Market Update – Q3 2022 to date

As we move out of Q2 2022, a quarter that we have never seen behave in this way before, it is interesting to see how things have changed in Q3 to date.

Why was Q2 2022 so controversial? Well, we saw record spot prices, record forward prices, caps put on the gas market, caps put in place in the electricity market, market direction, the activation of Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader (RERT) and eventually suspension of the National Electricity Market (NEM). As we moved through Q3 has the situation changed?

To make this decision we must first review Q2, to assist us in understanding if things are going to change. What caused all the market intervention in Q2 and the eventual market suspension?

Q2 is normally a quiet time in the NEM, demand is low, and generators take the opportunity to take units offline for routine planned overhauls. The drop in availability that results from the units on overhaul are normally soaked up by the remaining units online. This Q2 we saw a lower than normal number of units online across the NEM to take up this slack, namely Callide C4 that was offline due to the catastrophic failure in May 2021, Swanbank E and thermal generators dispatching less volume due to flooding across NSW and QLD reducing coal supplies.

Q2 2022 saw average spot prices more than double compared with recent years and peaked at the end of the quarter. The average for Q2 2022 reached $332/MWh in Qld, $302/MWh in NSW, SA at $257/MWh and VIC the lowest, at $224/MWh.

Interestingly the quarterly average price for NSW and QLD was above where the Administered Price Cap (APC). The APC is triggered when the sum of the previous 7 days trading intervals equals $1,359,100. The price is then capped at $300/MWh and remains in place at least until the end of the trading day.

Q2 2022 was a quarter of extreme price, low availability, and market interventions. In Queensland for example we saw 42 hours of spot prices below $0/MWh but also 32 hours above $1,000/MWh. While we did not see a significant number of prices reaching the market cap of $15,100/MWh we did see solid prices that increased the average to levels not normally seen in Q2.

During Q2, exacerbating the issue, we saw significant volume bid in below $0/MWh so units would remain online, however with little between this price and higher prices meant there was a visible gap in the bid stack until prices were over $300/MWh. This distribution was a result of higher fuel cost such as spot gas at $40/GJ which converts to a generation price of over $400/MWh. However, we also saw the emergence of strategic bidding that introduced volatility and higher average prices into the market. The result of the strategic bidding was spot prices for the majority of the time across the NEM were above $100/MWh and often above $300/MWh.

As coal supplies became limited due to flooding, the gas price also jumped due to the global supply issues caused by the war in Ukraine. These fundamentals led to the spot prices increasing and eventually forcing the market operator to cap the market when the Administered Price Cap was reached. APC put a cap of $300/MWh on the electricity spot market.

As a result of the APC, generators removed capacity out of the market rather than operating at a loss due to their higher spot fuel cost. This resulted in the removal of over 3,000MW of generation in which forced AEMO to intervene in the market and direct units online as well as being forced to activate RERT to maintain system security.

Over a few days operating under the APC the market became impractical to operate using directions and AEMO eventually suspended the market on 15 June 2022.

During market suspension AEMO took over the control of the dispatch of market participants units.

Simultaneously during the market suspension, availability returned to the market as units returned from overhauls, coal and gas supply restriction improved and trading strategies were reviewed by the market participants.

On 24 June 2022 AEMO lifted the suspension of the market and the NEM returned to normal operation.

Since the lifting of the market suspension and the commencement of Q3 we have seen a change in some behavior, however spot prices remain high. In the first week of Q3 market participants took advantage of market conditions of low intermittent generation ensuring they benefitted from the ability to increase volatility. In the first week spot price hit the new maximum price cap of $15,500/MWh on several occasions.

While these price spike has lifted the quarterly average for the first 21 days of Q3 to $466/MWh in QLD and $418/MWh in NSW we are seeing this average drop each day.

The main driver for the lower spot prices is, as mentioned before, the improved availability across the NEM. Availability in QLD is regularly reaching 9,000MW compared to in June when it dropped 6,600MW. The short-term outlook for generation continues to improve daily with the majority of planned outages now completed.

A secondary driver that has pushed down average prices is the return of the sun. Solar generation is now regularly pushing the spot price below $100/MWh and on some occasions back into negative territory.

Less volatility in the spot market has been reflected in the forward market with Q422 QLD dropping from over $270/MWh in June to $260/MWh and the Q123 product dropping below $250/MWh.

Without delving into the gas supply concerns in Victoria, all other states have removed the price cap on gas allowing the market to operate more efficiently. This has not resulted in the gas market trading at significantly high prices as feared, Qld is $42.75/GJ, NSW is $51.51/GJ and SA at $45.51, translating into a sub $500/MWh peaking gas plant cost of generation.

As the weather warms up and the daylight hours increase, we expect to see a drop in demand, with heating loads reducing coupled with an increase in the generation provided by solar.

All of this, as well as increased thermal generator availability and stability in the gas markets, should see spot and forward prices continue to fall across the quarter.

Labor pushes ahead with a controversial capacity market

What is the goal of a capacity electricity market?

You may be forgiven for not sitting through the full press conference last Thursday, where the Albanese government stated Australia would be strengthening their 2030 targets to 43% under the Paris Agreement. However, if you had, around 30 minutes in you would have heard Chris Bowen, the newly appointed Minister for Climate Change and Energy state, “in relation to the short term, State and Territory Ministers agreed with me last week, that we should proceed at haste, at pace, with the capacity mechanism. I asked, on behalf of all Energy Ministers, the Energy Security Board to proceed with that work, at speed, and they are doing that. I am very confident I will be able to get agreement of State and Territory Ministers for a comprehensive capacity mechanism and I’ll have more to say when that work is ready.”

Well that work dropped this morning (20th June) at 7am. They have given those who wish to respond until (25th July) to submit their views on this paper so at pace it shall be. However; given the response following the ESB Post 2025 paper I am not sure that any amount of noise and lobbying from the industry is going to stop this juggernaut from achieving its goal, especially since it is being backed by those generators who have the most to gain from this market. Not only that, but unless there is a big bump in the road, a first look Capacity Mechanism will be in place by 1st July 2025.

What is the goal of this market? – Well in my opinion there is only one reason that this would be encouraged and that is to subsidise coal-fired power stations which have had their financial viability severely questioned by the growing penetration of lower cost renewables within the system. Don’t get me wrong, the longer-term markets have the potential to encourage other faster starting generators onto the market, but this hasn’t really been the case in other capacity markets i.e. Great Britain (GB).

This argument is only further strengthened when looking at how the GB Market ended up achieving their stability, in their high renewable penetrated market, which is from nuclear power which has been guaranteed a strike price of £92.50/MWH or ~$163/MWh. Thus, making any capacity market payment minuscule in comparison to the underpinning of the generation at that rate.

The ESB are arguing, and convincing themselves and the government in the process, that this mechanism is the answer to AEMO’s ISP step change scenario, in which demand increases and coal exits the system. If that is indeed their argument, then they are ultimately stating they cannot efficiently run a system in which coal is not part of the generation mix and unless this is financially managed there will be a ‘disorderly transition.’

The question therefore isn’t will there be a capacity mechanism from July 25, but how centralised or decentralised will the final design be? Will it sit as a Physical Retailer Reliability Obligation – PRRO design, one in which the market determines for itself the level of the required capacity, or do we go wholly down the regulated route with AEMO determining in long term auctions (similar to the GB model which has several T-year auctions) and they forecast demand and supply to determine the required level of capacity and sell these capacity certificates to retailers to meet their requirements.

There is no grey area for the ESB, they have stated openly in the paper they wish for the forecasting and determination of the capacity requirements to be centralised and for AEMO to manage these purchases on behalf of market participants. In essence they would moderate the capacity of these generators, for a cost, at certain times of day or periods of high system stress to allow them to ensure capacity is available to the market operator when needed. End users would then pay for that management of the system and their portion of that capacity.

The other point to note, keenly hidden within the paper is the four yearly review of the Reliability Standard and Settings Review (RSSR) that is about to be undertaken, with significant interest been taken in the Market Cap, especially given the gas price cap is equating to a marginal cost of generation higher than the electricity price cap (Presuming a normal heat rate of 8-12). If the caps are risen for both the caps $300/MWh and spot $15,100/MWh markets as expected, could the requirement of ‘capacity’ in the market become a moot point? Surely the exacerbation of the current situation could be avoided if the gas generators were certain of meeting the cost of generation and you cannot truly believe that a market cannot efficiently run with enough capacity if they are achieving $15,100/MWh or possibly more?

The real key argument which has not been addressed by the paper however, is the idea that aging coal plants are unlikely to be able to ramp in time to fill the gaps between this growing renewable penetration. Therefore, the question really needs to be asked is this the right investment if you really want to transition this grid or should this be put into different technology rather than prolonging the life of unsuitable assets?

Ultimately however the bottom line remains ‘user pays.’ As such any one of the options being floated will be passed through to end users through retailer or network tariffs.

I will let the retailers and generators pick apart the nuances of the paper, but needless to say the government will be pushing ahead with this in some form, the only question will be how much say we will have in the centralisation of the market or not, and therefore how much control retailers will have on the costs of this capacity.

Written by Kate Turner, Senior Manager – Markets, Analytics, and Sustainability

Drivers behind potential load shedding

In the energy market, probably not unlike most complex markets / industries, we never let the truth stand in the way of a good mainstream news story. So much so, at Edge we struggle to watch mainstream news!

Yesterday Edge highlighted that a tight supply balance was not the key driver for the unprecedented high prices occurring in the spot and contract markets.

As previously outlined, generators bidding behaviour is playing a pivotal role, lifting the average price in the spot market as their spot traders shift volume into higher price bands. This pushed spot prices so high that on Sunday the market reached the cumulative price threshold (CPT). This means that the sum of spot prices in a seven-day period hit a level which caused AEMO to intervene and cap prices until the market returns below this threshold.

As has been widely discussed on Sunday evening, AEMO stepped in and controlled the spot price once the sum of the previous 2,016 (7 days) trading intervals equalled the cumulative total of $1,359,000. The cumulative CPT is equivalent to an average price of $674.16/MWh for the seven-day period.

During market intervention, spot prices in the relevant region are capped at $300/MWh.  This commenced at 6.55pm on Sunday night in Queensland and will continue until the 7-day average drops below the CPT. Once this is achieved the CPT remains on foot until at least 04:00 the next trading day.

Since Queensland hit the cap on Sunday, we have now seen every mainland region in the National Electricity Market (NEM) also hit the CPT. As at publication, intervention pricing is currently enacted in all of these regions (QLD, NSW, VIC, and SA). Tasmania is currently under threat also.

During market intervention the maximum spot price can only reach $300/MWh (there is also a floor of -$300/MWh). $300/MWh is currently lower than the short run marginal cost (SRMC) of many gas generators when priced against the current gas price, which is also currently capped by AEMO (at $40/GJ).

A consequence of capping these markets is higher priced generation withdraws from the electricity market, as an example gas generator have a Short Run Marginal Cost (SRMC) of generation of roughly $400/MWh based on a fuel cost of $40/GJ, but with a cap of $300/MWh on the electricity generated it results in generators removing their availability from the market which in turn results in regional availability dropping. Hence subsequent threats of power outages and the potential requirement for load shedding.  It’s a case of the market being more under threat from commercial drivers than physical drivers.

The commercial dynamics of the current market create a perceived lack of availability in the market and leads to generators looking to other (non-capped) revenue streams for their generation stack. This is precisely what occurred over Monday with 607MW of availability being removed from QLD available generation, and 930MW removed from NSW. The drop in dispatchable generation resulted in AEMO publishing a Lack of Reserve (LOR) forecast and requests by AEMO for a market response. Rather than this call being answered, generators held firm and did not place generation back into the traditional bid stacks.  Across Monday the LOR dropped further as more generation disappeared into the ancillary market and as we approached the evening peak AEMO called an LOR3, which resulted in AEMO also calling on Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader (RERT) providers to fill the availability gap.

Overnight AEMO’s action on calling RERT prevented load shedding, however this may not be the case in NSW tonight where 590MW of load is forecast to be interrupted at 19:00. If there is insufficient support under RERT to compensate for this supply shortage, we could see load shedding.

With all mainland NEM regions currently operating under the CPT we expect to see more market intervention, and those generators exposed to a capped gas price removing volume out of the market as electricity prices are capped at levels below their SRMC. This is likely to see AEMO needing to intervene in other regions, invoking RERT to source additional availability, or failing that load shedding.

Article by Alex Driscoll and Stacey Vacher.