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Europe’s energy regulators work together to tackle market abuse and insider trading

Supported by the market monitoring and coordination activities of the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators, ACER, in the last few months, Europe’s energy regulators have increasingly used their powers to police behavior in the European wholesale energy market. This article discusses the joint efforts of ACER and Europe’s national energy regulators to ensure compliance with specific market regulations. In the last quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, we have seen fines and sanctions imposed for alleged abuses in the European wholesale energy market, and a dawn raid in a potential case of insider trading.

REMIT, the EU Regulation on the Wholesale Energy Market Integrity and Transparency, prohibits, inter alia, insider trading and market manipulation in the wholesale energy market in accordance with Articles 3 and 5 respectively.  Willingness to enforce REMIT has been increasingly demonstrated by national regulators in the course of the last few months.

REMIT’s definition of and prohibition of market manipulation (excerpts):
Article 2
Definitions
For the purposes of this Regulation the following definitions shall apply: 1…]
2) ‘market manipulation’ means: :
a) entering into any transaction or issuing any order to trade in wholesale energy products which:
(i) gives, or is likely to give, false or misleading signals as to the supply of, demand for, or price of wholesale energy products;
(ii) secures or attempts to secure, by a person, or persons acting in collaboration, the price of one or several wholesale energy products at an artificial level, unless the person who entered into the transaction or issued the order to trade establishes that his reasons for doing so are legitimate and that that transaction or order to trade conforms to accepted market practices on the wholesale energy market concerned;
1…]
Article 5
Prohibition of market manipulation
Any engagement in, or attempt to engage in, market manipulation on wholesale energy markets shall be prohibited.

REMIT has been in place since the end of 2011. While there were few, if any, proceedings during the first seven years, the situation has now changed, with the means to detect market manipulation becoming more sophisticated and an increase in alerts raised by market participants. Crucial here has been the increased data gathered by national regulators and ACER, Europe’s Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators, since reporting obligations came into effect in 2015/2016.

According to ACER, 60-80 suspicious events have been notified to national energy regulators and the number of cases currently under investigation rose significantly from just three in 2012 to 189 by the end of Q2 2019. Out of the seven cases on market manipulation that have been decided by national regulators, six have been decided since October 2018.

In 2015, in the first decision in this field taken by a national regulatory authority, CNMC, the most active national regulator in REMIT enforcement activities, concluded that a Spanish energy company withheld water at its hydropower plants without legitimate reason and justification and thus manipulated the electricity day-ahead prices resulting in an increased market price.

ACER’s guidance on the application of Regulation (EU) No 1227/2011, REMIT, provides further guidance on the withholding of capacity, now 6.4.1 i) 4th edition:

“Actions undertaken by persons that artificially cause prices to be at a level not justified by market forces of supply and demand, including actual availability of production, storage or transportation capacity, and demand (‘physical withholding’): This is for example the practice where a market participant decides not to offer on the market all the available production, storage or transportation capacity, without justification and with the intention to shift the market price to higher levels, e.g. not offering on the market, without justification, a power plant whose marginal cost is lower than the spot prices, misusing infrastructure, transmission capacities, etc., that would result in abnormally high prices.”

This very early decision of the CNMC in 2015 on market manipulation was followed, starting in October 2018, by a series of decisions from various national regulators, namely the Spanish, French, Danish, German and most recently the UK national regulators, which fined companies for alleged cases of market manipulation. Some of these decisions are under appeal. These cases deal with allegations of transmission capacity withholding, commercially non-rational use of otherwise legitimate trading methods, price setting at artificial levels, exclusion of market participants from trading and placing bids or offers with no intention to execute them, but to buy at a lower or sell at a higher level. National regulators have also decided other cases where prices have been above marginal costs and higher than those of comparable combined cycle plants on the basis of national regulation of the electricity market rather than based on the provisions of REMIT.

In addition to various infringement decisions on market manipulation that have been issued since October 2018, there has also been an increase in action on insider trading. More recently, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) stated that it had conducted a dawn raid at a company active in the electricity sector. Echoing the Danish and the German national regulators, the Director of ACM’s energy department, Remko Bos, made it clear that national energy regulators are making joint efforts in their enforcement activities. Remko Bos was quoted as follows:

“By enforcing compliance with REMIT, we help boost consumer confidence and that of other market participants in the energy market. We do so in cooperation with our fellow European regulators.”

Cooperation between European regulators demonstrated by the rise in policing activities has been assisted by the increased amount of guidance and publications from ACER and national regulators on the topic of REMIT. Recently, ACER published the fourth edition of its Guidance on REMIT (https://documents.acer-remit.eu/wp-content/uploads/20190321 4th-Edition-ACER-Guidance updated- final-published.pdf) and its Guidance on layering and spoofing (https://documents.acer-remit.eu/wp-content/uploads/Guidance-Note Layering-v7.0-Final-published.pdf). The German Federal Network Agency, “BNetzA’” and the German Federal Cartel Authority “BKartA” have published their joint draft guideline on the supervision of antitrust and wholesale energy law abuse in the realm of electricity generation/wholesaling. The object of the document, when finalized, will be to provide market participants with guidance on the permissibility of price peaks in the wholesale market for electricity.

The series of fines imposed on energy companies for market manipulation, the high number of investigations currently pending, the likelihood that fines may become more substantive once sufficient case law has been established and the chance that cases may even result in serious criminal proceedings, demonstrate the importance of REMIT and other market regulations. To the extent that recent supervisory activities by national regulators and publications from ACER and other regulators show the way forward, it is very much in energy companies’ own interests to reexamine the robustness of their current programs, policies and processes. As in other compliance areas, it is critical to implement and maintain effective and sufficiently resourced programs that support employees taking relevant commercial decisions and ensure decision makers have a thorough understanding of violations in terms of scope, prohibitions and consequences. This will help companies avoid investigations, administrative fines, confiscation of earnings and possibly criminal sanctions, both on a corporate and an individual level, not to mention potential claims for damages brought by other market participants, as regularly seen in cartel cases. In short, companies and their decision makers would be well advised to examine whether their current compliance management systems and processes are still fit for the purposes of REMIT and other market regulations.

More to come.

If you have any question about any of the issues raised in this post, we are happy to assist you. Please contact Dr. Gabriele Haas (mailto: Gabriele.Haas@Dentons.com)

Europe’s energy regulators work together to tackle market abuse and insider trading

FER1 Decree 2019: Incentives Regime for Renewable Energy Plants in Italy

On July 8, 2019, the Italian government signed a ministerial decree that will grant new incentives to renewable energy sources (the so-called FER1 Decree).

Six years after the expiry of the fifth Conto Energia, photovoltaic plants can once again benefit from incentives. Other sources benefiting from the scheme include onshore wind, hydroelectric and sewage gases. The scheme will apply until the end of 2021 and will provide new incentives of about €1 billion per year.

The government expects that it will allow for the construction of new plants with a total capacity of about 8,000 MW with investments estimated to be in the region of €10 billion.

Please download below the guide to have more information.

Click here to read the guide

FER1 Decree 2019: Incentives Regime for Renewable Energy Plants in Italy

Unlocking Poland’s Offshore Potential

2018 brought many positive changes in this area. The Polish government secured a favorable state aid decision from the European Commission and amended the key framework regulation on renewable energy sources (RES). This paved the way for the first major auction organized by the Polish National Regulatory Authority – the President of the Energy Regulatory Office.

Nearly 600 onshore projects, most of them smaller sized photovoltaic installations, received approximately €3.28 billion in 15-year contract-for-difference type benefits. Last, but not least, the Minister of Energy presented the draft Energy Policy of Poland 2040, setting out the expected future course of development of the Polish energy mix, which is especially promising for the offshore wind and PV markets.

Download the full insight


Published in the Project Finance International Global Energy Report April 2019 by Refinitiv (formerly the Financial and Risk business of Thomson Reuters)

Unlocking Poland’s Offshore Potential

Germany and the European Union expand scrutiny of foreign investment – Considerations for the energy sector

German energy assets continue to draw international investors’ interest. However, in Germany as in other EU Member States, foreign investment in critical infrastructure, such as energy facilities, is a sensitive issue for the Government. New rules introduced in 2017 and 2018 come amid rising concerns that such assets are being systemically acquired by foreign investors, particularly from China. The intensity of foreign direct investment (“FDI”) reviews by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie – “BMWi” or “Ministry”) has increased since 2016. The more restrictive approach in Germany has been backed by Regulation (EU) 2019/452 of 19 March 2019 establishing a framework for the screening of foreign direct investments into the Union (“EU framework”). Moreover, the next reform is well underway.

It is essential for foreign investors, sellers and targets’ executives to consider the scope and implications of FDI review. In this article we review the significant regulatory changes to FDI screening and highlight the considerations for those involved in transactions in the energy sector.

I Review tools in Germany

Germany has had formal mechanisms in place to review FDI since 2004. The jurisdictional threshold at which the Ministry can intervene to protect security interests is linked to the shares / voting rights acquired in a German company. The general threshold lies at 25%. Most recently, the German government lowered the threshold to 10% in particularly sensitive areas.

A national security screening mechanism requires that any non-German investor notifies the Ministry of the acquisition of a target company with certain defense and IT security / cryptography products within its portfolio (so-called sector-specific investment review: Sec. 60 – 62 Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance – AußenwirtschaftsverordnungAWV”). However, the grounds for screening in Germany are not limited to the protection of essential interests of national security. Indeed, since 2009 BMWi may control and block acquisitions by investors established outside the territory of the EU and EFTA region in any sector, if the transaction would endanger public order or security (cross-sector review: Sec. 55 – 59 AWV). This procedure applies to the energy sector as well. EU Courts have acknowledged that public security may be affected by acquisitions related to issues such as security of supply in the event of a crisis, telecommunications and electricity, or the provision of services of strategic importance.[1] Even though this jurisprudence circumscribes Member States’ discretion regarding the scope of public security reviews, without specific guidance, it is hard to predict which transactions trigger review by the Ministry and which do not.

II. AWV-reform of 2017 – tighter controls on critical infrastructure

  1. Substantive amendments

In that regard, the AWV-reform of 2017 brought some clarification. The German government specified in which cases “an endangerment for the public order or security of Germany” likely exists. The amended Sec. 55 AWV requires BMWi to apply heightened scrutiny to certain types of investments, particularly those that could result in foreign control over German critical infrastructure. Federal Economic Minister Peter Altmaier recently stressed, “companies which supply us with electricity, gas and drinking water or which safeguard our telecommunications are of outstanding importance for our society.”[2] This includes German companies, which develop and modify “sector-specific software”, i.e. software that is used for operating and controlling critical infrastructure facilities (Art. 55 para. 1 sentence 2 no. 2 AWV). The concern is that the purchase of such highly significant IT application manufacturers by non‑EU investors could lead to the outflow of security-relevant information about the operation of critical infrastructures. Providers of critical infrastructure may have no or only less trustworthy alternatives available on the market.

In order to determine which companies can be regarded as operating critical infrastructure, reference is made to the German IT Security legal framework. According to the definition in Art. 2 para. 10 of the Act on the Federal Office for Information Security (Gesetz über das Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik), critical infrastructures are facilities which belong to the energy, information technology, telecommunication, transport and transportation, health, water, nutrition as well as finance and insurance sectors and are of utmost importance for the functioning of the community.

In order to determine which energy facilities provide a significant level of supply for society, three steps should be considered.

First step (see first column of image below): Is the target company engaged in an energy service which is deemed critical (cf. Sec. 2 para. 1 Regulation for Determining Critical Infrastructures – “BSI-KritisV”)?

Second step (see second column of image below): Are categories of facilities involved, which are necessary for providing these services?

Third step (see third column of image below): Finally, crucial for the identification of sensitive transactions in the energy sector is, whether the target company achieves the stipulated threshold values or, whether the relevant software provider has such facilities among its customers. In order to ascertain whether the threshold has been reached, it may be necessary to count several systems together. In general, the thresholds of the BSI-KritisV apply to each system. Several installations may, however, comprise a so-called joint installation, with the consequence that the individual values have to be added together for the threshold calculation. In the energy sector, according to Annex I to the BSI-KritisV, part 2, para. 7, several installations of the same type, which have a close spatial and operational relationship and meet the relevant threshold together, are as joint installation considered critical infrastructure. Common management of installations is a pre-requisite for a close spatial and operational context (cf. Annex I to the BSI-KritisV, part 2, para. 7 lit d).

Source: Federal Ministry of the Interior

If according to the three-step test outlined above, energy assets are subject of the transaction, a filing of the foreign takeover with BMWi is mandatory. Please note, even if the energy facility is not deemed “critical”, the transaction may still be subject to cross-sector review pursuant to the general clause in Art. 55 para. 1 sentence 1 AWV. Therefore, one should always analyze whether the contemplated cross-border transaction bears any (energy) security relevance. It is prudent to explore the reaction of BMWi to the takeover of the particular energy facility. Informal discussion can be carried out without triggering an obligation to file.

  1. Procedural amendments

Prior to the AWV-reform of 2017, outside the defense and security sector, foreign investors were not required to notify any transaction. The Ministry was dependent upon information sharing by other public authorities; in particular, the Federal Cartel Office. Now, upon signing of the purchase agreement (schuldrechtlicher Vertrag), the direct acquirer of any German energy company covered by Art. 55 para. 1 sentence 2 AWV is obliged to notify the transaction. The notification sets in motion a time limit of three months for the BMWi to initiate the second phase of the cross-sectoral review procedure (cf. Art. 55 para. 3 AWV). If the investor does not either notify the transaction or apply for a clearance certificate (Unbedenklichkeitsbescheinigung), deal certainty can be obtained no earlier than five years after signing. Only then, is BMWi precluded from reviewing or blocking the transaction. Consequently, even if the transaction is exempted from notification, in cases of doubt, investors should apply for a clearance certificate. A clearance certificate is a formal confirmation of BMWi to the investor that the acquisition does not raise any concerns with respect to public order or security (cf. Sec. 58 AWV). The application shall cite the acquisition, the acquirer and the domestic company to be acquired and outline the fields of business in which the acquirer and the domestic company to be acquired are active. Under the old regime, a clearance certificate was deemed to have been granted if the Ministry did not open an examination procedure within one month after receipt of the application. The AWV-reform of 2017 has extended this period to two months. Additionally, the period for the review procedure itself (second stage) has been extended from two to four months. An issue to be considered is that the periods for any antitrust review of a transaction are very likely to differ from the periods for the review under the amended AWV. Still, the urgency to close a transaction must be balanced against the uncertainty created by not filing. In an era of risk abatement, the offer of safe harbor from post-transaction government action to alter or unwind the transaction is hard to resist.

The 2017 AWV-reform also clarified that EU acquisition vehicles cannot be used to circumvent the cross-sector investment review procedure, cf. Sec. 55 para. 2 AWV.

III. AWV-reform 2018 – German Government lowers review threshold

Shortly before Christmas 2018, the Federal Government adopted further amendments to the rules on FDI screening. Importantly, the Government lowered the review threshold from 25% to 10% in the particularly sensitive areas listed in Sec. 55 para. 1 sentence 2, i.e. critical infrastructure. Accordingly, an FDI review in the energy sector is now triggered if a non-EU investor acquires as little as 10%, rather than 25%, of a company that operates critical infrastructure facilities (cf. the three steps above). Thus, even more energy deals will be in the scope of the Ministry. With this move, the German Government plugs a gap in legislation. Last summer, State Grid Corporation of China (“SGCC”) planned the acquisition of 20% of 50Hertz, one of Germany’s power grid operators. Although 50Hertz qualified as critical infrastructure, BMWi had no authority to officially review or even block the transaction, as it was below the 25% threshold. Eventually, the Government intervened through the German state-owned development bank KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau) to preemptively acquire the 20% stake, and, effectively block SGCC’s proposed investment.

IV. Trend towards greater scrutiny in Germany backed by developments at EU level

Although the German Government was keen to emphasize that the meaning of public security, which derives from EU law, was not changed or even expanded by the 2017 AWV-reform, it sought additional backing for its initiative at EU level. In November 2018, EU legislating bodies reached a political agreement on an EU framework for the screening of FDI. The EU framework officially entered into force on 10 April 2019. Member States’ governments have 18 months to implement the new rules. The Commission, meanwhile, is taking the necessary steps to make the framework operational by October 2020. These steps concern, in particular, the setting up of the new EU-wide mechanism for cooperation, enabling Member States and the Commission to exchange information and raise concerns related to specific foreign investments. While the 2017 AWV-reform anticipated the substantive regulatory changes, procedural amendments to the German screening process will be necessary.

  1. EU ramps up scrutiny of foreign investors

The envisaged EU framework employs the screening criterion of public order or security and explicitly describes factors to help Member States and the Commission determine whether an investment is likely to affect public security. The indicative list in Art 4 para. 1 of Regulation (EU) 2019/452 includes the effects of the investment on, inter alia,

        • critical infrastructure, whether physical or virtual, including energy, as well as land and real estate crucial for the use of such infrastructure;
        • critical technologies and dual use items, including energy storage and nuclear technologies; and
        • supply of critical energy inputs.

Accordingly, the AWV-reform of 2017 in Germany, which aims at protecting critical infrastructure and, hence, the energy sector, is backed by the EU framework. Moreover, the framework (cf. Art 4 para. 2 of Regulation (EU) 2019/452) condones the recent practice of BMWi, which gives consideration to additional aspects in the screening procedure, such as access to sensitive information and whether the foreign investor is state-controlled or state-funded. In other words, even if a standalone investment in the energy sector would not appear to have a significant national security impact per se, BMWi could still apply mitigation measures or ultimately block the transaction, where overall foreign ownership of the investor would present a security concern.

  1. Procedural features of the EU framework

While the ultimate decision to allow, condition or block FDI remains with the Member State concerned, the Commission will have greater influence on future screenings of FDI. Furthermore, other Member States may exert political pressure. The Commission will obtain a new competence to screen FDI and issue a non-binding opinion in the event that the investment has the potential to affect the security of projects or programmes of EU interest (cf. Art. 8 of Regulation (EU) 2019/452), such as the “Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E)” or the security of another / other Member State(s). The EU framework also creates a cooperation mechanism between Member States and the Commission. Currently 14 EU Member States[3] have FDI screening mechanisms in place. Differing approaches in terms of scope and design are followed in these countries. To date, no formal coordination among Member States and the Commission exists in this field. In future, Member States will need to inform each other and the Commission of any investment that is undergoing screening by their national authority (cf. Art. 6 of Regulation (EU) 2019/452). Even in cases where a foreign takeover is not undergoing screening but another Member State considers that this investment is likely to affect its security or the Commission considers that the investment is likely to affect the security in more than one Member State, the Commission is empowered to issue an opinion and other Member States may provide comments (cf. Art. 7 of Regulation (EU) 2019/452). In general, comments or opinions have to be addressed to the Member State where the foreign direct investment is planned or has been completed no later than 35 calendar days after receipt of certain relevant information.

Source: European Commission

For the exchange of information and analysis, formal contacts in each Member State will be set up. The screening procedures at national level in Germany will likely be extended to allow for an exchange of opinions with the Commission and other Member States. Consequently, deal timing gets even more important.

V. Next reform is well underway

Most likely, this was not the last reform bill passed to protect domestic companies from foreign takeovers. As part of Germany’s new National Industrial Strategy 2030,[4] Peter Altmaier has called for the creation of a state investment fund that would step in to pre-empt foreign takeovers of German companies.[5] Such a fund, once created, can be considered as a complementary tool to the authority of BMWi. A tangible discomfort around the issue of Chinese investment is even present among German business representatives. The influential German industry group Federation of German Industries (Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie e.V. – “BDI”) calls for tougher policies against China.[6] However, BDI criticizes the idea of a state investment fund. Instead, it supports a reform of competition law, including EU state aid rules.

VI. Key takeaways – Implications for deal planning

In particular for China, with its “Belt and Road Initiative” and industrial plan “Made in China 2025”, investments in the EU’s energy market remain highly attractive. However, as we experience in our daily practice, the trend of expanding review of FDI does not appear to be going away soon. Foreign investors, in general, have to expect a more rigid approach of authorities compared to the past. Risk and time management at an early stage of the cross-border transaction process are key to project success. There is no doubt, the new rules increase deal uncertainty. Those contemplating investments in German energy facilities should allocate more time, attention and resources to the screening process. Pre-deal considerations should include:

  • Timing: Foreign investors, sellers and target companies should be aware of the timing of an investment review. While BMWi is responsible for the implementation of the review procedure, it will involve other federal ministries as the case may be within the scope of their respective authority. Obviously, such consultation and deliberation add to the length of the procedure. The screening procedures at national level in Germany will likely be extended to allow for an exchange of opinions with the Commission and other Member States after the final implementation of the cooperation mechanisms based on the EU framework by October 2020. Therefore, effective management is key to expedite the procedure to meet the timeline needs.
  • Know your business (and the one you are investing in): Foreign investors, sellers and target companies must have a thorough understanding of whether the energy facility is to be considered as “critical infrastructure” or bears any other relevance for energy security. Take careful stock in case the target company designs or modifies software for energy facilities. It may be classified as “energy-sector-specific software”, i.e. software that is used for operating and controlling critical energy infrastructure facilities or has access to a large amount of data. In cases of doubt, investors should apply for a clearance certificate (comfort letter). It provides legal certainty to the investor, the seller and the target.
  • State-driven takeovers: Consider whether the transaction involves a country of special concern that has demonstrated or declared a strategic goal of acquiring a type of critical technology or critical infrastructure that would affect issues related to national or public security.
  • It is not only about Control: Foreign investors, sellers and target companies must be aware of the types of transactions that, while not conferring the potential for control of the business on a foreign investor are now subject to review.

If you have questions about any of the issues raised in this post, our Competition, Antitrust and Regulatory practice group in Germany is happy to assist you – please contact Andreas Haak, Dr. Maria Brakalova or Dr. Barbara Thiemann, LLM.

[1]           The European Court of Justice explicitly recognized in Case C-503/99 (Commission v. Belgium, judgement of 4 June 2002 at para. 46) that “the safeguarding of energy supplies in the event of a crisis, falls undeniably within the ambit of a legitimate public interest”.

[2] BMWi, press release of 19/12/2018, “Strengthening our national security via improved investment screening”.

[3]               Austria, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, UK and Spain.

[4]           Peter Altmaier presented on the draft of a National Industry Strategy 2030 early February 2019.

[5]           BMWi, 5 February 2019, „Nationale Industriestrategie 2030. Strategische Leitlinien für eine deutsche und europäische Industriepolitik“.

[6]           BDI, January 2019, „BDI-Grundsatzpapier China. Partner und systemischer Wettbewerber – Wie gehen wir mit Chinas staatlich gelenkter Volkswirtschaft um?“

Germany and the European Union expand scrutiny of foreign investment – Considerations for the energy sector

Another interesting year ahead for European renewables

On 5 February 2019, Dentons held its fourth annual workshop on investing in European renewables. Here we outline some of the key messages that emerged.

Setting the scene

At first glance, these should be happy days for the European renewables sector. Energy from renewable sources (RES) is firmly established in the mainstream of the power industry. Installation costs for wind and solar continue to drop: having fallen already by 75 percent in 2010-2017, PV costs are projected to fall by more than half again in 2015-2025. Mindful of their international and in some cases also their domestic commitments, governments have been setting some ambitious renewables targets for 2030 and beyond. Even the IEA, once a notably sceptical voice on renewables, has predicted that wind will be the largest source for power generation in Europe by 2027.

But of course life is never that simple. The days when the industry could sustain strong growth in revenues and profitability just by chasing the fattest feed-in tariffs, surfing the waves of subsidy as they washed across Europe, are long past. With maturity, the sector faces more complex problems. It must grapple with the fundamentals of commodity markets; sell itself to new classes of customers and investors; and work with governments, regulators and system operators to exploit the new technologies that can make whole power systems work in more sustainable and efficient ways. And whilst the broad outlines of the next stages in the energy transition are widely accepted, the details of how best to achieve it remain a matter of debate.

Country snapshots

No two jurisdictions in Europe present the sector with quite the same opportunities or challenges. Dentons lawyers gave brief sketches of the renewables sectors in their home markets, covering 12 of the 20 countries featured in Investing in renewable energy projects in Europe – Dentons’ Guide 2019. We summarise below the key talking points from their presentations (the slides from which can be accessed here).

Germany produced more electricity from renewables than from coal for the first time in 2018. The growth in RES capacity may not be so large in 2019, but if buildout rates are slowing down a little, the Energiewende overall is changing gear rather than coming to a halt. The new financial support mechanisms are functioning well. The recently announced conclusions of the German government’s Coal Commission point the way to a complete phase-out of coal-fired generation. The publication of an action plan for grid expansion further indicates the German government’s continuing commitment to taking the energy transition into its next phase, and interest is strong from other sectors of industry, as the activities of German companies in the e-mobility and hydrogen sectors show.

In France, the government plans to more than double wind and solar capacity by 2023, with a further doubling of solar and 50 percent expansion of wind in the following five years to 2028. Auction mechanisms have succeeded in bringing down the price of supporting RES. Procedural changes should reduce the potential for objectors to delay projects. At the same time, it is worth remembering that the initial trigger for the gilets jaunes protests was an increase in carbon taxes: in France as elsewhere, there is an inevitable tension between the need to adopt policies to avert the “end of the world” and the need of ordinary citizens to survive financially until the “end of the month”.

The market fundamentals for the RES sector in Turkey remain strong – notably, growing demand for power and a strong government commitment to reducing dependence on imported fuel.  At present, the regulatory regime favours either very large (1 GW+) or quite small (up to 1 MW) projects.  For the latter, there is a feed-in tariff / premium support mechanism; for the former, support is based on auctions. It is unfortunate that two of these were cancelled in 2018 – one of which would have included the country’s first offshore wind project – but it is hoped that these will be reinstated.

In Poland, 2019 should be a very busy year for RES projects, as the government focuses on meeting its 2020 RES targets. After a period in which various measures were taken to discourage onshore wind, auctions will be focused on solar and onshore wind. As in many markets, the longer term future depends on electricity market reform to integrate large amounts of intermittent renewable power.

Italy has set itself ambitious plans for increasing its share of RES to 2030, focused on wind and solar. At present, it is a little less clear how these will be supported in terms of any public subsidy. On the other hand, the secondary market remains active, and Italy is one of the jurisdictions where there is considerable excitement around the prospect of subsidy-free developments, possibly financed in part by arrangements with non-utility industrial offtakers (corporate PPAs).

The Czech Republic and Slovakia demonstrate some of the same features as the Italian market, in slightly more extreme form. The boom years were some time ago, and for the moment, these jurisdictions present secondary market, rather than development opportunities. As in Italy and some other jurisdictions, the authorities are now investigating whether the subsidies of some existing projects were properly awarded – did they, for example, commission exactly when they claim to have commissioned? Careful due diligence is therefore required when assessing acquisition opportunities.

In the UK, the renewables industry faces some challenges as a result of Brexit, particular if the UK leaves the EU with no deal. However, the government has recently committed to continue to hold subsidy auctions with a focus on offshore wind every two years, and – with a third of UK power already coming from RES – it is starting to address the decarbonisation of the heat and transport sectors. For those technologies without the prospect of new regulated support (solar and onshore wind), apart from a proposed new “smart export guarantee” for sub-5 MW projects, the position is starting to improve as steps are taken to make grid charging rules work better for storage and progress is made towards developing corporate PPA models that work in a subsidy-free market.

In the Netherlands, the government continues to contest the case brought by the Urgenda Foundation and others (and now twice upheld by the Dutch courts), that it is legally obliged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent against a 1990 baseline by 2020. But it has in any event allocated generous subsidies to RES, including €10 billion under the SDE+ regime this year. As in the UK and Germany, offshore wind is set to grow strongly in the next few years.

Spain is another jurisdiction where interest in corporate PPAs is high, particularly among projects that have not secured support in the auction-based regime that began to operate in 2017. Some projects that did secure such support face a challenge to meet their commissioning deadlines. For those with deep pockets, there are opportunities to secure grid capacity where earlier developers’ rights have expired. There are separate incentives for self-consumption and projects in the Spanish islands.

For the renewables industry in Russia, progress has been slow for many years. Local content requirements and a bureaucratic, highly centralised power regime, have not helped, and the method of procuring RES power, being based on capacity and capital expendture, also sets it apart from other jurisdictions. But there are signs that the pace is starting to pick up. There are good prospects for self-consumption projects up to 25 MW, and for the energy from waste sector.

The renewables sector in Ukraine continues to attract international investment, driven by attractive feed-in tariffs and exemptions from import VAT. This looks set to continue under the new auction-based support regime that will take effect from 2020, but the industry’s resources will be stretched to meet the end-of-2019 deadline for projects to be eligible for subsidies under the old regime.

Alongside our own colleagues, industry stakeholders contributed insights in keynote speeches and a panel discussion (the slides from the keynote speeches can be accessed here and here). 

Conclusions

The broad, long-term direction for the renewables industry appears to be set, and in the right direction. As always, stability of regulation will be an important factor in realising the sector’s potential. But increasingly, its success will depend on the development of new investment approaches – not only to RES projects themselves, but to the development of the grid and of technology to make it work more efficiently, harnessing the power of big data, and facilitating new market models.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this post, or any other aspect of European renewables, please get in touch with any of the lawyers listed in our guide, or your usual Dentons contact.

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Another interesting year ahead for European renewables

Germany takes the first steps towards the end of coal-fired power

In 2018, the German government appointed a Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment, known as the Kohlekommission or Coal Commission with the task of evaluating a roadmap for the phase-out of coal-fired power production in Germany. The Coal Commission’s conclusions have now been published, setting the agenda for the next stage of the German energy transition (Energiewende).

Germany has been a pioneer of the mass deployment of wind and solar power generation. In 2018, its share of electricity generated from renewables (40.3 percent) exceeded that generated from coal (37.5 percent) for the first time. But 37.5 percent is still a lot of coal-fired power. On 26 January 2019, the Coal Commission passed its final (non-binding) resolution accompanied by a 336 page report. We summarise the effect of implementing its recommendations below.

1. Phase-out of coal-fired power production by 2038

The Coal Commission recommends the end of 2038 as the deadline for the phase-out of coal-fired power production in Germany. An integrated “opening clause” enables the phase-out date to be brought forward to 2035 in consultation with the operators if the electricity market, labor market and economic situation allow. This will be reviewed in 2032. In 2023, 2026 and 2029, the phase-out plan will also be evaluated in terms of security of supply, electricity prices, jobs and climate targets.

2. Gradual shutdown of coal power plants

At the end of 2017, Germany had operational coal power plants with a net capacity of 42.6 gigawatts (GW). They are gradually being taken off the grid anyway, however, the phase-out is supposed to be implemented earlier. 12.5 GW are expected to be taken off the grid by 2022, of which 3.1 GW are fed-in by lignite power plants that are particularly harmful to the climate. By 2030, no more than 17.0 GW may remain on the market. By 2038, all coal-fired power plants are to be shut down.

3. Compensation for (potentially) increasing electricity prices for consumers

To compensate for any increase in electricity prices triggered by the phase-out, the Coal Commission recommends reducing grid charges for private households from 2023 on. These grid charges can account for about a fifth of private households’ electricity bills, and the Coal Commission even goes so far as to suggest a subsidy for these network charges. The compensation would amount to approximately EUR 2 billion per year. But there shall be no new levies or taxes.

4. Compensation for (potentially) increasing electricity prices for companies

Energy-intensive industries are to be permanently relieved of costs arising from the price of CO2 pollution rights that coal and gas-fired power plants have to buy under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU allowances). The current relief scheme for these indirect costs will expire in 2020. The government wants to apply to the EU (under state aid rules) for an extension of this compensation. Most recently, the relief amounted to almost EUR 300 million per year. Since EU allowances have become significantly more expensive, the sum will be higher in the future. The so-called electricity price compensation is to be extended until 2030.

5. Financial support for coal mining regions

Coal mining regions affected by the coal phase-out are to receive structural aids (Strukturhilfen) amounting to approximately EUR 40 billion by 2040. In addition to numerous transport projects, the establishment of federal authorities is being encouraged, which could create around 5,000 new jobs within the next ten years. Also, an investment subsidy for entrepreneurs is proposed.

According to the Coal Commission’s proposal, the aid could follow the Berlin/Bonn Act, which mitigated the impact of relocating the capital from Bonn to Berlin. By the end of April 2019, the cornerstones for a law of measures shall be in place that specifies how the German government will precisely promote structural change. Future federal governments of the individual German states are to be bound to it. The Coal Commission estimates the individual costs at EUR 1.3 billion per year over 20 years. In addition, EUR 0.7 billion is to be provided to the federal states that are not tied to specific projects. Furthermore, a special financing programme as well as an immediate programme amounting to EUR 1.5 billion in total will be set to improve the transport system. These expenses are already included in the federal budget until 2021.

6. Compensation for lignite power plants

The Coal Commission recommends contractual arrangements with power plant operators and compensation for decommissioning up to 2030, which should include both compensation for operators and socially acceptable arrangements. The older a lignite power plant is, the less compensation will be paid. If there is no contractual agreement with the operators by July 2020, the exit shall be subject to regulatory law also including compensation.

The Coal Commission also suggests that the amount of compensation should be based on amounts already paid in the past. Lignite power plants have already been taken off the grid and transferred to a reserve for climate protection purposes in the past. At that time, around EUR 600 million were paid per GW output. Of the currently more than 40 GW of coal-fired power plants still connected to the grid, about 21.8 GW are fuelled with lignite.

7. Compensation for hard coal power plants

There shall also be compensation here. However, since these power plants yield less return, a decommissioning premium shall be obtained by a series of tenders. In simple terms, this could work as follows. The German government specifies how much capacity is to be decommissioned. Power plant operators apply for this with bids for compensation. In each tender, whoever demands the lowest compensation or saves the most CO2 by shutting down the power plant will win the contract.

8. Support of coal workers and symbolic preservation of Hambacher Forst

For employees in the coal industry aged 58 and over who have to bridge the time until retirement, there will be an adjustment allowance and compensation for pension losses. Estimated costs amount to up to EUR 5 billion which employers and the state could jointly bear. Terminations of employment for operational reasons are excluded. There should be training and further education for younger employees, placement in other jobs and help with wage losses.

A piece of forest at the Hambach open-cast mine has become a symbol of the anti-coal movement. The report states that the Coal Commission considers it desirable that the Hambach Forest should remain. RWE wants to cut down the forest for brown-coal mining which was stopped by court order. Other villages and areas are also affected by opencast mining. The Coal Commission recommends a dialogue with the affected areas on the resettlements in order to avoid social and economic hardship.

9. Hedge of power supply

In order to avert the risk of blackouts due to a lack of electricity generation, the security of supply should be monitored more closely. The approval of more environmentally friendly gas-fired power plants is to be accelerated. Besides, investment incentives shall be created.

Conclusion

The publication of the Coal Commission’s report is only the start of the process of coal phase-out. In order to implement the recommendations into national and therefore binding law, many details will have to be worked out, and both the German government and parliament have to agree on their adoption. Nevertheless, it marks a hugely important step in the Energiewende, as Germany moves from merely being a champion of renewable power generation to pointing the way towards the kind of net zero carbon economy that climate science shows that we need to achieve sooner rather than later.

Germany takes the first steps towards the end of coal-fired power

Chile – a clean energy powerhouse

The authors advise on energy projects at the Chilean law firm Larraín Rencoret Urzúa.  In September 2018 it was announced that, following a vote by the partners of Dentons, it was expected that Larraín Rencoret Urzúa would shortly be combining with Dentons.

In the 1980s, Chile was one of the pioneers of electricity market liberalization. More recently, benefiting from both the strength of its regulatory culture and its exceptional renewable energy resources, its non-hydro renewables sector has enjoyed spectacular growth, particularly in the form of solar projects – and there is more to come.

1.         Policy and law

Chile was the first country to privatize its formerly state-owned electricity industry. Through Decree-Law (DFL) No. 1, enacted in 1982 (the General Law of Electricity Services or LGSE), Chile introduced a deep reform to the electricity sector, obliging vertical and horizontal unbundling of generation, transmission and distribution. This led to large-scale private investment, and introduced competition into the generation sector. A minimum global cost operation model was established, and generation companies were encouraged to enter freely into supply contracts with non-regulated customers and distribution companies (regulated customers).

In recent years, Chile has aggressively pursued an ambitious program to move the country’s energy matrix towards non-conventional renewable resources (NCRE: i.e. renewable electricity generation technologies other than large-scale hydropower). The government’s energy policy encourages supply, security, efficiency and sustainability.

As a first step, in 2004, and as a result of its successful economic development, Chile introduced several legal changes in the industry, which have brought new investment in the electricity generation field and major possibilities for the transmission sector, especially in the interconnection of the two major electricity transmission systems (Central Interconnected System “SIC” and Norte Grande Interconnected System “SING”). As a first critical step, changes to the LGSE, made official in March 2004 through Law No. 19,940, modified several aspects of the market affecting all generators by introducing new elements, especially those applicable to NCRE. In particular, small-scale NCRE generators can now participate more aggressively in the electricity market, as they are partially or totally exempt from transmission charges.

Likewise, Law No. 20,257, better known as the Non-Conventional Renewable Energy Law, which came into force on April 1, 2008, introduced a requirement on all electricity companies selling electricity to final customers to ensure that a certain proportion of the electricity they sell comes from NCRE. A power company unable to comply with this obligation must pay a penalty for each MWh short of this requirement. As of 2013, with the enactment of Law No. 20,698, known as the 20/25 Law, which amended Law No. 20,257, Chile’s objective is that, by 2025, 20 percent of the electricity produced in Chile will come from NCRE sources.

On October 14, 2013, Law No. 20,701 was published in the Official Gazette, amending the LGSE, simplifying the procedure for obtaining an electricity concession (a key step in the development of new substations, electricity network infrastructure and hydroelectric plants: see section 3 below). This new framework was a response to the need for speeding up the procedure and timeframe necessary to obtain an electricity concession, providing more certainty to the system. In summary:

• the process to obtain a provisional electricity concession has been simplified and the timeframe adjusted;

• there is more clarity as to the observations and challenges that those against the project can make;

• the notification process was amended; a simplified and faster judicial procedure has been introduced;

• the process of valuing land or real estate has been amended; and

• potential conflicts between different concessions have been amended.

On February 7, 2014 Law No. 20,726 amended the LGSE, in order to study and promote the interconnection of the SIC and the SING systems. The government stated that this interconnection between SING and SIC would allow the transfer of surpluses produced in the northern part of Chile to its central zones. That interconnection, which was successfully carried out at the end of 2017, should reduce electricity system costs by US$1.1 billion. The interconnection of the two systems is also expected to boost the development of renewable energies and to reduce uncertainty for operators while increasing competition.

ln 2016, Law No. 20,936 (the Transmission Law) redefined the constituent parts of the national transmission system and created the Independent Coordinator of the National Electricity System (the CISEN). Under this law, which was published on July 20, 2016, the Chilean government aims to contribute to the timely expansion of the electricity transmission network. The Transmission Law heightens the role of the government in the electricity sector, granting it greater capacity to execute electricity infrastructure planning, expand the system and determine and manage the creation of land strips for the installation of new structures related to transmission lines. Regarding the CISEN, it has among its duties the coordination of operations, determination of the marginal costs of electricity, to assure open access to the transmission systems, to maintain global safety, and to coordinate economic transactions between agents, determining the marginal cost of electricity and economic transfers among the organizations that it coordinates.

Finally, it is important to mention the project to reform the Water Code that could affect any new hydroelectric project in Chile. The aim of the pending bill would be to reduce water shortages, proposing a series of regulatory changes. Specifically, it proposes an increase in state control, which could affect the legal certainty necessary for the development of economic activities, and would seek to change the legal nature of existing water rights, undermining property rights. This reform aims to change the perpetuity of water rights (DAA). The reform provides that the use of the DAA will have a maximum duration of 30 years, transforming the DAA into a simple administrative concession. In addition, the reform aims to create grounds for revocation, which could affect existing DAAs.

2.         Organization of the market

The electricity market in Chile has been designed in such a way that investment and operation of the electricity infrastructure is carried out by private operators, promoting economic efficiency through competitive markets, in all non-monopolistic segments. Thus, generation, transmission and distribution activities have been separated in the electricity market, each having a different regulatory environment.

The distribution and the transmission segments are both regulated and have service obligations and prices fixed in accordance with efficient cost standards. In the generation sector, a competitive system has been established based on marginal cost pricing (peak load pricing), whereby consumers pay one price for energy and one price for capacity (power) associated with peak demand hours.

According to the National Commission of Energy (CNE), Chile’s power generation for September 2018 was 5,972GWh, comprised of: thermoelectric 57 percent, conventional hydroelectric 23 percent and NCRE 20 percent. It is the fifth-largest consumer of energy in South America.

The wholesale electricity market comprises generation companies that trade energy and capacity between them, depending on the supply contracts they have entered into. Companies capable of generating more than the amount they have committed in contracts sell to companies with a generation capacity below what they have contracted with their customers. The CISEN determines physical and economic transfers (sales and purchases) and – in the case of energy – valued on an hourly basis at the marginal cost resulting from the operation of the system during that hour.

3.         Authorization to construct and operate generation facilities

While no governmental authorization has to be obtained in order to construct and operate generation facilities, power utilities usually obtain electricity concessions to acquire fundamental rights to protect their investment. A classic key right is the imposition of a right of way over the land whose owners are reluctant to grant rights of way through voluntary agreements. These electric concessions, however, are only available for the construction and development of hydropower plants, substations and transmission lines. These rights of way are fundamental to allow the power company to secure the transport of electricity to the national grid. Notwithstanding the above, authorizations under the Environmental Law, the Land Use Planning Law and the Municipality Law may be required when building a power plant or generation facility.

The Environmental Law (Law No. 19,300, as amended by Law No. 20,417, enforceable since January 26, 2010) establishes a regulatory framework applicable to projects with an environmental impact (article 10 of the Environmental Law and article 3 of its regulation determines the projects that must be submitted to the environmental impact assessment process, among which are power plants with output capacity in excess of 3MW). These projects may force the developer to request and obtain an environmental approval resolution (RCA). In the event of infringement of the obligations established in the RCAs, the Environmental Superintendence may impose the following sanctions: verbal warning, fines of up to US$10 million, revocation of the approval or closure of the facilities.

We do not refer to other permits that must be obtained in advance of developing a generation facility project, such as land use planning permits, water rights or geothermal exploration or exploitation concessions.

According to information provided by the CNE, by October 2018, 56 power generation projects were under construction. Together they represent a capacity of 2,838MW and are expected to start operation between July 2017 and October 2022.

4.         Alternative energy sources

According to the CNE, in September 2018, 20 percent of Chile’s power generation came from NCRE. In this respect, Chilean law contains incentives as well as obligations to foster the use of renewable energies. Law No. 19,940, Law No. 20,257 and the regulations contained in Supreme Decree No. 244 (which regulates the NCRE based in small generation units of up to 9MW, known as “PMG” or “PMGD” depending on the type of network to which they are connected) create the conditions necessary for the development of NCRE, encouraging power generation based on alternative energy sources.

Incentives

NCRE power facilities with less than 20MW may sell their output capacity to the spot market without having to pay (totally or partially) tolls to transmission companies (with differentiated treatment for units of up to 9MW and those between 9MW and 20MW). As regards PMG (only if classified as NCRE) and PMGD, Chilean law incentivizes the development of this kind of energy source, granting them the possibility to decide whether to sell energy at the spot market price (marginal cost) or at a fixed price. Another incentive to this kind of projects is that all PMG and PMGD will operate with auto dispatch, meaning that the owner or operator of the respective PMG or PMGD will be responsible for determining the power and energy to be injected into the distribution network to which it is connected (coordinated with the CISEN).

Obligations

As noted above, by Law No. 20,257, all electricity companies selling energy to final customers must ensure that a given percentage (20 percent) of the energy they sell comes from an NCRE source. In fact, this target was met some seven years ahead of schedule, because, in 2018, 20 percent of the withdrawals of the power companies will have been injected into the system from NCRE sources. However, already in 2015, the government had published a long-term energy policy (to 2050), which aims, amongst other things, to reach renewables (NCRE + conventional hydropower) shares of electricity generation of 60 percent by 2035 and at least 70 percent by 2050.

New and exclusive bidding process for NCRE

Since 2015, the Ministry of Energy has been obliged to carry out a public bidding process every year for energy coming from NCRE sources, which will help to reach the quotas of NCRE required by law. This competitive mechanism aims to improve the financing conditions of NCRE, and has the followings characteristics:

• the public bidding process can be implemented separately for each transmission system in up to two bidding periods per year. The amount of energy will depend on the projections for the fulfillment of NCRE quotas for the next three years;

• each participant in the bidding process shall submit an offer including the amount of energy (GWh) and a price (US$/MWh); and

• the project will be awarded to the cheapest bid until the necessary amount of energy is reached, considering a maximum price equal to the average cost of the most efficient generation technology of the electric system that can be installed in the long term.

5.         Other incentives

Two major undertakings have been launched for the purpose of introducing incentives on NCRE: improvement of the regulatory framework of the electricity market and the implementation of direct support mechanisms for investment initiatives in NCRE:

a. The proposed changes to the regulatory framework intend, among other things, to create the conditions to implement a portfolio of NCRE projects to accelerate the development of the market; to eliminate the barriers that frequently impede innovation; and to generate confidence in the electricity market regarding this type of technology. This is partially achieved by the government enacting the law for the development of NCRE (Law No. 20,257 amended by Law No. 20,698).

b. On the other hand, as declared by the current Environment Minister, since the ratifying of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1994 and the signature of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, Chile has actively engaged in the establishment of national policies in response to climate change. In this regard, it is important to mention Law No. 20,780, which established a new annual tax on emissions from CO2, SO2, NOx and particulate matter (PM) sources. It is aimed at facilities with boilers or turbines that, together, add up to a heat output of at least 50 megawatts thermal (MWth). This tax is called a “green tax” since it would be an incentive for the growth of NCRE projects. Specifically, Chile’s green tax targets large factories and the electricity sector, covering an important percentage of the nation’s carbon emissions. In the case of PM, NOx and SO2 emissions into the air, the taxes will be the equivalent of US$0.1 per ton produced or the corresponding proportion of said pollutants, increasing the result by applying a formula that takes into account the social cost of pollution such as costs associated with the health of the population. In the case of CO2 emissions, the tax is equivalent to US$5 for each ton emitted. In order to determine the tax burden, the Chilean Environmental Superintendency will certify in March of each year a number of emissions by each taxpayer or contributor during the previous calendar year. Each taxpayer or contributor who uses any source that results in emissions, for any reason, shall install and obtain certification for a continuous emissions monitoring system for PM, CO2, SO2, and NOx. This tax will be assessed and paid on an annual basis for the emissions of the prior year, beginning in 2018 for the 2017 emissions.

6.         Energy Goals

One remarkable aim in the energy sector, which was included in Law No. 20,936 mentioned in section 1 above, is to define and incorporate electricity storage systems along with generation and transmission facilities, and to organize all the electricity system (including storage) under the CISEN. The Chilean regulatory framework does not currently support electricity storage in a particular way but grants the CISEN broad powers and the ability to allocate permanent funds for research, development and innovation in energy storage. In the coming months, the Chilean authorities must publish the special regulations for the functioning of the CISEN and particularly on how it will use the available funds. In this regard, a new regulatory decree (“Reglamento de Coordinación y Operación”) is already under discussion between the Ministry of Energy and key private players.

The vision of Chile’s energy sector is reflected by its whole legal framework and regulatory system. That vision is also reflected by Chile’s Energy Agenda to 2050. By the year 2050, the vision is to have a reliable, inclusive, competitive and sustainable energy sector. Chile’s development must be respectful of people, of the environment and of productivity, and must ensure continuous improvement of living conditions. The aim is to evolve towards sustainable energy in all its dimensions, on the basis of the attributes of reliability, inclusiveness, competitiveness and environmental sustainability. Chile’s energy infrastructure shall cause low environmental impact. Such impact should be avoided or, if not, then mitigated and compensated. The energy system must stand out as an example of low greenhouse gases emissions and as an instrument to promote and comply with international climate-related agreements.

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Chile – a clean energy powerhouse

Natural Gas Public Company of Cyprus (DEFA) issues request for proposals for €500m LNG import facility

Cyprus’ long standing plans to import gas to the island have taken a big step forward with the release on 5 October 2018 of a request for proposals to design, construct, procure, commission, operate and maintain an LNG import facility at Vasilikos Bay, Cyprus (the Project).

It is interesting to note that (unlike previous tenders for LNG imports to Cyprus) the infrastructure is being tendered for separately to the LNG supply. DEFA expects to issue a request for expressions of interest for LNG supply to the market later this year, with a full RfP to follow in early 2019.

Overview of Project

The RfP divides the Project into three distinct elements:

  • The engineering, procurement and construction of the offshore and onshore infrastructure, including the gas transmission pipeline and associated facilities;
  • The procurement and commissioning of a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU), through the purchase of an existing FSRU, design and construction of a new-build FSRU, or conversion of an LNG Carrier and, if applicable, provision of a floating storage unit (FSU); and
  • The Operations and Maintenance (O&M) of the infrastructure and FSRU for a period of 20 years.”

The following points are worth drawing out:

  1. the Project must be completed by 30 November 2020;
  2. initially, all gas imported through the facility will be sold on by DEFA to the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC, the state owned electricity company, which owns and operates the Vasilikos power station adjacent to the proposed site of the facility). The Vasilikos plant is currently running on heavy fuel oil, but will burn gas once the Project is complete.
  3. DEFA has incorporated a special purpose vehicle, Natural Gas Infrastructure Company of Cyprus, for the Project. The SPV will contract with the successful bidder for the construction and O&M services; and will own the LNG import facility once constructed;
  4. DEFA will contract directly with suppliers for the LNG supply; and will acquire capacity in the facility from the SPV. The risk allocation between the various agreements that will need to be entered into between DEFA, the SPV, the LNG supplier and EAC will be a critical issue for the success of the project.
  5. DEFA will have an option to take over certain elements of the offshore and onshore O&M services at different stages of the Project;
  6. as part of the onshore infrastructure, the contractor will be required to install a “natural gas buffer solution”. The design of this piece of infrastructure is left for the contractor to propose, but could for example include a pipeline array. The intention behind this requirement is to ensure that the FSRU and pipeline infrastructure is capable of achieving the flexibility of gas supply required to meet the operational requirements of the Vasilikos plant.

Funding

The Project has an approved budget of €300m for the initial capex, and €200m for O&M costs over the 20 year term. The initial capex will be part funded by an EU grant under the Connecting Europe Facility, with the remainder expected to be funded wholly or in part by debt finance. It is not yet clear whether EAC will invest equity into the Project – reference is made to EAC taking up to a 30% interest in the SPV at a later date.

Key issues

From our team’s experience of working on similar projects in Cyprus, key issues for the success of the Project may include:

  1. credit support to be provided by Cyprus stakeholders (DEFA / EAC / the government) and the successful bidder. It is interesting to note that the government of Cyprus will be issuing a government guarantee to support the debt financing;
  2. the possibility (and timing) of DEFA selling gas to other buyers in the future, and the implications for EAC’s gas take from the facility;
  3. EAC’s ability to pass through the costs it incurs by generating electricity from gas to electricity consumers under the Cypriot regulatory regime;
  4. the flexibility of gas supply required to meet the operational requirements of the Vasilikos plant (see the previous comments regarding the buffer solution). This will be particularly important given the expected trend towards increased levels of renewable generation and consequential impact on required flexibility of thermal plants on the system;
  5. the impact of additional delivery points for piped gas to other buyers/plants;
  6. the expected timeframe for the conversion of the Vasilikos plant’s turbines to gas, and commissioning of the gas-firing equipment;
  7. impact of any electricity system operator requirements – e.g. regarding new electricity market rules in Cyprus.

Dentons: Cyprus / LNG experience

Dentons has unparalleled experience of working on LNG projects in Cyprus, having advised DEFA for a number of years on the potential long term import of LNG to Cyprus, and subsequently on shorter term interim gas supply arrangements; and MECIT on the commercialisation of the Aphrodite Field in the Cyprus EEZ through the development of a proposed onshore LNG liquefaction and export project at Vasilikos.

The team has a particular focus in advising on international LNG import projects. Team members are advising, or have advised on, LNG import projects in Ghana, the Caribbean, Jamaica, Pakistan, Jordan and Malta.

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Natural Gas Public Company of Cyprus (DEFA) issues request for proposals for €500m LNG import facility

Big data in the energy sector: GDPR reminder for energy companies

On 18 September, Dentons hosted an Energy Institute event in our London office with the title “The Clash of Digitalisations”. Speakers from Upside Energy, Powervault and Mixergy spoke about the Pete Project, an initiative funded by Innovate UK, that is exploring the potential of domestic hot water tanks and batteries to provide flexibility services to National Grid.  Fascinating as the technological and energy-regulatory aspects of this kind of household demand-side response aggregation services are, a key common theme of the evening was the central role played in them by the analysis of large amounts of “personal data”, and whether recent changes in privacy legislation help or hinder the development of such services.  We produced this short article to put that discussion in context.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force across the European Union (EU) on 25 May 2018 and is intended to overhaul the way that companies collect and use personal data. GDPR puts the onus on companies to ensure that they have a lawful basis to collect and process personal data. It also requires mechanisms to allow data subjects to exercise the new rights available to them under GDPR.

Breach reporting requirements have been strengthened with a requirement to report most breaches to the relevant supervisory authority within 72 hours. Supervisory authorities have increased enforcement powers including the ability to impose fines of 20 million Euros or 4% of total worldwide annual turnover.

Compliance with the requirements of GDPR presents a particular challenge within the energy sector. One high profile example is in connection with the use of smart meters and smart grids. Smart grids when combined with smart metering systems automatically monitor energy usage, adjust to changes in energy supply and provide real-time information on consumer energy consumption. The EU aims to have 80% of electricity meters converted to smart meters by 2020. As such, the volume of personal data collected in the energy sector is set to increase.

What is Big Data?

Big data has been defined in various ways including by reference to the “three V’s”. This refers to volume being the size of the dataset, velocity being the real-time nature of the data and variety referring to the different sources of the data.

However, this definition does not accurately describe all big data. An alternative is to define big data as an extremely large data set that cannot be analysed using traditional methods. Instead such big data is analysed using alternative methods (such as machine learning) in order to reveal trends, patterns, interactions and other information that can be used to inform decision-making and business strategy.

The key to big data is the analysis and resulting output. Big data analytics can be achieved using machine learning where computers are taught to “think” by creating mathematical algorithms based on accumulated data. Machine learning falls broadly into two categories, supervised and unsupervised. Supervised learning involves a training phase to develop algorithms by mapping specific datasets to pre-determined outputs. Alternatively machine learning can be unsupervised where algorithms are created by the machine to find patterns within the input data without being instructed what to look for specifically.

Big data is a particular issue following the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica story and the public concern about mass data capture and exploitation.

Below, we consider the 7 key issues surrounding big data from a data protection perspective within the energy sector.

Key issues

1. Fairness and transparency

One of the principles of GDPR is that personal data must be processed in a fair and transparent manner.

In practice this means that companies processing personal data must provide a privacy notice to individuals that sets out how and why personal data is being processed. This raises a practical issue in connection with big data analytics because often the purposes of processing are not always known at the outset.

In addition, machine learning algorithms are often conducted in what is known as a “black box”. This means that the algorithm itself is unknown to the data controller and cannot be interrogated to determine how the output was selected or decision made. This likely means that the privacy notice may not be GDPR compliant.

2. Lawful basis for processing

The processing of personal data must have a lawful basis at the outset. There are a number of legal bases available (listed out in A6 and A9 GDPR).

Consent is unlikely to be an option when big data analytics are involved. The analysis of big data sets is often conducted to discover trends within that data set and if those trends were known prior to the analysis, the analysis would not need to be conducted. Machine learning algorithms are often impossible for humans to understand as they cannot be translated into an intelligible form without losing their meaning.  Consent must be freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous to be valid under GDPR. If the information regarding how personal data is processed cannot be understood then this cannot be translated into a meaningful consent.

In addition, under GDPR, data subjects have the right to withdraw consent and have a company cease processing their personal data. This would be difficult, if not impossible, in a big data context if the machine-learning algorithm is opaque and there is no ability to segregate personal data relating to a specific individual. As such, consent is highly unlikely to be a viable lawful basis for processing big data.

A potential alternative would be reliance on “legitimate interests”. This is available where processing of personal data is necessary for the pursuance of the legitimate interests of the company determining how and why the personal data is held and processed. The legitimate interests of the company need to be balanced against the interests, rights and freedoms of the individual (with particular care taken where data relates to children). A legitimate interests assessment should be conducted to determine whether legitimate interests can be relied upon. This should be documented.

An issue with legitimate interests as a basis for processing big data is that processing must be “necessary” for the purpose pursued by the company. In some instances big data analytics are pursued because the output may reveal a new correlation of interest. However, processing data because it may be “interesting” is unlikely to be sufficient to qualify as a legitimate interest that needs to be pursued by the controller.

3. Purpose limitation

GDPR requires that personal data be collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in an incompatible manner.

Big data analytics by their very nature often result in processing of data for new and novel purposes. These may be incompatible with the original purpose for which the data was collected. The issue then arises as to how and when privacy notices should be refreshed and brought to the attention of individuals.

Where material changes are made to a privacy notice or the reasons and methods by which personal data are processed these need to be actively brought to the attention of the data subject in advance of the processing. If the novel purposes or outcome is not known prior to analysis of the personal data then there is no logical way for a privacy notice to be refreshed or brought to the attention of an individual.

In addition, the personal data may have been obtained in bulk from a third party. This poses an additional challenge as it may be difficult or difficult to contact those individuals to whom the personal data relates.

4. Data minimisation

Big data analytics involves the collection and use of extremely large quantities of information. This is potentially problematic from a data minimisation perspective because GDPR requires that personal data held and processed should be limited to the minimum required for the purposes for which they were collected.

However, there are solutions to this issue. Personal data could be anonymised such that individuals are no longer identifiable from the information. A benefit of big data analytics is that it is often not dependent on the identification of specific individuals but rather of overall trends within the data population. Once personal data is anonymised it is no longer “personal data” for the purposes of GDPR and could be used and analysed as needed without the requirement for further refreshed privacy notices or legitimate interest assessments in relation to such processing. However data subjects should be told how their data may be used including that it may be anonymised and the purposes of subsequent usage.

5. Individual rights

There are practical issues around how data subjects can exercise their rights under GDPR in relation to big data. Data subjects have various rights under GDPR including the right to request confirmation that their personal data is being processed, access copies of personal data held, to correct inaccuracies, the “right to be forgotten”, to restrict processing, to have personal data “ported” to another entity and the right to object to processing.

The exercise of many of these rights requires business systems and processes that enable the identification and segregation of personal data relating to a specific individual. If personal data is being processed within an opaque algorithm then segregation of that personal data (e.g. to erase it) will be difficult.

Given the quantities of personal data held in the context of big data any exercise of individual privacy rights is likely to be a time consuming exercise and potentially a costly administrative burden.

There are also specific rules on automated decisions which are made concerning an individual that may have a legal (for example a mortgage rejection or acceptance) or other similarly significant effect. In practice this would involve explicitly referencing the automated decision-making within a privacy or other notice and gaining the explicit consent of the data subject (unless it is necessary for performance of a contract or otherwise authorised by EU or Member State law). As discussed above, consent is a tricky concept in connection with big data analytics and gaining a meaningful consent to the proposed automated decision making would be difficult.

Depending on the nature of the automated decision-making and its effect on the individual, one argument may be that the decision does not have a legal or similarly significant effect on the data subject. This would need to be carefully considered in the context of the automated decision-making and the effect on the individual.

6. Accuracy

GDPR requires that personal data held be accurate and that every reasonable step must be taken to ensure that personal data is accurate (and suitably erased or rectified to remove inaccuracies).

Whilst a level of inaccuracy may have minimal impact where large data sets are analysed to reveal general trends, there will be a significant impact when processing is used to analyse a specific individual.

An additional issue is that drawing conclusions or correlations from large data sets, even if the data itself is accurate, may still lead to inaccurate conclusions. This is a particular problem where the input data is not representative of the entire population.

The machine-learning algorithm may include hidden biases that will lead to inaccurate predictions. Consider Ethics Committee input and user testing to mitigate this risk.

Although there is no quick fix to rectify inaccuracies in data sets, the above highlights the importance of ensuring personal data and other information are both accurate and representative of the population sampled to ensure that the outputs and conclusions drawn from big data analytics are accurate.

7. Security

Security and the risk of hacking and data breaches are inherent to any business that is processing personal data. This risk is only increased where the personal data held consists of extremely large quantities of personal data. Any high profile organisation that holds large quantities of personal data will be a bigger target for hackers and also at higher risk of human error within the business resulting in the inadvertent loss of personal data.

It is therefore essential that companies within the energy sector review security measures and procedures to minimise the ability of hackers to breach systems and any resulting impact of a data breach. This will inevitably involve a combination of upgrades to security systems and regular training to ensure staff know how to hold and transmit personal data and what to do in the event of a breach.

Conclusion

The energy sector faces significant challenges if it wants to both utilise and benefit from large data sets available to it, comply with GDPR and protect the rights of individuals.

However, despite the challenges, the benefits of big data analytics for both the company and the individual in the energy sector mean that solutions to these issues must be considered in order to facilitate the growth of domestic demand-side response services, to manage energy consumption more efficiently and respond to changes in local usage and give individuals greater visibility and control over their individual energy consumption. A balance needs to be found between the needs of the sector and privacy of individuals, and a proper GDPR analysis can help you achieve that.

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Big data in the energy sector: GDPR reminder for energy companies

Low carbon heat: if not now, when (and how)?

Decarbonising the UK’s heat supply is a massive challenge, but like other aspects of the energy transition, it also presents significant opportunities for investors, developers, consumers and others. On 3 July 2018, an Energy Breakfast event at Dentons’ London office explored the subject of investing in low carbon heat.  The speakers were Richard Taylor of E4Tech, co-authors of a recent study on future heat infrastructure costs for the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), Stuart Allison of Vattenfall’s newly established UK heat business, Jenny Curtis of Amber Infrastructure and Nick Allen of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).  We summarise here some of the key issues from their presentations and the lively discussion that followed, as well as one or two related subsequent developments.

Why decarbonising heat is important – and difficult

It may seem perverse to try to debate policy on any form of artificial heating at a time when much of the UK has been enjoying near-record high temperatures for what feels like several weeks, but it was only a few months ago that the country saw an almost equally notably cold start to spring. The heat sector, at present mostly fuelled by burning natural gas, accounts for about one-third of UK greenhouse gas emissions.  The sector’s emissions will have to be largely, if not completely, eliminated by 2050 if the UK is to meet the emissions reduction targets set under the Climate Change Act 2008 – let alone the more demanding targets that may flow from the 2015 UNFCCC Paris Agreement objective of keeping increases in average global temperatures well below 2oC.

One way of decarbonising heat would be to substitute hydrogen for methane as a fuel. It is possible to mix some hydrogen (or biomethane) with natural gas and still use existing pipeline networks and appliances.  But full decarbonisation by this route would require significant investment at both the wholesale and end user levels (replacement of metal with plastic pipes, new boilers).  And that is just the start.  The hydrogen has to be produced on a large scale – probably using methane as a feedstock, which would produce a stream of CO2 that would need to be captured and either stored or used in a way that avoids its being released into the atmosphere: in other words, more investment in substantial infrastructure, and the commercialisation of technologies (such as CCS) which have so far been slow to develop, even though they would appear to be an important part of the future of the oil and gas industry.  Significant changes to existing downstream gas regulation are also be required, to accommodate both blending of hydrogen with methane and full conversion.  And all this assumes that popular misconceptions about the safety of hydrogen do not prevent its widespread deployment.

Alternatively, decarbonisation of heat could be achieved by switching from boilers to a system built around heat pumps and storage, and running the heat pumps on decarbonised electricity. This would require significant action at the wholesale level (e.g. additional generating and network capacity) and a radical change in infrastructure at the end user level (e.g. each household either acquires a heat pump of its own or becomes part of a district heat network attached to a much larger heat pump).

Between the scenarios focused primarily on hydrogen or electrification, there are some hybrid options, and it is arguable that the replacement of existing natural gas-based heating could efficiently take different forms in different parts of the country (for example, those areas not connected to the existing gas grid are likely to be more cost-effectively served by heat pumps than by hydrogen). But it is clear that unlike in the case of electricity generation, where the Government has been able to adopt a broad policy of encouraging a range of low carbon technologies and regulating the pipeline of new capacity by adjusting the level of subsidy and the ease or difficulty of obtaining planning permission for each of them, in relation to heat it is likely to have to make some fundamental, long-term choices at the outset between the competing pathways to decarbonisation.  Put at its starkest, in the next 30 years, existing gas pipeline networks are likely to have either to decarbonise or cease to operate.

All of this points to the conclusion that decarbonising heat will be harder than decarbonising the generation of electricity.  At the wholesale or system level, it will be very hard for Government to avoid making major strategic choices between competing heat technology options, rather than just letting the technology mix evolve within a managed framework.  End users will have to take (or be coerced into taking) a much more active role in the heat decarbonising process than the vast majority of them have had to play in decarbonising electricity.  Finally, as further explained below, the interaction of decarbonising heat with adjacent areas of activity is likely to be harder to predict and manage.

Expert assessments

In one sense, none of this is news. In the ten years since the Climate Change Act, the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) have repeatedly highlighted the challenges of the heat sector in their reports.  In their latest progress report to Parliament, published on 28 June 2018, the CCC invite the Government to “apply the lessons of the past decade or risk a poor deal for the public in the next”.  Examples from the heat sector feature in support of each of the four key messages that the report delivers: support the simple, low-cost options; commit to effective regulation and strict enforcement; end the chopping and changing of policy; and act now to keep long-term options open.

The CCC note that progress on decarbonisation to date has been heavily focused on electricity generation. Heat and other sectors will need to catch up if the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (set under the Climate Change Act for the years 2023-2027 and 2028-2032 as staging posts on the way to the final 2050 target of 80% emissions reduction against 1990 levels) are to be met.

The CCC identify a number of specific actions required of Government to be on track to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets.  In the shorter term, they highlight the need for further action to deliver cost-effective uptake of low-carbon heat, including low-carbon heat networks in heat-dense areas (e.g. cities) and increased injection of biomethane into the gas grid.

The long-term choice between heat decarbonisation technologies and the desirability of low-regrets measures such as energy efficiency measures and low carbon heat networks in areas of dense heat demand are reviewed in an Imperial College report for the CCC (the executive summary of which was published alongside the CCC’s 28 June 2018 report as well as in E4Tech / Element Energy’s report for the NIC.  Both cite the CCC’s 2016 visual representation of these measures and choices.  Element Energy / E4Tech’s version of this is reproduced below.

In his presentation of the E4Tech / Element Energy conclusions, Richard Taylor stressed that although the hydrogen scenarios appeared to be slightly cheaper, significant uncertainties remained around the level of additional costs associated with each of the long-term options, shown below in comparison with the “no change” option of maintaining a natural-gas based heating sector.

Both reports have a wealth of more detailed analysis.  For example, this chart from the Imperial College report highlights the potential implications for the optimal levels of installed capacity in the electricity generation sector of different heat technology / intensity of emissions reduction scenarios (the figures 30, 10 and 0 underneath each bar refer to target CO2 emissions in Mt).  Unsurprisingly, significantly more capacity is required in the electricity based scenarios, but it is also interesting, for example, how much the nuclear element in the mix varies between options, and that even the electricity based scenarios include a substantial hydrogen component in the form of open and combined cycle gas turbine plant using hydrogen rather than natural gas as a fuel.

All of this, and related issues such as the role of “flexibility” technologies (some of which, like thermal storage of energy, have implications for both the heating and power production technology mix and the way that heat and power networks are developed) highlights the interdependency of infrastructure investment choices across different parts of the energy sector.  The CCC are clear on what this means. They observe: “If emissions from heating are to be largely eliminated by 2050, a national programme to switch buildings on the gas grid to low-carbon heating would need to begin by around 2030 at the latest, requiring Government decisions on the route forward to be made by the mid-2020s.” (emphasis added).  At the same time, they highlight one of the obvious points that threatens the taking of that decision in the timeframe that they recommend, noting that “There will be important questions to be resolved around how to pay for heat decarbonisation.

Heat networks: how low is the low-hanging fruit hanging?

Why is the development of heat networks identified as a “low regrets” option for the shorter-term, more or less regardless of what choices the Government may make about heat in the longer term? A heat network is a system comprising a heat production unit and a network of pipes and heat exchangers through which the heat that it produces is distributed, in the form of steam or hot water, to the heating and hot water appliances in a number of different customers’ premises (rather than each customer’s system of such appliances having its own heat production unit).

The concept of a heat network is technology-neutral. The heat production unit could, for example be a boiler (fuelled by methane, woodchips or hydrogen) or a heat-pump (sourcing its heat from the air, the ground, or a body of water such as a river or lake, or the water that collects in old mine workings).  Broadly speaking, whatever technology you use to produce heat, in areas where the demand for heat is sufficiently dense, it is likely to be more efficient (and – where the technology involves combustion –to result in lower carbon emissions) if the heat is generated in bulk and distributed to individual buildings or households around a local network (as steam or hot water) rather than each building or household having its own heat production equipment (e.g. boiler or heat pump).

Heat networks are obviously easiest to install when a building is first constructed, although retrofitting may also be cost effective in some cases.  If care is taken in designing a heat network, it may well also be possible to switch between heat production technologies at a lower overall cost at a network level than it would be for an individual building or household to do so (for example, by replacing a single large gas-fired unit with a single large heat pump or a hydrogen-fired unit, rather than replacing the heat production equipment in each individual customer’s premises). Moreover, consumer research commissioned by BEIS shows that those served by heat networks are overall as satisfied with their heating as those who are not.

Heat networks, then, have much to commend them.  There is considerable investor interest in heat networks.  BEIS has even published a list of 10 infrastructure investors who are actively interested in investing in them.  Planning policy both at central and local government level has for many years encouraged the installation of heat networks in new residential and commercial developments and the seeking out by those building new thermal electricity generating plant of potential network uses for their waste heat.  And yet, at present, only 2% of UK demand is connected to a heat network, although as much as 20% of demand may be sufficiently densely located to benefit from a heat network solution.  An increase in heat network capacity features in all three clean growth pathways in the BEIS Clean Growth Strategy.  But connecting 20% of demand to a heat network by 2050 would imply an annual growth rate of 8-10%.  Will this be feasible?

The short answer is: feasible, yes – but not easy, for a number of reasons.

  • Complexity:  It is easier for a developer to arrange a gas supply to a group of new premises and fit each of them with its own natural gas-fired boiler than to establish a heat network to serve them.  Opting for a network solution immediately raises a series of questions and requires a much wider range of issues to be taken into account.  Who will design, build, own and operate the network?  Whoever does each of these things, more contracts will need to be negotiated than for a non-network solution, where all that is needed is a gas connection and a contract to supply / fit some boilers.  In many new developments, there are a lot of different stakeholder interests to balance (the developer, others with responsibility for the network, different landlord and tenant interests, local authorities and so on).  If the same organisation does not have responsibility for all aspects of the network, agreement will have to be reached on a whole series of risk allocations.  One common solution is for a developer to install a network but then to seek to recover some of the expense of doing so by selling it (or the right to operate it) to an energy services company (ESCO), but the building of a network by a party that will not operate it in the long-term can result in poor quality installation.
  • Lack of standardisation: Heat network projects can therefore quickly develop lengthy risk registers, but there is no universal approach to or methodology for allocating those risks, and, as a result, not as much standardisation of contractual provision – on terms that strike a fair balance between competing stakeholder interests – as is desirable to keep costs under control in a sector where most transactions have a relatively small value.
  • Economics: The economics of what may at first appear to be promising heat network projects sometimes do not quite stack up. The relatively small size of transactions can make it hard to leverage debt in.
  • Perceived shortcomings of the technology: Notwithstanding that there appears to be no overall problem of customer satisfaction with heat networks, concerns remain about the lack of customer control (e.g. over heating, in networks where the necessary valves have not been fitted in individual premises).  As in any consumer market, one or two prominent bad reports, e.g. of poor service or over-charging, can unfairly skew stakeholders’ views of the technology as a whole.

However, none of these problems is insuperable and, as we shall see below, steps are being taken to address all of them.

Go Dutch – and regulate for growth?

Discussion about the UK’s failure – so far – to make the most of heat network opportunities often includes reference to other countries, including a number in Continental Europe, where their use is widespread and longstanding. The inference is that since we have failed to see the benefits of heat networks for so long, it will be an uphill struggle to do better now: it’s too late for us to become Denmark / Poland / [insert your European heat network exemplar country of choice].

However, Vattenfall’s experience suggests that it is possible to spread heat networks through a major European city, starting from scratch. Before 1994, Amsterdam had no significant heat network provision.  Since then, starting with the use of waste heat from a new energy from waste plant, the city has been steadily building out a heat network which is expected to help it to go “gas-free” by 2050 –  and the trend is spreading elsewhere in the Netherlands as well.

There are perhaps only three major structural differences between the UK and Netherlands markets. The first is that the supply of natural gas in the Netherlands is taxed more heavily, providing an additional economic incentive for heat networks, particularly those using non-methane energy sources.  The second is that strategic planning for the rollout of heat networks in Amsterdam is considerably facilitated by a joint venture between a Vattenfall entity and the city itself.  The third is that heat supply / networks are regulated in the same way as electricity and gas networks / supply.

In the UK, the heat networks sector is not currently subject to the same kind of regulations as comparable services such as electricity and gas, and this has raised concerns about standards of quality and consumer protection.

The Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations 2014 offer some consumer protection including by imposing billing obligations and the requirement for all new heat network customers to be given a heat meter, however they do not provide for a standard of customer service or recourse to an independent complaints review process for unsatisfied customers.

The heat network industry also has its own consumer protection scheme, the Heat Trust, which sets a common standard for the quality and level of customer service, and provides for a complaints handlings system, including access to an independent complaints review by way of access to the Energy Ombudsman. However, the scheme has no statutory underpinning, membership of it is voluntary and it currently only covers a small proportion of the existing heat network customer base.

In December 2017, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) announced they were launching a market study into domestic heat networks to ensure that consumers using heat networks are getting a good deal.  The study set out to examine whether consumers are aware of the costs of heat networks both before and after moving into a property; whether heat networks are natural monopolies and the impacts of offering different incentives for builders, operators and customers of heat networks; and the prices, services quality and reliability of heat networks.

  • The CMA published its initial findings on 10 May 2018.It notes that, overall, the average prices on the majority of heat networks within the sample considered were the same or lower than that of comparable gas-heating, and the overall satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) of customers was in line with that of consumers not on heat networks. Nevertheless, there were instances of poor service quality and cases where customers were paying “considerably more” than for non-network heat.
  • The CMA is concerned that the factors driving instances of poor performance or unduly high pricing should not become “embedded”, to the detriment of customers, as the sector expands.  Specifically, it looks at “misaligned incentives between property developers, heat network operators and customers of heat networks”; the monopoly nature of heat networks and the delivery models used for them; and lack of transparency on prices “both pre-transaction and during residency”.
  • It finds that regulation is needed to ensure that heat network customers receive levels of protection comparable to those afforded to customers in the gas and electricity sector.  The report recommends the introduction of a statutory framework, which would give formal powers to a sector regulator.  This conclusion echoes some of the recommendations and analysis of a 2017 report by Citizens Advice Scotland.
  • The CMA’s recommendations also go beyond the imposition of a regulatory framework for network operators to encompass possible changes to planning and building regulations, leasehold arrangements and property sales disclosures (including energy performance certificates) to take into account the specifics of heat networks. Changes to regulations in this area would give greater pre-contractual transparency to purchasers and tenants of properties to understand the implications of living in properties serviced by heat networks.

A consultation on the CMA’s initial findings closed on 31 May 2018, with a full report expected by the end of the summer. There is clearly at least a substantial body of opinion in the industry that supports the conclusion that it would benefit from sectoral regulation: a well-designed regulatory scheme, rather than unduly burdening operators, would boost consumer confidence and help the industry to expand.  Regulation could ultimately mean that operators’ returns may be capped, but the predictability that comes with well-designed and administered regulation could encourage investment.  There would likely be other benefits as well: operators in economically regulated industries are typically also given a range of statutory powers that makes it considerably easier for them to do their jobs – such as compulsory purchase powers and “statutory undertaker” rights under legislation governing planning and street works.

It seems unlikely that a sectoral regulation scheme for heat networks could be introduced without primary legislation, and there must be some doubt as to whether the Government will find the policy resource and Parliamentary time necessary to put such legislation in place in the short term.  For the moment, the CMA has decided not to launch a formal “market investigation” – a step which would open up the possibility of imposing some remedies (but probably not an overall scheme of regulation) on the sector itself for any adverse effects on competition it found.  However, the CMA has reserved the right to revisit this decision and those setting up heat network schemes may do well to take account of the conclusions of the current market study in any event.

More immediate Government support

Attention to the CMA’s work and its possible inconclusive outcome in the short term should not distract from the valuable work that BEIS has been undertaking to remove or reduce some of the other key barriers to expansion of the sector.

Earlier in 2018, BEIS provided details of a scheme to provide “gap funding” for heat network projects. The Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP) is the vehicle for disbursing £320 million of Government money that was first earmarked for this use some time ago, building on the results of an earlier pilot scheme, and leveraging in about “£1 billion of private and other investment”.

Following the appointment of a delivery partner, the scheme will formally launch in the autumn. Funding may take the form of grants, corporate loans or project loans.  A number of criteria (both economic and technical / environmental) have been established for applicants to satisfy, perhaps the most important of which are those relating to “additionality”, designed to demonstrate that the applicant’s project would not go ahead without HNIP support – either because it could not otherwise raise the capital or achieve an adequate IRR, or because it would not otherwise be possible to fund additional technical or commercial features that are not required through planning obligations.

On the same day as our Energy Breakfast took place, BEIS published over 750 pages of useful guidance for those contemplating heat network schemes, comprising:

The intention is that HNIP funding will create a pipeline of investable projects that will help the sector to become self-sustaining by 2021. As ever, success will lie in the quality of the implementation, but HNIP is a well-designed scheme that addresses many of the key issues facing heat network projects.

Two other initiatives, not focused on heat networks, but also aimed at reducing barriers to lower carbon heat investments in the near term, are also worth mentioning.

  • On 5 July 2018, BEIS published a response to consultation the confirmed the Government’s intention to help to introduce a support scheme to “overcome key barriers, and increase industry confidence to identify and invest in opportunities for recovering heat from industrial processes” (the Industrial Heat Recovery Support Programme).
  • As part of a series of reforms to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) subsidy regime for domestic premises, BEIS has brought into force changes to the rules on third party funding for heat pumps and other renewable heating systems. From 27 June 2018, under a procedure known as “assignment of rights”, the owners of such systems may assign the RHI subsidy payments to which they are entitled to a “nominated registered investor”.  A model form of contract will be provided for doing so.  It remains to be seen whether this will have the desired effect of encouraging more third party finance of heat pump installation and therefore materially greater uptake of heat pumps as a technology.

A long-term, holistic approach

At a time when it is easy to criticise Government for an apparent lack of action on some aspects of energy policy, this series of concrete steps taken towards encouraging investment in low carbon heat is a positive development in an area where action is much needed and has been long awaited.  Of course, much also remains to be done.  For example, the CCC point out that:

  • there is no financial support framework for heat pumps and biomethane in place yet for the period after 2021 (when the current funding for the RHI comes to an end – the RHI as currently constituted being dependent on direct Government grants rather than a more or less automatic system of funding from a levy on energy suppliers like the historic renewable electricity generation subsidy schemes, the Renewables Obligation and Feed-inTariffs);
  • international comparisons suggest that the use-based payments for renewable heat systems such as the RHI might not be the ideal way of encouraging uptake and that a system of capital payments may be preferable;
  • whilst the Government’s acknowledgment of the need to look at the long-term technology options for moving towards a much lower carbon heat sector and to make some choices between them is welcome, there needs to be a more formal governance framework to drive enduring decisions on heat infrastructure in the early 2020s.

In short, Government has made a good start, but must follow through.  Moreover, in looking at the next steps for heat policy, Government and others need to take a holistic approach.

  • We noted earlier the apparent importance of hydrogen in all three long-term heat decarbonisation pathways. Work carried out by Alstom also indicates the potential for hydrogen (which is much more energy dense than any battery) to be used in fuel cells to replace diesel as the fuel for trains on lines that have not been electrified and that it may never make sense to electrify.  Is there not a case for incentivising the large-scale production of hydrogen (and CCS for the associated CO2 by-product) – perhaps through a contract for difference where the strike price is benchmarked against wholesale natural gas prices?
  • Government is not just responsible for energy and transport policy. It has other, currently under-used levers at its disposal to encourage technologies that will decarbonise heat.  The embedding in building standards of tougher rules on energy efficiency and an absolute requirement for low carbon heat supply to be part of all new buildings (and the rigorous enforcement of such standards), are obvious – but as yet untaken – steps that would increase demand for low carbon heating technology.  There is of course an important interaction between energy efficiency improvements and heat networks, particularly in retrofitting situations where significant reductions in heat demand driven by improved building energy efficiency could undermine the business case for a marginal heat network project.
  • With as with other areas of energy policy, sharper incentives from carbon pricing would speed up decarbonisation. In the heat sector, ways of preventing any higher taxation of gas from increasing the burdens on vulnerable customers would have to be part of the package.
  • Finally, any long-term decision-making by Government or the private sector will also have to consider the need to accommodate, and perhaps encourage, the introduction of new business models, and the possibility that the market of the future may, and perhaps should, be less uniform than it is at present.  Now, most consumers buy kWh (or cylinders) of gas (or in some cases, heat) and kWh of electricity (with a few of them generating a proportion of their electricity demand).  Energy efficiency is largely a separate market, with the occasional imposition on gas and electricity suppliers of obligations to undertake a certain amount of more or less targeted energy efficiency improvement works for consumers.  In the future, consumers might specify a set of outputs (e.g. availability of up to X amount of electricity, maintenance of indoor temperatures within a certain range) and sets of constraints or variables (e.g. payment profiles, willingness to allow the installation of particular equipment or energy efficiency measures, or to accept occasional deviations from the prescribed temperature range) and invite a range of suppliers to offer them a monthly price for home energy-related services for a certain period of time.  These services could include anything from utility supplies of energy to the installation of new energy production equipment or energy efficiency measures.  In a market where it will become ever easier for consumers to become “prosumers”, generating, storing and using their own electricity, companies that currently simply retail electricity and gas to consumers on a £/kWh basis may need to diversify their offering and learn a number of new skills if they are to maintain their relevance play a full part in the energy transition of the heat sector.

If you would like to explore any of the issues raised in this post further with us, please get in touch.

The assistance of Jennifer Cranston, a trainee in our London office, in the preparation of this post, is gratefully acknowledged.

Low carbon heat: if not now, when (and how)?