Navigant Research Blog

Demand Response Drops at PJM Capacity Auction

— June 10, 2013

In May, PJM Interconnection announced that it had attracted a record amount of new generation at its recent annual capacity auction, which ensures that electricity supply will meet demand for the period June 1, 2016 through May 31, 2017.  The auction procured 5,463 megawatts (MW) of new generation, thus breaking last year’s record amount of 5,346 MW.  In addition, the auction obtained a record amount of imported power from the Midcontinent ISO (the new name for MISO, reflecting the grid operator’s southward expansion), more than doubling last year’s total. All in all, the auction procured 169,160 MW, resulting in a reserve margin (a cushion for unforeseen events) of 21.1%, or 5.5% above the target.

PJM holds this capacity auction – also referred to as the Reliabity Pricing Model (RPM) – every May in order to obtain sufficient electricity, plus a reserve margin to meet expected demand for power 3 years in the future in PJM’s territory. PJM provides its estimate for peak power use to the bidders who then bid their existing and new power plants as well as energy efficiency and DR resources. Their bid prices are based on the costs to have those resources available for a particular delivery year. The price bid by the final resource that meets PJM’s target establishes the price paid – the clearing price – to all resources in that zone.

Most noteworthy, this time, was PJM’s announcement that the level of demand response (DR) procured in the auction had dropped by about 2,400 MW, after years of continued growth at every auction.  The auction cleared 12,408 MW of DR.  “Limited DR,” which can only be dispatched 10 times a summer for up to 6 hours each time, represented the overwhelming majority (9,800 MW) of the demand-side resource.

Shortfalls Possible

The main reason for the DR procurement decline was considerably lower capacity prices in most of PJM’s territory this year.  For example, the MAAC region, which covers 10 utilities along the Atlantic seaboard, cleared a price of $119.13 per MW-day, a drop from $167.46 per MW-day in 2012.  FirstEnergy, in northern Ohio, and western Pennsylvania’s PennPower cleared a price of just $59.37 per MW-day, compared to $136 per MW-day last year.

According to PJM’s Senior VP of Markets, Andrew Ott, prices dropped simply because supplies were up while demand was flat.  Competition from new natural gas supplies, increased imports from other regions, and less demand for electricity due to a sluggish economy have put pressure on capacity prices.  Another factor affecting the demand for DR has been the higher procurement costs for aggregators, as they look to recruit new potential and often hard-to-reach customers to participate in their capacity programs.

Although the supply of power and reserve margins are good enough to meet the demand for electricity in PJM’s territory and most other regions of the United States this summer, a few areas in the country could be facing severe shortages that will drive the need for DR.  ERCOT in Texas, for example, is dealing with tight reserves with a margin that is 0.85% below its target.  If the state experiences another extreme heat wave like the summer of 2011, ERCOT would most likely face a challenge to meet its peak demand.  Thus, the grid operator is planning to expand its DR programs to increase the current 1,700 MW of DR.  In Texas, DR is seen as the first line of defense to beat the heat.


Germany Supports Solar + Storage

— June 10, 2013

Currently, two markets have subsidies for distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems plus energy storage.  Germany and Japan are both trying to encourage distributed PV users to consume the electricity generated onsite, using energy storage systems (ESS).  Announced in early May, the German government program offers both a subsidy and a low-interest loan to encourage ESS.

In addition, the feed-in tariff for distributed solar has dropped below the retail price of electricity, in order to encourage self-consumption of PV energy.  Germany will spend up to $32.17 million (€25 million) in 2013 to support distributed PV+ESS, in an effort to defer upgrades to the distribution grid, which is overtaxed thanks to the successful campaign to encourage distributed PV adoption.  The subsidy increases the existing subsidy for systems that are only solar PV from €600 ($785) per kilowatt (kW) to €660 ($863) per kW if a battery system is also installed.  The maximum payment for the entire system is €3,000 ($3,926) total.

Financing Storage

Representatives from KfW – the German development bank – have stated that a similar amount of funds (€25 million, or $32.17) will be available for 2014.  All battery systems are eligible, but must have a 7-year warranty.  KfW is administering both the subsidy and low-interest loans.

Specifically, KfW, is offering low-interest loans to finance the capital expenditures associated with adding battery energy storage systems to PV systems in Germany.  KfW will finance up to 100% of the upfront cost for battery ESS and PV systems (not including VAT).  In addition, the battery portion of the system can qualify for a repayment bonus.

These loans are being offered to a cross-section of the market similar to the one served by the subsidy for residential storage plus PV.  The loans are available to ESS retrofits for PV installations that went into operation after December 31, 2012 and are targeted at solar PV systems as large as 30 kW.

If the German program succeeds, it will mean increased flexibility and resilience for the German distribution system with less investment on the part of DSOs. Germany is also a model for the rest of Europe; other markets with high PV penetration such as Italy, Spain, and France may adopt a similar scheme once the benefits to the grid and customers is better understood.


Beyond Headlines, Cleantech Successes Multiply

— June 10, 2013

The recent failure of Better Place has added to the cleantech industry’s bad reputation among investors.  Highly publicized failures of companies such as Solyndra, A123 Systems, Better Place, and CODA have led to headlines that suggest success may be nearly impossible.  But the negative press ignores a range of companies that are well on their way to long-term prosperity.

The most obvious example is Tesla Motors.  After reporting record sales figures and achieving profitability for the first time, Tesla’s Model S luxury sedan received top marks from Consumer Reports.  In the midst of these accomplishments, the company paid the remaining balance on a $465 million Department of Energy loan 9 years ahead of schedule.  Stock prices skyrocketed from $55 to a high of almost $115 in just 3 weeks, giving the company a market cap of more than $12 billon.  Investors who were shorting the stock could now lose big for betting against Tesla’s success.

Likewise, SolarCity’s share price has increased over 200% since the company went public last December, and Enphase Energy and SunPower shares have risen steadily in the last 6 months.  Many privately held companies have grown successfully as well, with backing from big name investors and venture capital firms.

Ample Opportunity

With many new technologies, there is often an expensive adjustment period before affordable prices are achieved and sales become widespread.  That’s not to say that electric vehicles and solar panels will be adopted as easily as DVD players, but the curve will look the same over time.  Prices of solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles have already dropped and are inching closer to matching their traditional counterparts.

Clean technologies and the companies that produce them are here to stay, and the industry is growing.  For plug-in electric vehicle sales, Navigant Research forecasts a compound annual growth rate of 39% between 2012 and 2020.  There will continue to be headline-grabbing failures along the way, but the successes will start to outnumber the flops as the cleantech industry matures.


Distributed Solar Has Arrived

— June 6, 2013

Five years ago, most people thought the only way solar power would be affordable in the United States was if it was installed in massive solar farms out in the desert.  A gold rush of plans for concentrated solar power (CSP) and solar photovoltaic (PV) plants ensued, amounting to, at one point, applications for 24 GW of proposed utility-scale projects in California alone.  Several of those projects have been completed, but the majority will never be, as the market has changed dramatically since then.  The rapid decline in solar PV module prices, the emergence of residential financing models, and the prospect of eliminating new construction of costly transmission lines mean that, in a growing number of cases, distributed solar offers the most economical path for scaling cost-effective solar PV worldwide.

According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, solar PV systems installed at $5 per watt can only compete with grid electricity prices in the 16 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, including subsidies and assuming the availability of time-of-use pricing.  The majority of U.S. residential systems are leased, meaning that buyers pay a fixed rate for electricity to companies such as SolarCity, which own the system and essentially become the customer’s “solar utility.”  In most cases, the rate solar leasing customers pay is equal to or less than retail electricity prices they currently pay.  Over the 20-year lease period, solar customers will pay significantly less for solar power than they would pay for grid-electricity dominated by fossil fuels.

In Germany, residential solar PV systems are being installed for less than $3 per watt, and in some cases closer to $2 per watt.  The financial services firm UBS has forecast that 43 GW of unsubsidized solar PV systems by 2020 could be installed in Germany, Spain, and Italy due to high cost of electricity and advances in battery storage technology.  If the United States can get installation costs down to near the German rate, solar PV systems in the residential and commercial segments in high-cost retail electricity markets such as parts of Southern California and New England, could reach grid parity in that timeframe as well.

Half a Trillion Dollars

This is a possible future we forecast in the recent Navigant Research report, Distributed Solar Energy Generation.  “Distributed solar” is defined in that report as systems typically less than 1 MW in capacity, although there is no official definition.

Our research shows that in 2012, annual distributed solar PV systems accounted for an estimated 69% of all solar PV installations, representing an estimated 19.2 GW and $65.7 billion in revenue.  Europe has long been the leader in distributed solar, but feed-in tariff (FIT) reductions and rule changes to key incentive programs in Germany and Italy resulted in a reduction in distributed solar installations compared to 2011.  On the other hand, annual distributed solar PV installations in Asia Pacific (led by China) and North America (led by the United States) grew 53% and 42%, respectively.  During the forecast period of the report (2013-2018), 220 GW of distributed solar PV will be installed worldwide, representing $540.3 billion in revenue.

The long-term impact of natural gas on U.S. retail electricity rates, however, has yet to be seen.  But if prices remain low, cheap gas could slow the growth of solar PV.  Fixed utility fees such as system demand charges and transmission fees dilute the impact of the actual generation cost as a portion of the utility customer’s total bill, making the choice to go solar less clear-cut.  In some cases, utilities are even considering adding fees for customers that go solar, claiming that solar users are avoiding “network fees” that are then borne by other ratepayers.

The real issue is that the utility business model is under threat, as each new distributed solar system results in lost revenue to the incumbent utility.  Utilities will continue to resist distributed solar, but we have passed a tipping point, and it will be up to utilities to adapt in order to survive.


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