Renewable Energy

This week’s report by the World Meteorological Organisation makes for alarming reading.  The report warns there is a 66% likelihood of exceeding the 1.5°C threshold in at least one year between 2023 and 2027 and notes that such a rapid change in global temperatures will take the world into ‘uncharted territory’, with an anticipated El Nino weather system likely to push already high temperatures even higher this year.  Since we have already seen the impact of a 1.1°C rise, the conclusions of the WMO report are deeply uncomfortable.

This blog looks at some of the data which give context to the Report’s conclusions.

Gas

Russia is the world’s largest natural gas exporter; the second-largest exporter of crude oil; and the third-largest producer of crude oil.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine spooked global gas markets and pushed prices to record highs – the TTF European gas price peaked at a record €343/MWh in August (equivalent in oil terms to more than $500 a barrel).  But as world gas markets have adjusted, the price has fallen – €75 per megawatt hour at the end of December and under €50/MWh by the end of April 2023.

Like global markets, the EU has demonstrated remarkable agility in its response to Russia’s invasion. In 2020, Russia supplied nearly 43% of all EU energy imports. The EU set itself the target of reducing Russian gas imports to 55 bcm/year by March 2023 (down from 158 bcm in 2021).   At the time, this seemed ambitious, but in the event, the EU easily exceeded that target and, by October 2022, the EU’s Russian gas imports had fallen to 38 bcm (12 % of the EU’s energy consumption).

Last spring, the EU required that Member States’ winter storage be 90% full by the end of autumn.  Again, at the time, that seemed a tough ask in the face of global constraints on alternative supplies. But in any event, the EU easily exceed the target, reaching 96% by the beginning of November 2022.

A combination of factors means the outlook for the EU is more positive than expected:

  • A mild winter meant the EU emerged with record high gas inventories (EU storage was 56% full);
  • The success of demand-side efficiencies (the Commission set a cross-EU efficiency target of 15% reduction in demand: the EU reduced demand by an average 19%);
  • Global gas markets have been nimble in responding to EU demand for non-Russian gas.  New and alternative supplies flowed in from Norway, Qatar, the US and (importantly) Algeria through existing, but under-used pipelines and new LNG capacity;
  • The EU has built new LNG infrastructure at record speed – with Germany opening its first LNG jetty in November 2022.

Continue Reading The Climate Crisis

On October 5, 2022, the Treasury Department and the IRS issued notices requesting comments on different aspects of the energy tax benefits in the Inflation Reduction Act (“IRA”). All comments are due by Friday, November 4, either electronically on www.regulations.gov or alternatively by mail to the IRS. Written comments submitted after that date will be considered as long as such consideration will not delay the issuance of guidance.

In each case, the Notices focus on a subset of the IRA expanded and enhanced existing consumer and business energy tax credits and the new credits, including tech-neutral production and investment tax credits, a clean hydrogen production credit, a nuclear power production tax credit, and credits for producing necessary components for clean energy production, among others. The Notices solicit general comments, but also focus on specific definitional and operational issues. The requests emanate from, among other things, the new domestic production and sourcing requirements in the IRA, including requirements for sourcing critical minerals for the manufacturing of electric vehicles and for constructing certain qualified facilities using materials produced in the United States. Requests also arise in reference to the new two-tiered credit structure, where, for many of these credits, taxpayers are eligible for a higher credit (typically five times the base amount) if they meet certain wage and apprenticeship requirements. And one Notice focuses on the new direct pay or transferability feature for some credits, which essentially results in a cash payment to the taxpayer regardless of whether they have any tax liability in the year in which the credit is claimed.Continue Reading IRS issues notices requesting comments on IRA clean energy tax credits

On July 14, 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) issued a request for a range of additional factual information in connection with the agency’s ongoing circumvention inquiries into solar cells and modules from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam that employ inputs from mainland China.[1]  The deadline to respond is July 21st.

In the July 14 memorandum, Commerce seeks information about the:  (1) amount of investment necessary to construct and start-up certain facilities, (2) non-financial barriers (e.g., access to inputs, qualified technical employees, technologies, research and development, etc.) that companies typically face to establish and begin certain operations, and (3) research and development (“R&D”) expenses associated with conducting certain operations.  These types of facilities/operations involved in:

  • refining silicon into solar-grade polysilicon,
  • producing ingots from solar-grade polysilicon,
  • producing wafers from solar-grade ingots,
  • producing solar cells from wafers,
  • producing solar modules from solar cells, and
  • the same operations and products as foreign producers and exporters responding to Commerce’s solar circumvention inquiries. 

Continue Reading Commerce Requests Factual Information in Solar Circumvention Inquiries on Level of Investment, Non-Financial Barriers, and Research and Development Expenses

The UK is not alone in feeling the effects of the Russia-Ukraine crisis which compounded an already tight energy market, in which the post-Covid economic recovery caused demand to outstrip supply. But the UK does appear to have been perhaps more heavily affected by this combination of factors, which has led to a steep rise in energy costs. With an average UK family’s energy bill increasing by 54% so far this year and inflation nudging the double-digit mark, the ONS declared earlier this month that the squeeze on living standards was the worst since the 1950s.

The EU has belatedly realized the dangers of its over-reliance on Russian hydrocarbons and is urgently seeking to source gas and oil supply elsewhere. In the short to medium term, this will force global gas prices higher as the EU competes on global gas markets for a constrained resource. In the longer term, countries view the war in Ukraine as a clear indication that reliable, clean, domestically-produced renewable energy bolsters national security by removing dependence on volatile international hydrocarbon markets. The PM’s comments in the foreword – “We need a power supply that’s made in Britain, for Britain” – underline how that sentiment also applies in the UK, whilst at the same time hint, perhaps worryingly, at a less globalized future energy market.

It is against this backdrop that on 7 April, almost unnoticed, the UK Government published its long-awaited Energy Security Strategy (ESS). The ESS was supplemented by the announcement in this week’s Queen Speech of the proposal for an Energy Security Bill, building on last year’s COP26 Summit in Glasgow and designed to deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner, and more secure energy in the UK.

UK Energy Security Strategy

Immediate Support on Energy Bills

The ESS sets out a new Energy Bills Support Scheme that will see a £200 reduction in energy bills from October 2022, to be offset against a Government levy on domestic energy bills over 5 years from FY23. To mitigate the high cost of industrial electricity, the Government will extend the Energy Intensive Industries Compensation Scheme for a further three years, and increase the intensity of the aid to up to 100 per cent, representing 1.5 per cent of Gross Value Added. It will also consider increasing the renewable obligation exemption to 100 per cent. These measures will enable businesses to apply for greater relief for part of their electricity costs. The Government has since announced that the total level of compensation under the Scheme will increase from roughly £130 million to up to £280 million.

Energy Efficiency

Building on existing efforts to promote the energy efficiency of UK homes, the Government will make the installation of energy-saving materials zero-rated for VAT purposes for the next five years. A new £450 million Boiler Upgrade Scheme will facilitate the uptake of heat pumps, alongside a Heat Pump Investment Accelerator Competition being run in 2022, worth up to £30 million. Later this year, the Government will aim to publish proposals incentivising electrification, which aims to ensure that heat pumps are comparatively cheap to run. The Government will increase innovation funding for the development and piloting of new green finance products for consumers from £10 million to £20 million. Early 2023 will see a formal consultation on new minimum standards and labelling requirements for a range of energy-using products.

Oil and Gas

The ESS sets out the Government’s vision for the North Sea, noting that in order to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels, the UK must fully utilise North Sea reserves; use empty caverns for CO2 storage; and encourage the use of hydrogen as a natural gas alternative, alongside using North Sea offshore expertise to support the offshore wind sector. The ESS argues that there is no contradiction between the UK’s net zero commitment and its commitment to a strong and evolving North Sea industry, but rather that one depends on the other.
Continue Reading The UK’s New Energy Security Strategy

The European Commission seeks stakeholders’ feedback until 18 November on its proposal to define cross-border projects in the field of renewable energy generation that would be eligible to receive EU funding under Connecting European Facility instrument.

In July 2021, the European Union adopted its Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) program for the period 2021-2027 worth EUR