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Downing wins ancillary contracts and discusses why flexible energy is vital in the success of a net-zero future

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Supporting the solution to a net-zero future

Quite rightly, the whole world is discussing how quickly – and how – to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. We have woken up to the damage that plundering our natural resources (including coal and oil) has done to the environment and an accelerated climate crisis. Now, nations the world over are implementing renewable energy resources (including solar, wind, hydro) to power their countries, institutions, and individuals cleanly and safely to combat climate change and provide a better future for all.

The power sector is moving at a rapid pace with the transition to 100% renewable making good and steady progress in the UK and cost of deployment falling. It has also opened up a critical need for National Grid and distribution network operators (DNOs) to be able to access flexible generation to balance and maintain stability of the grid.

Over a number of years Downing LLP (“Downing”) has originated, developed and acquired a significant portfolio of renewable energy and flexible generation (flex-gen) assets. With the intermittency of the renewable portfolio and the dependability of the flex-gen portfolio, we believe that this balanced approach manages the sector risks positively and supports the industry’s most pressing needs.

The Downing Flexible Generation Portfolio

The Downing flexible generation portfolio is made up of two elements. The first is Peaking Power assets which comprises 102MW of containerised gas reciprocating engines, located in England and Wales across six sites.  The second is a battery storage portfolio of two projects in the South of England with a capacity of 52MW, including the recently announced Nursling project in Southampton.

All of these assets have the potential to support the decarbonisation agenda of the government as the drive towards net-zero by 2050 gathers momentum.

As part of this transition of network responsibility, the DNOs have identified areas of constraint on their systems where the support of flexible generators is far more effective than costly network upgrades. These support contracts are referred to as DSO Flexibility contracts and represent an additional revenue to flex-gen assets, alongside their normal operations of standby supply and wholesale trading.

In February 2021, Downing exchanged contracts, via a competitive tender process, for the supply of DSO Flexibility services to Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (“SSEN”) from its Peaking Power portfolio, adding to the existing contract with Western Power Distribution (“WPD”) in 2020.  Over the past six months, these services have been called on 18 times to support the local supply networks.

The increase in distributed generation gives DNOs, such as WPD and SSEN, the ability to take on system operator functions and to make more efficient use of new technologies and existing generators that requires the DNO to take a much more active management role. This transition is referred to as a Distributed System Operator (DSO) model and supports the move from a national to a local solution.

The growth in non-dispatchable generation and reduction in thermal capacity is expected to lead to increased price volatility and greater system requirements from flexible technologies. The increase of renewable energy is targeted to grow by 60-70GW over the next 30 years.

An example of this can be seen during the UK’s most recent winter, where there has been an increase in price volatility as National Grid found challenges in managing the energy system security as weather fluctuated. The impact of this volatility of energy prices was clearly evidenced in January 2021, with prices peaking above £900/MWh on five days during the month, when there was significantly higher demand (as consumers used more electricity) and lower renewable energy (less wind than forecast), which caused significant price spikes in the wholesale market.

With regards to the future security of our electricity supply, there are annual auctions for generators to secure valuable supply contracts to support National Grid in times of a scarcity of supply as part of the Electricity Market Reform. These agreements, referred to as Capacity Market (CM) agreements, are auctioned on an annual basis and are generally for one year and 15-year terms.

The CM auction for capacity in the upcoming winter is known as T-1 in the industry.  Our Nursling battery storage project won a contract at the most recent T-1 CM auction earlier this month. The auction cleared at its highest price since it commenced in 2014 at £45/KW. This high price is indicative of the current challenges facing National Grid to secure supply of energy.

Tom Williams, Head of Energy & Infrastructure at Downing, commented:

“In national efforts to combat climate change, the efficiency of the National Grid to run new initiatives for ancillary services across renewables technologies is vital, which makes the role of flex-gen assets critical in ensuring there is enough energy supply at peak times. We are delighted to have been awarded these DNO contracts for WPD and SSEN and to have won the T-1 CM auction bid for Nursling. With our impressive track record across our energy generating assets, we have the knowledge and experience to support the DNOs and National Grid optimise their operations and help keep the nation powered when it needs it the most.”

With the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 (COP26) later this year,  we assume the COP26 Presidency, in partnership with Italy, and make the commitment to work with international partners “in support of a green and resilient recovery that promotes sustainable growth and jobs and delivers for those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.” In turn, the UK is calling on all countries to submit ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions and set out long term strategies to net zero emissions well in advance of COP26.

At Downing, we are proud to be supporting the solution to a net-zero future and while there is a long way to go, the infrastructure is in place to help it move the process along more quickly.


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