Published on March 27th, 2017 | by Joshua S Hill0
UK Government Finally Publishes Year-Old Frontier Economics Renewables System Costs Report
March 27th, 2017 by Joshua S Hill
The UK’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy has finally consented to publish a now-year-old report written by European economics consultancy Frontier Economics into the system costs of renewable energy integration.
The report was originally commissioned by then-Secretary of State for the former Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) — which was then rolled into the larger Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) — Sir Edward Davey. Despite being finished in early 2016, the report was withheld — a move which drew significant criticism. In fact, in October of last year, Ed Davey made a Freedom of Information request to the BEIS, stating that on commissioning the report “it was always my intention that this study would be published.”
“Moreover, it is strongly in the public interest for it to be published — undeniably so. Finally, I strongly suspect Frontier Economics will have completed and delivered this report in January 2016. Therefore, officials and Ministers will have had more than sufficient time to consider it.”
The request was denied, the BEIS citing that the report was “intended for publication in due course.”
“We consider that in all the circumstances it is sensible, in line with accepted practices and fair to all concerned to withhold the information at this stage as it will allow the Department to publish the report and accompanying documents with explanatory text or links to other areas of Government policy and analysis on the Government’s website in due course.”
This response was dated 31 October, 2016. Nearly five months later, the BEIS have finally published the report — in addition to three separate peer-reviews. According to “Peer review for impartiality” conducted by Dr Robert Gross of Imperial College (PDF), the peer review was actually done at the request of Frontier Economics.
Importantly, the Frontier Economics report was itself an attempt to provide a more coherent and academically rigorous method of determining the “relative cost of different technologies.” Specifically, it was an attempt to provide a new means of determining the cost of technologies other than the traditional “levelised cost of electricity (LCOE)”. According to Frontier Economics, and quoting the International Energy Agency as further evidence, “there is a growing body of literature that suggests that comparisons on this basis do not capture all the costs and benefits associated with a particular technology.”
“This report aims to develop a comprehensive and clear framework for understanding and explaining whole system impacts that borrows from and builds on the existing work in the literature.”
The Frontier Economics report provides four key takeaways that are worth mentioning:
- A technology’s system costs tend to increase with that technology’s penetration level
- Variable technologies’ system costs can be mitigated by the presence of flexible technologies
- System costs are reduced over time through the process of reoptimization
- Technologies themselves can adapt to alter their system impacts
The story here is less the results of the report (which I nevertheless still recommend anyone to read (PDF)) but rather the fact that the UK government held it in reserve for so long. Given that all three of the peer reviews were written during 2015 — the year prior to the report’s completion — it is still uncertain why the BEIS was so hesitant to publish the report, especially considering its own growing growing acceptance and support of renewable energy systems.
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