Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2019
EIA’s long-term projections show that most of the electricity generating capacity additions installed in the United States through 2050 will be natural gas combined-cycle and solar photovoltaic (PV). Onshore wind looks to be competitive in only a few regions before the legislated phase-out of the production tax credit (PTC), but it becomes competitive later in the projection period as demand increases and the cost for installing wind turbines continues to decline.
For EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2019 (AEO2019), EIA calculates two measures that, when used together, provide an intuitive framework for understanding the capacity expansion decisions modeled for utility-scale power plants—those with a capacity rating of 1 megawatt (MW) or greater.
The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) represents the cost to build and operate a power plant, converted to a level stream of payments over the plant’s assumed financial lifetime. Installed capital costs include construction costs and financing costs. Operating costs include fuel costs (for power plants that consume fuel) and expected maintenance costs. LCOEs may also include other applicable tax credits or subsidies.
The levelized avoided cost of electricity (LACE) accounts for the differences in the grid services each generating technology is providing (a power plant’s value) to the grid. For example, natural gas combined-cycle plants and coal plants provide dispatchable baseload services to the grid and thus have similar LACE values, even if their LCOE values differ. A generator’s avoided cost provides a proxy for the potential revenues from sales of electricity generated. As with LCOE, these revenues are converted to a level stream of payments over the plant’s assumed financial lifetime.
The ratio of these two measures serves as a value-to-cost ratio. Power plants are considered economically attractive when their projected LACE exceeds their projected LCOE, meaning their value-cost ratio exceeds one.
The relative costs and values of several technology options are calculated for each of the 22 electricity regions in the modeling system used to inform EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook. Calculations start in 2021 because that is the first feasible year that all three technologies are available to come online in the model, given the assumed construction lead-time and licensing requirements.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2019 and Levelized Cost and Levelized Avoided Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2019
Because both LCOE and LACE are levelized over the lifetime of the plant, these values change over time. Natural gas combined-cycle units’ LCOEs increases gradually as natural gas prices rise. Utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind’s LCOEs initially increase as a result of the loss of the tax credits but then decrease because of the continued decline in installed costs. Wind’s LCOE may also increase as the best wind resource sites are built out and new projects must be installed in areas that have either lower wind resources or less ease of access.
Natural gas combined-cycle units are considered, on average, the marginal source of electricity generation through 2050, meaning the cost of electricity generation from this technology is most often the basis of comparison for new power plants. As natural gas prices increase, the marginal source becomes more expensive to operate, and the value to the grid of avoiding this cost by building new capacity increases, as seen in the general upward trend in LACE for natural gas combined-cycle and onshore wind.
Conversely, solar PV’s LACE is generally flat to declining during the projection period. As solar penetration in the grid increases, solar capacity saturates during the midday hours, causing the value of electricity delivered in those hours to decrease.
In the AEO2019 Reference case, natural gas combined-cycle’s value-cost ratio is closest to 1.0 throughout the projection, indicating that its value just covers its costs. Natural gas combined-cycle units account for the largest share of new power plants (43% of the utility-scale total from 2021 through 2050). Solar PV’s value-cost ratio is slightly less than 1.0, indicating that, on average, its value does not cover its costs, but capacity is still added. In some cases, these solar PV additions may be uneconomic, but they still occur to satisfy the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements in 29 states and the District of Columbia.
Onshore wind’s value-cost ratio remains lower than 1.0 throughout the projection period and lower than solar PV. Consequently, little onshore wind is installed in the Reference case, except in the near term when wind capacity is built to take advantage of the available PTC.
More information about LCOE, LACE, and economic competitiveness of electricity generating technologies is available in EIA’s Levelized Cost and Levelized Avoided Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2019 report.
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On 10 December 2021, if all goes to plan Royal Dutch Shell will become just Shell. The energy supermajor will move its headquarters from The Hague in The Netherlands to London, UK. At least three-quarters of the company’s shareholders must vote in favour of the change at the upcoming general meeting, which has been sold by Shell as a means of simplifying its corporate structure and better return value to shareholders, as well as be ‘better positioned to seize opportunities and play a leading role in the energy transition’. In doing so, it will no longer meet Dutch conditions for ‘royal’ designation, dropping a moniker that has defined the company through decades of evolution since 1907.
But why this and why now?
There is a complex web of reasons why, some internal and some external but the ultimate reason boils down to improving growth sustainability. Royal Dutch Shell was born through the merger of Shell Transport and Trading Company (based in the UK) and Royal Dutch (based in The Netherlands) in 1907, with both companies engaging in exploration activities ranging from seashells to crude oil. Unified across international borders, Royal Dutch Shell emerged as Europe’s answer to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire, as the race to exploit oil (and later natural gas) reserves spilled out over the world. Along the way, Royal Dutch Shell chalked up a number of achievements including establishing the iconic Brent field in the North Sea to striking the first commercial oil in Nigeria. Unlike Standard Oil which was dissolved into 34 smaller companies in 1911, Royal Dutch Shell remained intact, operating as two entities until 2005, when they were finally combined in a dual-nationality structure: incorporated in the UK, but residing in the Netherlands. This managed to satisfy the national claims both countries make on the supermajor, second only to ExxonMobil in revenue and profits but proved to be costly to maintain. In 2020, fellow Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever also ditched its dual structure, opting to be based fully out of the City of London. In that sense, Shell is following the direction of the wind, as forces in its (soon to be former) home country turn sour.
There is a specific grievance that Royal Dutch Shell has with the Dutch government, the 15% dividend tax collected for Dutch-domiciled companies. It is the reason why Unilever abandoned Rotterdam and is now the reason why Shell is abandoning The Hague. And this point is particularly existentialist for Shell, since its share prices has been battered in recent years following the industry downturn since 2015, the global pandemic and being in the crosshairs of climate change activists as an emblem of why the world’s average temperatures are going haywire. The latter has already caused the largest Dutch state pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil fuels, thereby divesting itself of Royal Dutch Shell. This was largely a symbolic move, but as religious figures will know, symbols themselves carry much power. To combat this, Shell has done two things. First, it has positioned itself to be at the forefront of energy transition, announcing ambitious emissions reductions plans in line with its European counterparts to become carbon neutral by 2050. Second, it is looking to bump up its dividend payouts after slashing them through the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic and accelerating share buybacks to remain the bluest of blue-chip stocks. But then, earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s emissions targets were ‘not ambitious enough’, ordering a stricter aim within a tighter timeframe. And the 15% dividend tax remains – even though Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government has been attempting to scrap it, with (it is presumed) some lobbying from Royal Dutch Shell and Unilever.
As simplistic it is to think that Shell is leaving for London believes the citizens of the Netherlands has turned its back on the company, the ultimate reason was the dividend tax. Reportedly, CEO Ben van Buerden called up Mark Rutte on Sunday informing him of the planned move. Rutte’s reaction, it is said was of dismay. And he embarked on a last-ditch effort to persuade Royal Dutch Shell to change its mind, by immediately lobbying his government’s coalition partners to back an abolition of the dividend tax. The reaction was perhaps not what he expected, with left-wing and green parties calling Shell’s threat ‘blackmail’. With democracy drawing a line, Shell decided to walk; or at least present an exit plan endorsed by its Board to be voted by shareholders. Many in the Netherlands see Shell’s exit and the loss of the moniker Royal Dutch – as a blow to national pride, especially since the country has been basking in the glow of expanded reputation as a result of post-Brexit migration of financial activities to Amsterdam from London. The UK, on the other hand, sees Shell’s decision and Unilever’s – as an endorsement of the country’s post-Brexit potential.
The move, if passed and in its initial stages, will be mainly structural, transferring the tax residence of Shell to London. Just ten top executives including van Buerden and CFO Jessica Uhl will be making the move to London. Three major arms – Projects and Technology, Global Upstream and Integrated Gas and Renewable Energies – will remain in The Hague. As will Shell’s massive physical reach on Dutch soil: the huge integrated refinery in Pernis, the biofuels hub in Rotterdam, the country’s first offshore wind farm and the mammoth Porthos carbon capture project that will funnel emissions from Rotterdam to be stored in empty North Sea gas fields. And Shell’s troubles with activists will still continue. British climate change activists are as, if not more aggressive as their Dutch counterpart, this being the country where Extinction Rebellion was born. Perhaps more of a threat is activist investor Third Point, which recently acquired a chunk of Shell shares and has been advocating splitting the company into two – a legacy business for fossil fuels and a futures-focused business for renewables.
So Shell’s business remains, even though its address has changed. In the grand scheme of things, never mind the small matter of Dutch national pride – Royal Dutch Shell’s roadmap to remain an investment icon and a major driver of energy transition will continue in its current form. This is a quibble about money or rather, tax – that will have little to no impact on Shell’s operations or on its ambitions. Royal Dutch Shell is poised to become just Shell. Different name and a different house, but the same contents. Unless, of course, Queen Elizabeth II decides to provide royal assent, in which case, Shell might one day become Royal British Shell.
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