Offshore wind projects incur up to 90% of lifetime cost upfront and have very low operational costs. To finance the high upfront capital needs, projects typically take on long-term loans with heavy debt-service commitments. The economic viability of these projects hinges on stable, long-term revenues – but markets cannot deliver those, because of their volatile nature and limited hedging options.
Governments procure renewables through a variety of mechanisms. Contracts for difference (CfDs) have been used for more than 50% of the global offshore wind supply. The payments awarded through CfDs are sometimes labelled subsidies, suggesting that they support uneconomic activity. Here, we argue that the primary role of CfDs is rather risk management by creating a market for electricity supply at stable long-term prices. Similar to its use in other sectors of the economy, this contract type transforms a variable to a fixed price to reallocate volatility risks. Such long-term contracts are often necessary for renewables financing due to limited hedging options in existing markets.
There were no successful bids from offshore wind projects in the latest CfD auction in the UK, and that is already described variously as a setback for net zero plans in the UK, and yet another nail in the coffin of the industry, already struggling from headwinds in the US and UK, where various projects are being cancelled or postponed, and PPAs abandoned or renegotiated.
But I actually take it as a good thing, in that (i) it reflects cost discipline, and (ii) it proves that the tariff design is smart in that it avoids crazy bids like we have seen in other markets.
So, to the UK government: the CfD is actually is an excellent design for a tariff (as is the OFTO mechanism, as an aside), developers and financiers understand it and like it, there is no need to tinker with it on the basis of the whining or blackmail of utilities..
The design of lease auctions is something else – it could be tweaked given how it currently encourages irresponsible bidding for leases that have no connection to the reality of the price of the sector but favor the deepest-pockets players at the expense of the long term viability of the sector.