Beware the upstart that has evolved from subsidies to Game Changer
I have been in the power markets for about 25 years now, dating back to the infamous Enron. Funny story: I worked for Enron Europe and in January of the year of its demise — 2001 — we formed a renewable energy unit. We thought we were too late for wind project development (!) — keep in mind we had a wind turbine manufacturer at the time (a unit that was subsequently sold to General Electric), so we have boots on the ground and oodles of market intel. Still, we were seeking the New New Thing and so we settled on digging deeper into wave and tidal technologies.
And then 9/11 happened, the financial markets became spooked and, well, Enron Europe went bust on 30 November 2001 (followed a day later by the US parent).
How times have changed since 2001!
I’ve remained in the power markets since, working for a variety of organisations, ranging from a project developer / independent power producer (IPP), a small PE investor and two global OEMs. The diversity of my roles & organisations stretching over a 20-year timeframe has granted me a front-row seat to witness the fundamental shifts occurring in the power markets.
Yet up until relatively recently — I’d say until about 5 years ago — it was very much status quo. Renewable energy (i.e., primarily wind & solar PV based technologies) needed government support in order for investors to receive their required returns. Put simply, electricity generated from wind and/or PV was simply too expensive when compared with traditional thermal power production technologies.
Stepping back to provide more context, ever since I began working in this space, the combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) set the “marginal price” (i.e., the price at which buyers and sellers would most likely transact) for most electricity markets. Enron was one of the main IPPs back in the day, developing CCGTs all around the world. Obtaining all the required permits for a natural gas facility was easier than that for either coal or nuclear based technologies and construction periods were also shorter. As a result, market players would calculate forward power prices based on a CCGT 36-month construction period (with a permitting period added on, the length of which was dependent on the market…