Collaboration key to cost reductions, Innogy believes

Financial and technological collaboration is the key to driving down costs and taking wind power into a merchant environment, Innogy's management believes.

Innogy owns a 60% stake in the 576MW Gwynt y Môr wind farm off the coast of North Wales
Innogy owns a 60% stake in the 576MW Gwynt y Môr wind farm off the coast of North Wales

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The utility-developer is already reaping the fruits of a strategic partnership with turbine manufacturer Nordex.

The companies intend to collaborate on a 1.7GW pipeline of onshore wind farms in Europe and the US.

By consistently working alongside the German manufacturer, Innogy hopes to optimise its procurement strategy for onshore turbines, it explained.

But its collaborative agreements are not limited to manufacturers alone.

"It is not just technological engineering," chief operating officer Hans Bünting said. "It is also financial engineering."

Innogy will consider partners for its 1.2GW Sofia site off the UK’s east coast if it is successful in the forthcoming contracts for difference (CfD) auction in May, it stated.

By selling stakes in the project — as it did with the under-development 860MW Triton Knoll project to Japanese utilities J-Power Systems and Kansai Electric Power — the company would optimise its cost of capital.

Through these strategies, Innogy hopes to push down the levelised cost of energy (LCOE), reducing the need for subsidy, members of its management team told a press briefing in London.

"We’re getting closer and closer to merchant price levels, so we collaborate more and more with the supply chain," Bünting added.

Innogy intends to buy Nordex turbines exclusively between 2019 and 2022 for onshore wind projects not already planned with other manufacturers in mind.

The two companies have already been successful in Poland’s first onshore wind auction, securing capacity for the 33MW Zukowice site.

Innogy and Nordex also signed deals for two large wind farms in New York state in the US — the 126MW Cassadaga and 240MW Baron Winds projects.

Offshore partnerships

Despite the early successes of its strategic partnership with Nordex, Innogy does not plan to enter a similar arrangement for its offshore wind business, Paul Cowling, the segment's director told Windpower Monthly.

"We would look at collaboration more on a project-by-project basis," he said.

Offshore, Innogy has historically taken on multiple financial partners for large projects.

It reached financial close on its Triton Knoll project after Japanese investment last August completed the £2 billion (€2.23 billion) finance package.

Previously, Innogy developed the 4.8GW Dogger Bank zone off the UK’s east coast in the Forewind consortium alongside Statoil (now Equinor), Statkraft and SSE, prior to the group’s split in August 2017.

Innogy is now developing its slice of the zone as the 1.2GW Sofia project — named after a character, also known as Wind Dancer, from Marvel Comics’ X-Men series, according to the company’s communications staff.

It will submit its supply chain plans to the government in early February and intends to enter the project in the UK’s next CfD auction later this year.

Cowling said he would expect a similar a similar investment model to Triton Knoll — solely developing the project to a successful bid before bringing in investment partners — for Sofia.

Bünting added: "It’s about de-risking the balance sheet — not having a £4 billion investment in one place. Through refinancing you can optimise your cost of capital, which is also part of the LCOE."

Partnerships with other companies could be crucial as Innogy looks to enter nascent offshore wind markets.

The developer plans to enter France’s upcoming auction for the Dunkirk offshore wind site in consortium with French developer EDF Energies Nouvelles and Canadian energy infrasturcture company Enbridge, it confirmed.

And, as Warsaw moves its attention from onshore to offshore wind (10GW by 2040, according to the government's draft 2040 energy strategy), a relationship with state utility PGE could prove beneficial, Cowling said.

He also confirmed reports that PGE had approached the company about taking a 50% stake in special purpose vehicles developing two gigawatt-plus wind farms in the Baltic Sea.

He added Innogy viewed Poland as a "good market" for offshore wind, but the company currently had no base there.

Taken together, collaborative approaches to technology selection for wind farms and project finance can help make Innogy, and wind power as a whole, more competitive, the company argues.

Tomorrow's grid

Outside Innogy, Bünting also urges collaboration, believing working together can aid wind power and create a grid fit for variable renewable sources.

He explains that cross-border interconnectors can help balance out variability of wind and solar PV generation — but siloed national processes for grid infrastructure creates roadblocks to development.

Bünting called for the building of such interconnectors to better carry wind power from areas with good resources to high-load centres.

"That is what the EU can do," he said, "(enable) more interconnectors and put less stress on permitting processes for them."

Sector deal

In the UK, too, Innogy believes collaboration — specifically between companies across the supply chain and government — is necessary.

Cowling adds that the long-promised sector deal — a bespoke agreement between government and the offshore wind industry — is "very close and has been for some time".

The need for action in the UK wind power sector was given a boost by Japanese developer Hitachi’s announcement in January that it is suspending development of a new nuclear plant in north Wales — the third such power plant to be scrapped in recent months.

This creates a gap between low carbon power in the UK and the amount actually being delivered, Cowling noted.

"There is a real opportunity there for wind to fill some of that gap," he said.

However, while the wind power industry must work together to help fill this gap and provide the backbone of future power systems, competing interests may limit cost reductions, he added.

Collaboration can help move the sector towards merchant pricing, but there will still be obstacles to overcome.

"Low prices and increasing UK content do not always go hand in hand," Cowling said. "But it is an industry deal, not a developers’ deal, so there must be compromise to be had in terms of how we get there."

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