Future Made Australia – economic intervention for good or not?

Last month the Albanese government announced a sharp move from the long adopted, and World Trade Organisation stance, of free markets with little economic intervention, by announcing the Future Made Australia Act. It is going to make the government a “more strategic, more sophisticated and a more constructive contributor” to the economy. It will pull in existing initiatives including the Hydrogen HeadStart, Reconstruction fund and Solar SunShot programs as well as build out more investment within communities.

There is no doubt this is based on the US Inflation Reduction Act which became law in 2022. This left countries like Australia at a significant disadvantage to investment and we have lost out on major investment and economic green growth due to the international pressures, with an anticipated half a trillion dollars of investment flowing into the US following the Act. Noting of course their FED announcement last week showing it may not be working as well as anticipated for the economy as a whole.

However, the concern is twofold. Can our manufacturing gear up quickly enough while being cost effective to support this growth and will such an inward economic policy anger our trade partners. I am specifically thinking of China who relations are already strained and exports from Australia are already banned. With so much of the renewable economy, especially investments as well as solar panels, coming from Eastern Asia, do we risk stealing from Peter to pay Paul in one sector while hurting another?

Yet could it be a forward move from Australia? With the Carbon Boarder Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) under review as of last September and the European Union implementation in place, could the increase in onshore manufacturing assist with those industries who are undercutting Australian entities, which must operate in a market which is subject to higher standards? With the Safeguard mechanism now in place and the increasing cost this will bring to those sectors affected, specifically mining, steel and cement, could a CBAM coupled with domestic supply help in the short term.

I am sure that this is the aim and ambition if you ask those in Canberra, however significant opposition has been raised across the board regarding the cost of subsidising such a move. Yet if we look to the US and Europe their grids have been underpinned by similar investments and capacity payments, is this more the only way to bring industry along, rather than expect the market to do it for us? With targets far exceeding the likely climate outcomes within Australia and the sheer size of investment required to get anywhere close to targets, is this the last roll of the dice for the Labor government to meet these targets which they have pledged to achieve.

Tightening in the ACCU Market

Person using a laptop with carbon credit and sustainability icons floating above their hands, including CO2, recycling, solar energy, and net zero symbols.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) intends to stop the development of the Integrated Farm and Land Management (IFLM) method.

The reasoning is due to difficulties demonstrating the environmental benefits of regeneration activities in areas not previously cleared. Instead, the DCCEEW has proposed a new system to be developed, the Landscape Restoration Method (LRM), which considerably tightens grazing activities compared to the previous Human Induced Regeneration (HIR) method.

As a result, the market responded to the news with increased activity for HIR ACCUs and price firming for both generic and HIR ACCUs. The generic ACCU market has firmed since late last year, increasing from the $31-$32 range to $36.

Depending on the scope of allowed grazing activities under the future IFLM or IRM, the market could significantly move. The IFLM method was initially expected to fill the supply gap created after the retirement of two major methods by the end of 2024.

The ACCU market is currently priced to increase into the future, with a cost of carry of ~7%. This is ultimately driven by demand from safeguard participants and some voluntary demand associated with sustainability targets.

The current baselines decrease by 4.9% each financial year out to 2030, with an emission reduction contribution of 65.7% in 2030. The demand for ACCUs to offset organisations’ emissions is anticipated to surpass ACCU issuance for the first time in 2028. The high demand and low issuance are currently forecasted to continue until 2031, where demand for ACCUs is forecasted to peak at 31 million certificates. This is significantly up from 2022, where demand from scheme participants was less than 1 million. However, facilities that are covered by the Safeguard Mechanism are able to generate SMCs, which are a new type of credit issued as a reward for emitting below one’s limits, which could ease overall demand on ACCUs.

The Australian Government has made ACCUs available to liable entities at $75/cert, increasing with CPI plus 2%, ultimately setting a price cap for them. In future years, when supply and demand become tighter, could we witness an ACCU market consistently trading at or near the cap, similar to the current STC market?

The Importance of Eraring and Ongoing Negotiations

Aerial view of a coal-fired power station with tall chimneys emitting smoke, surrounded by forest and a body of water in the distance.

Eraring, which is forecasted to close in August 2025, has highlighted its necessity to stay online by playing a vital role in the NSW grid. This was demonstrated on February 29 during high temperatures, where demand exceeded 13GW, reaching the highest level since February 2020. During this period of high demand, electricity prices soared towards the market cap of $16,600 and remained volatile for over an hour, adding approximately $13/MWh to the quarterly average to date. Eraring was supplying up to 16.5% (or 2.2GW) of the state’s power during this period.

Without this generation, the state likely would have enacted RERT or possibly load shedding to ensure grid stability, further adding pressure to keep the unit online until there is ample renewable generation and storage to cover the capacity leaving the grid.

Origin stated that Eraring operated as normal on February 29, which “performed well to meet customer needs and support the market”. However, there is a lot of uncertainty and nervousness around the retirement of coal power plants in the NEM, which need to be replaced by clean energy, and the new transmission lines required to connect them to the grid. These are faced challenges such as planned delays, community opposition, and rising costs.

Negotiations between Origin Energy and the state government about keeping it on have been dragging on for about six months now. Origin is seeking a safety net to avoid losses associated with keeping the unit online. However, NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey said on Wednesday that the negotiations about keeping Eraring open were “not an opportunity for Origin to make a windfall gain at the public’s expense”.

The two main issues that will affect the cost of Eraring operating post its original closure are onsite ash dam storage issues and no current coal contracts past its closure. Eraring’s ash dam storage is currently at capacity, and as a result, will need to ship ash waste offsite in the future. Additionally, Eraring has no long-term coal contracts post its closure, as a result, Eraring will have to enter into a coal contract at a higher price as coal has significantly increased in recent years. Depending on whether the government subsidizes this cost, Eraring’s running cost could increase significantly, therefore lifting the market significantly due to Eraring’s size and role in the NSW grid.

Progress of Snowy 2.0

Active construction site of Snowy 2.0 hydroelectric project with cranes and temporary buildings on a rugged landscape.

Since the beginning of construction, Snowy 2.0, a pumped storage power station, has faced a variety of challenges and issues, including the tunnel boring machine getting stuck late 2022 and the project being well over budget, more than double the previous estimate, and six times the ballpark figure given by Malcolm Turnbull.

Despite these setbacks, rock conditions are currently good, and in a year’s time, the project is forecasted to have created an underground cavern that should be big enough to accommodate a 22-story building. This will house the $12b 2.2GW system with a storage capacity of 350,000MWh (159 hours at full power), which is forecasted to reach full commercial operation by December 2028.

Snowy Hydro CEO Dennis Barnes stated they are approximately 51% of the way to completing the project, but there is still a lot to de-risk going forward.

The tunnel boring machine Florence, which got stuck in September 2022 due to unexpected soft ground, was stuck only 140 metres into its 16-kilometre journey. Florence has begun to move again in December 2023, but moving at a rate of 6 metres per day. In order to stay on target, Florence will need to pick up the pace to 12 to 15 metres a day.

According to Barnes, Snowy is considering a fourth boring machine to ensure the project will keep on the revised target, with the decision being made in the following months.

Projects such as Snowy 2.0 providing long-term storage are crucial for the energy transition in the NEM, being able to provide firming capacity during solar and wind droughts, which will inevitably occur. This will allow for the retirement of coal units, as well as allow for a total of 6.6GW of new renewables into the system.

Even with the need for such projects, the project has faced backlash due to the cost blowing out considerably higher than initial estimates, particularly when the additional $8.5 billion of connecting transmission to the north and south is included.

Despite the range of challenges faced by Snowy 2.0, including budget blowouts, difficulties with the tunnel boring machine, and delays, the project is showing progress and plays a key role in achieving Australia’s renewable energy targets.

 

Callide Legal Action and Regulatory Challenges

Safety worker in hard hat pointing at electrical transmission towers under a colorful sunset sky, highlighting energy infrastructure.

Callide is facing increased scrutiny as the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) is taking legal proceedings against Callide Power Trading due to an explosion at Callide C. In May 2021, an explosion at Callide C4 led to the tripping of multiple generators and high-voltage lines in Queensland, leaving nearly half a million homes to lose power.

The AER alleges that Callide Power Trading broke the National Electricity Rules (NER) by not adhering to its own performance standards for Callide C4. According to the allegations, the C4 unit lacked a protection system in place or having sufficient energy supply to suddenly disconnect the unit when the explosion occurred.

Justin Oliver, an AER board member stated that “Failure to comply with these standards can risk power system security, see consumers disconnected from power supply and cause wholesale energy prices to increase during and beyond these events”.

Callide C3 is expected to fully return on March 31st, with C4 following on July 31st. These are revised dates following various delays affecting both units.

In a separate incident, the Federal Court ordered IG Power, who owns 50% of Callide to appoint special administrators with powers to complete a new investigator into the incidents at the power station.

There is currently no date set for the AER’s matter to be heard at Federal Court.

This highlights the immense pressure on the energy industry and regulation to suppress spot prices in the NEM. This pressure has come in various forms including market directions, price caps on underlying fuel sources such as coal and gas, and retailer reliability obligation (RRO) being enacted in SA this summer.

This pressure has been evident in the spot price, as the spot price over the summer has been very soft, particularly in South Australia and Victoria, with prices being far below forecasted and previously traded levels.

This has caused issues for generators leading Engie to announce the early closure of two units in SA, removing 138MW of capacity from July 1, brought forward from an initial closure scheduled for 2028. This is due to financial reasons as losses have been mounting at the plants, unable to make a profit in the spot market.

There is currently a T-3 forecasted in South Australia from December 2025 to February 2026. Following the recent RRO witnessed over the summer in South Australia where spot prices have been low, volatility has been minimal, and there have been few system security issues in the state. Will we see any revisions or changes to RRO in the future?

Potential for Below Baseline REGOs

Two silhouetted figures stand on a platform at sea, observing a vast offshore wind farm against a dramatic sunset sky.

LGCs are now in an interesting position. With the REGO scheme all but fully legislated to start in 2025, there may be opportunity to meet voluntary requirements from this secondary market before it becomes the likely primary market at the end of 2030 until 2050.

The REGO scheme looks likely to exist in parallel to the LGC scheme until the expiry of the RET, with generators able to decide which products they would like to produce in any given period.

However, the REGO scheme will open previously un-tapped generation, such as below baseline generation, generation from outside of the Australian economic waters area and exported generation i.e. Sun Cable, which the LGC cannot. Further (although unlikely before 2030), STCs can be pooled to create 1 MWh, i.e. 1 REGO certificate at the point the 1MWh limit is reached.

This market is currently untapped, but with a REGO holding the same credentials as an LGC, the voluntary surrender optionality (RET Liability must still be met with LGCs until 2030) can be achieved through the REGO scheme.

With voluntary surrenders increasing, the CER estimated in 2022 a total of 7.4million LGCs were surrendered voluntarily. This increased the demand for LGCs by 1.6million in comparison to 2021 and created a demand 23% above the legislated requirements for LGCs (33m).

Prior to a REGO scheme, the increasing demand for these LGCs has come from growing corporate targets either directly into the LGC market or through its secondary market, such as GreenPower schemes.

Without increasing the availability of alternative generation sources, this growth could lead to a tightening of the supply-demand balance of the LGC and an increase in price. As such the introduction of a REGO from 2025 could be the pressure release valve the industry requires.

The growing non-RET requirements are significant, and therefore, the introduction of secondary sources of power through the REGO scheme is the only way the market will be able to meet the increasing demand.

The ACCC investigation into Momentum in 2016, where Momentum was handed a $54,000 fine for falsely advertising their green credentials, as they are backed by Hydro Tas whose generation was below baseline, has brought to the fore the requirement for accreditation of these below baseline assets (outside of the i-REC scheme).

Below baseline is renewable generation assets created before 1997 – mainly hydro assets. The baseline is set on production between 1994 – 1996, and therefore, generators coming on from 1997 have a baseline of zero and can produce LGCs, unlike those online prior to 1997. Indications are these facilities generate 12-13TWh of electricity each, that is, 12-13 million REGOs, which could come into the Australian voluntary market (pre-2030 RET end). However, the below baseline generation is eligible for an i-REC certification and many assets pursued this option prior to the REGO /GO scheme announcements. As such, this 12-13 million may be as low as 2 million in the initial years, given existing PPAs and voluntary i-REC surrender deals in place.

It is worth noting, if Hydro Tas had created the REGO and these were surrendered against the Momentum portfolio, the renewable claim would have been upheld, and the REGO would have never hit the market. This example shows that even if produced, companies may utilise the additional certification without giving others the opportunity to trade them in the open market.

A concern does sit around the inclusion of small-scale renewable REGOs, although unlikely to be in large quantities prior to 2030, the concern holds that the measurement of the “hour” the REGO is produced, when the cumulative units have reached 1MWh of generation, is currently untested and there are a significantly larger number of these units than there are utility scale solar. The cost and oversight required could add cost to the certificate, which we currently have no view of as to the uptake or requirements.

Davos: Can the Elite Influence the World?

The Davos annual World Economic forum was in attendance a couple of weeks ago and its president Borge Brende didn’t sugar coat the information when he noted it was occurring against one of the most complicated geopolitical backdrops to date. I assume this was the thought process behind the motto of the summit, which was “re-building trust”.

Now don’t get me wrong I am not retracting any of my previous comments about the shear irony of the summit, especially last year where their discussions on environment was starkly contradicted by the number of private jets bringing in the top 1% of the world global elite and the bare snowcapped mountains, signifying what many came to realise, that 2023 was indeed the warmest year on record. But maybe, just maybe the economics of the current global situation may create a sharper focus for those in attendance this year. Money does tend to focus the mind in that way!

With increasing interest rates, commodity prices increasing, disruption from the red sea starting to show small ripple effects and rising global debt, could this group of money makers have enough influence to quell some of the tensions in the Ukraine, Israel or Africa and bring stability back to the global economy at the same time?

With the UN anticipating in excess of 40 foreign ministers attending the summit, as well as over 500 financiers and global executives. These are certainly the players who have the means and imperative to influence world events.

The covid shock has passed but global growth remains low, some placing it at 2.3-2.7% this year, down from the original WTO 3.3% forecast, but that will not be enough to recover from the body blows issued since 2020. Whilst it was acceptable to still be in a period of licking your wounds last year, the boards of the multi-billion-dollar conglomerates will not allow it to continue.

To add some spice to the mix, the world is acutely aware that with elections in the USA, UK, several in Asia including Bangladesh and Azerbaijan and India, and Uruguay and Mexico amongst many in South America, the risk of political change before the group meets again is extremely high. This has dominated many discussions with the role of AI in misinformation campaigns and possible threats it could pose. However, with economic concerns dominating little to no outcome on this is expected. I wouldn’t however bet against its prevalence increasing in the next few years.

But ultimately it is the concerns around security growth and potential global recessions which still dominate, and no one is in doubt that consensus must be reached on global policy this time, simply said champagne and catchups won’t do it this year.

Many are hoping for a lighter touch on the interest rate hikes we have seen; but most conservative players are aware this will not come quickly. Many anticipating no movement until at least the third quarter of 2024. Yet the messaging was strong, trade and investment was the only option for recovery of the global economy. The WTO  Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, stating “Without a free flow of trade, I don’t think we can recover.” No doubt she sits in the free trade camp then.

But I don’t think any pre-canned, stakeholder buy in statements will be the outcomes that the world needs this year. More so it will be the question of if this group of highly influential and incredibly powerful people can, through their combined influence, affect real change. Can they stimulate growth, control inflation and not rock the boat so much that upcoming elections lead to significant political unrest. That will be for the post-spin hindsight piece, but we have to hope that significant goals are set and met following this round of talks, otherwise the relevance of such a lavish and elite autocracy must be questioned.

End of 2023 Energy and Climate News Wrap

There was lots of news that came out during the Christmas break, so please see our wrap of the end of 2023.

European Grid Resilience: Denmark-UK Link Operational

Further underpinning the resilience of the European grid, the 1,400MW DC link from Denmark to the UK came online on 29th December. However the capacity has been restricted to 800MW in the first instance as the electrification of the grid and hunger for power in the Danish region is not high with strong wind output (54% of the Danish grid) and the link into the power hungry Germany is not yet in place.

NSW’s Energy Manoeuvre: Orderly Exit Mechanism

The NSW minister for Energy and Climate Change, Penny Sharpe, gave herself and anyone in her seat the power other states have in their pocket; at the end of last year, she granted the “Orderly Exit Mechanism” power. Which means that with or without the consent of Origin in negotiations she now has the power to order Eraring to stay on as she backdated the powers to 2021. With the deadline to keep Eraring on or not this could shift the scales of negotiations and may be an indication of the noose Origin held around the NSW government loosing.

Queensland’s Ambitious Climate Target

QLD government strengthened its climate targets with a new target of 75% below to the 2005 baseline by 2035. This is due to be legislated in the new year.

Record Power Demand and Prices in December

Friday, 29th December, was indeed a scorcher, with demand topping over 9,750MW over the evening peak and pricing topping out around the $15,000/MWh price over the evening peak and prices averaging $448.97/MWh for the day. Showing how solar penetration can create huge volatility in prices on high demand days.

Coal Seam Gas Regulation: Draft Framework

The Department of Resources released a paper looking into a risk framework for regulation around Coal Seam Gas subsidence. Feedback has closed but the draft proposed legislation is due early 2024.

Queensland Revives Polluter Pays Legislation

Polluter pays legislation is back in the spotlight, with the Queensland government releasing a consultation paper on “Improving the powers and penalties provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1994”

ARENA’s Industrial Emission Reduction Initiative

ARENA has launched a $40m fund called the “National Industrial Transformation (NIT) program” assisting existing plant and industrial facilities to reduce their scope 1 and scope 2 emissions.

AEMO’s Draft 2024 Integrated System Plan

Electricity substation at sunrise, representing the transition in Australia's National Electricity Market as per AEMO's 2024 ISP.

AEMO recently released its Draft 2024 Integrated System Plan (ISP), which serves as a roadmap for the energy transition in the National Electricity Market (NEM) over the next 20-plus years in line with government policies aimed at achieving net zero by the year 2050.

The plan outlines a cost-effective strategy for essential energy infrastructure to meet consumer needs, ensure reliability and affordability, and achieve net zero. AEMO highlights the urgency for action as the NEM shifts from coal-fired generation dependency. With the closure of coal-fired power stations, the draft proposes using renewable energy supported by storage and gas as the most economical solution for Australia’s energy transition.

The policy set by the Federal Government aims for a 43% reduction in emissions compared to 2005 levels by the year 2030. Additionally, the policy targets 82% of electricity supplied in the NEM to come from renewable sources.

Previous ISPs established ambitious trajectories for investment, and it is imperative that projects are now executed according to the plans. AEMO’s most probable future scenario predicts about 90% of NEM’s coal fleet will retire before 2025, and the entire fleet will retire before 2040.

The energy transition is already well underway, with coal retiring faster than initially announced. The ISP continues to stress the need for urgent investments in generation, firming, and transmission to maintain a secure, reliable, and affordable electricity supply. The retirement of coal-fired generators necessitates a transition to low-cost renewable energy, supported by firming technologies like storage and gas-powered generation.

AEMO has stated that the NEM must almost triple its capacity to supply energy by 2050 to replace retiring coal capacity and meet increasing electricity demand. Every government within the NEM is actively endorsing the transition. The Federal Government has broadened the Capacity Investment Scheme, while various states have their initiatives supporting the transition to net zero.

The 2024 ISP outlined three future scenarios for 2050, which included Step Change, Progressive Change, and Green Energy Exports. All these scenarios involve the retirement of coal, aligning with government net-zero commitments. AEMO has assigned likelihoods of 43% for Step Change, 42% for Progressive Change, and 15% for Green Energy Exports.

Under AEMO’s optimal development path (ODP) for the Step Change scenario, there is a call for investment that would triple grid-scale variable renewable energy by 2030 and increase it sevenfold by 2050. The plan emphasises grid-scale generation within Renewable Energy Zones, quadrupling firming capacity, supporting a four-fold increase in rooftop solar capacity, and leveraging system security services to ensure reliability.

In terms of transmission, nearly 10,000 km of transmission is needed by 2050 for the Step Change and Progressive Change scenarios, with over twice that to support the Green Energy Exports scenario. The annualised capital cost for all infrastructure in the ODP until 2050 is $121 billion, with transmission projects constituting 13.5% of the annualised cost.

The NEM faces several risks in transitioning from coal to renewable energy. Key challenges that AEMO has identified include uncertainty in infrastructure investment, early coal retirements, markets and power system operations that are not yet ready for 100% renewables. Additionally, consumer energy resources are not adequately integrated into grid operations, the social license for the energy transition is not being earned, and critical energy assets and skilled workforces are not being secured.

In summary, AEMO’s Draft 2024 Integrated System Plan charts a crucial path for Australia’s energy transition, aligning with net-zero goals. With an urgent focus on retiring coal-fired stations, the plan advocates a swift move to renewables backed by storage and gas solutions. The plan also outlines the significant challenges faced by the industry that are required to be overcome in order to reach net zero by 2050 while ensuring a reliable and affordable energy supply.

COP28 More of a Fizz Rather than a Bang

Logo for COP 28 UAE event featuring a circular design with intricate yellow patterns on a green background, symbolizing sustainability and environmental themes, displayed over a dark brick wall texture.

With just 2 days of negotiations left at the COP28 summit, it is clear that world leaders are not entering into the summit with the same sweeping mandated as seen in Paris in 2015. In fact, it is becoming increasingly clearer that the Paris 1.5-degree target is unlikely, never mind strengthening the resolve on these targets.

Despite this year, 2023, already being declared the warmest on record by November, and having six record breaking months and two record breaking seasons, world leaders as squabbling over texts which will have little to no impact on emissions or targets.

With the head of this year’s COP, Sultan Al Jaber, the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) in the position many thought would create a conflict of interest, he is indeed between a rock and a hard place. With over 80 countries, many at the forefront of climate change pushing for an end to the use of fossil fuels, a topic every previous COP has been careful to avoid, the Sultan is now being lobbied from both sides, with OPEC now pressuring members and the chair to reject any deal which targets fossil fuels directly.

Reuters, who broke the news shared a letter from December 6th sent by OPEC Secretary-General Haitham al-Ghais “It seems that the undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point with irreversible consequences, as the draft decision still contains options on fossil fuels phase out … I avail of this opportunity to respectfully urge all esteemed OPEC Member Countries and Non-OPEC Countries participating in the CoC and their distinguished delegations in the COP 28 negotiations to proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy i.e. fossil fuels rather than emissions”.

The Sultan is therefore walking a very fine line, as evident by his calling of the majlis, elders conference, on Sunday. In there, the main focus was two pronged, one the aforementioned fossil fuels phase out or abatement, and the second on financing.

Climate adaptation funds is not a new concept, it was raised pre-the-Paris agreement, and every year since. However, despite UN reports released in November, Adaptation Gap Report 2023, showing 2021 funding fell 15% year on year to a cumulative $24.6bn, but more than $200 – 350bn is needed, and 2023 is likely to only be around the $100bn mark. The idea of now increasing the burden on fossil fuels emissions to be phased out and not abated will leave many countries, especially in the African continent behind. As emerging and expensive technologies, which will allow other countries to continue producing, will not be available to them.

I once again argue, with politicians and special interests lobbying, the value of the COP is diminishing. Energy policy should not be in the hands of those who are worrying about re-election in 1, 2 or 4 years but those who understand the science, industries and financing of the projects required to make the change. We cannot just turn off coal, the Eraring “closure” has shown us that in bright bold lights (or blackouts), so there has to be balance. But that cannot be done by those who are not in that world or influenced by only one side of an argument.

However, with Azerbaijan the COP29 hosts, a country with at least 7bn barrels of commercial oil, and 1.3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and one of the world’s largest gas fields I am sure will fly the flag for phase out of fossil fuels and strong targets for all nations attending.

With Statements due in the next 48 hours, I may be proven incorrect, and the Sultan is absolutely making the right noises, “I want everyone to come prepared with solutions … I want everyone to come ready to be flexible and to accept compromise. I told everyone not to come with any prepared statements, and no prescribed positions. I really want everyone to rise above self-interests and to start thinking of the common good.” But as always, the proof is in the packages which come out of the talks and with only two days to go and no consensus the clock is absolutely counting down.