promoting renewable innovation, policy portfolios need to be tailored to the specific capability of each country. The study relies on data on innovation in low-carbon and fossil-based technologies in OECD countries and large emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Indonesia, BRIICS) over the years 1990-2015. The authors apply an empirical methodology that allows to test how effective each “policy mix” is in promoting innovation, depending on the level of specialization of each country in terms of green innovation.

The analysis shows that there are three different regimes of low-carbon specialization. The first one characterizes those countries with extremely low competences in green technologies as compared to fossil-based technologies. This accounts for about half of the observations in the study, including the BRICS countries. In this case, the research suggests, the only effective way to promote the redirection of technological expertise towards green technologies is through direct investment in low carbon R&D.

The second regime does come into play until a country shows enough specialization in green technologies. In this regime, environmental policies start to become effective in further consolidating the green technological specialization. The successful innovation strategy in this case is that which combines command-and-control policy instruments – which lower the incentives associated with fossil innovation – with market-based policies – which increase the incentives associated with green innovation.

The third regime is characterized by a substantial specialization in green know-how. This regime includes only 12 percent of the observations in the study. In this last case, market-based instruments alone are effective in sustaining green innovation vis-à-vis innovation in fossil technologies.

Countries which tailor their policy portfolio based on their level of competencies will be more successful in promoting renewable innovation. A clear example of the dynamics behind this finding is illustrated by Denmark. In the pre-Kyoto period, Denmark had not yet reached the required level of expertise in renewable energy. The country continued to invested heavily in building such expertise through significant investments in renewable research and innovation. As a result, Denmark moved to the second regime. At that point, the country strengthened both command and control and market-based policy instruments, further promoting renewable innovation vis-à-vis innovation in fossil-based technologies. This resulted in an even higher level of competencies in renewables, bringing Denmark to the third regime. The country was then in a position to switch away from command-and-control instruments and simply rely on market-based instruments to promote renewable innovation.

Countries which fail to tailor their policy portfolio are not successful in promoting renewable energy innovation. For instance, France represents a case of failure, as illustrated by our results. The lack of an adequate market-based support for renewables in the nineties led to the full dissipation of the French early advantage in these technologies. Indeed, France was the only country that is in the third regime in the first period and was then in an ideal position to implement ambitious policies before other countries, thus keeping its relative technological advantage. Instead, the country chose to fully specialize in nuclear energy. This eroded France’s capability in renewable energy innovation. This implies that France cannot simply rely on market-based instruments to successfully promote renewable innovation nowadays.

These results are of interest for emerging economies, and suggest that countries like Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa should be less timid in strengthening the stringency of both types of policy instruments, because they are well positioned to fully benefit from the innovation incentives. Fast-developing countries desperately need to build innovative capacity in renewable energy technologies and promote their diffusion. Apart from India and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia, all countries have built a satisfactory level of expertise in renewables. This calls for the implementation of both market-based and command-and-control policy instruments as means to embark on a virtuous renewable innovation circle. China stands out due to a high level of expertise in green technologies. Overall, their level of expertise in renewables is such that they would be in the position to fully benefit from the innovation incentives associated with more stringent mitigation policies in support of the energy transition.

 

Revolutions at sea – reflecting on the cost of offshore wind

The costs of offshore wind are falling dramatically. Several European countries have now agreed to buy power from offshore wind farms at costs which challenge the notion that renewable energy must be heavily subsidised to survive.

The UK government has recently awarded contracts to offshore wind projects scheduled for the early 2020s, at prices 50-60% lower than those it handed to offshore wind projects in 2014.  Germany and the Netherlands have recently announced contracts, also for expected delivery in the early 2020s, in which offshore wind developers have agreed to receive the market price only – zero subsidy contracts.

What has caused these rapid cost reductions? Can we expect the costs of offshore wind contracts to remain at these relatively low levels, or even to reduce further?

The cost reductions are likely to have had a few contributing factors, several of which can be seen optimistically as factors that will continue to keep costs low in the future.

One such factor is an innovation relating to policy design. The payment level received by offshore wind projects is now increasingly decided not by governments, but by requesting companies to bid in for the contract, declaring the price at which they would be prepared to deliver it. Such auction-based systems allow governments to choose the lowest cost of the now revealed bids. It seems plausible that the move towards auction-based allocation systems may have helped to drive down prices by introducing price competition into the bidding process.

Technological improvement is an important factor for enabling such cost reductions. There has been a clear trend towards larger and more efficient turbines which can deliver greater amounts of energy, increasing return on investment, thereby lowering costs. The trend is set to continue, with one major company expecting the turbines they will use in 2024 to be double the current size.

However, other factors that could explain the recent low bids may give a less clear grounds for optimism that the low prices are here to stay.

It is possible that companies may currently be bidding low for strategic reasons. For some companies, a lower return may be considered worthwhile, at the present time, for the benefit of maintaining their project supply chains. If subsidies in some previous rounds were overly generous, as some have suggested, it might be that this is currently enabling some flexibility on the balance sheet for low bids. If this is part of the explanation, such strategic bidding could not be maintained in the long run.

Auction design can also incentivise companies to put in bids lower than they would ideally accept, if they believe that another project will bid in higher and set the price received by all selected bids. However, if such a strategy backfires then a company could win a contract but at a price at which it is impossible to deliver the project – sometimes called “the winner’s curse”.

Another important factor likely to be lowering costs at the present time is the relatively low cost of financing. Investors have increased familiarity with offshore wind, and the long term contracts being issued by governments help to manage uncertainty, enabling lenders to lend at lower rates of interest. However, there are also important external conditions – interest rates in general are exceptionally low at the moment. As interest rates are likely to rise again in the future, it is possible that this could add to the cost of future projects.

Costs of projects are also strongly affected by site conditions, such as distance from shore and depth of water. There is a limited number of sites close to shore and in shallow water, and if future sites are in deeper water and further from shore this could drive up costs.

It is also important to recall that not all costs associated with offshore wind farms are necessarily accounted for in the costs paid for by project developers, and thus covered by the subsidies. Important additional costs are the costs of connections to power grids, and of balancing the system, for example in the event of too much power being injected on to the grid at the wrong time and wrong place. Because wind turbines have variable output dependent on wind conditions, they can exert significant costs on the system in this way. In some countries generators must pay for, or at least make a contribution towards these kinds of costs. In other countries, generators are not required to cover their own balancing and transmission costs, as these are met by the network operator. This is an important contributing factor towards the difference in costs between offshore wind projects in different European countries. Clearly, systems that do not target transmission and balancing costs at generators to some extent create favourable conditions for offshore wind, and they certainly make achieving zero-subsidy auctions more likely. However, if not paid by generators, transmission and balancing costs still have to be covered by system operators and are ultimately paid for by consumers. Thus, there is a strong argument that to herald a ‘zero-subsidy’ auction within a system that does not direct transmission and balancing costs at generators is misleading – especially if offshore wind exerts greater than average transmission and balancing costs – as the socialisation of transmission and balancing costs is a clear subsidy. Giving generators some kind of signal as to the costs their output imposes on the network is an important part of developing a well-balanced and efficient system. While shielding offshore wind generators from these costs may have attractions in the short term, it could lead to greater costs in the longer term, if it means the system develops in a way that is harder and more expensive to balance.

Of course, the news of extremely low prices for offshore wind contracts is to be welcomed. However, rather than becoming too focussed on zero-subsidy auctions as ends in themselves, we should continue to pay attention to making policies that look robust across all market conditions: long-term policy stability; careful attention to auction design; allocating transmission and balancing costs to support rational network development and incentivise innovations in storage and flexibility; and supporting and coordinating innovation chains.

Time to get ready: Conceptualizing the temporal and spatial dynamics of formative phases for energy technologies

Implementing the Paris agreement to prevent dangerous climate change requires energy system transformation and rapid diffusion of low-carbon innovations. In this paper we investigate both the temporal and spatial dynamics of formative phases by which energy technologies prepare for growth. Drawing on a review of diverse literatures, we offer a definition of the formative phase which clarifies its scope and duration, and identifies its main technological and economic determinants. We use parametric hazard models to assess the relative strengths of these determinants on formative phase durations for a sample of 15 energy technologies diffusing over time in their respective initial markets. We find that substitutability has stronger effects in accelerating the end of formative phases than installed capacity and prices. We extend our analysis using nonparametric models to analyze the spatial diffusion of formative phase durations from initial to follower markets. We find that formative phase durations are long outside initial markets as well, showing only signs of acceleration in latecomer regions. Our results imply risks for policies trying to accelerate the diffusion of large innovations without ready markets in both initial and follower markets.

Nuno Bento, Charlie Wilson and Laura Diaz Anadon

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