Energy Savings in a Rising Market

08 July 2020

The retail price of energy for large commercial customers in New Zealand will remain elevated in 2020-21. So what are you going to do about it?

New Zealand’s large commercial market for electricity and natural gas has been on a roller coaster ride for the last 2 years, the likes of which have not been seen before.

There are numerous drivers that influence market movements. Fundamentally though it comes down to the balance between availability of supply and user demand.

Oil, gas, thermal and hydro

The Government’s decision to ban future offshore oil and gas drilling put an end date on New Zealand being able to meet all of its natural gas requirements. The closer we get to the end of current supply the higher the price will climb.

Supply issues with our largest field, Pohokura during 2018/19 and reduced gas production overall has more than doubled gas spot pricing from 2016/17.

In dry years, the electricity system relies on natural gas and coal to provide security of supply. This is for both base load and peaking generation.

With little to no new renewable base load generation planned in the immediate future, the market price is largely driven by the use of thermal based generation.

As consumers of electricity and natural gas, we have no control over the market. However here are a few prudent measures that can be taken to mitigate cost increases in a rising market.

Strike while the iron is hot

Electricity and Gas procurement should not be a once in a 2- or 3-year event. Leaving purchasing decisions to the last minute can have significant negative consequences.

You may only have limited options, having to accept what the market is offering or move to expensive default rates. If there are short term constraints in the market, then pricing may have been more cost effective 3-6 months ago.

Aligning your procurement strategy with a specialist energy consultant provides independent advice and a view of wider market considerations. This is particularly important when setting budgets for the following year.

Have I got a deal for you?

Incumbent retailers will at times be proactive in offering “deals”. However, this is usually from their view of the world and can be part of a defence strategy to sidestep customers reviewing the wider market.

In a rising market, we typically see a significant accordion effect. This is where the difference in prices offered can range more than 20%, even among the large generator retailers.

Without context, pre-emptive renewal offers can at times be viewed with suspicion. A specialist energy consultant can vet such offers quickly.

Understanding the market means pricing is checked against offers they are currently seeing. Advice can then be provided whether to accept the offer or go to market.

The mystic art of Power Factor

Often missed on large commercial invoices are power factor related penalty charges. These are billed by the electricity retailer on behalf of the local network distribution company.

Not all networks charge large commercial customers for poor power factor, but when they do the related charges can be avoided with correction equipment. (See: what is a power factor correction unit?)

There are a multitude of off the shelf solutions out there, however employing a specialist power factor company that designs solutions specific to requirements ensures you get the best bang for buck on your investment.

If correction equipment is already installed, make sure that this is added to your maintenance plan. If well looked after, correction units should last 10 years or more. They are susceptible to heat degradation. A quick check to make sure that air extraction fans on the units are work correctly and filters are kept clean can extend the life of the unit.

Rectifying power factor related issues can also help reduce peak KVA demand and associated costs if these are being billed by the local network company.

The secret life of kilowatts

Do you know how much energy your business uses when you are not there?

Energy monitoring combined with energy data analytics will help you identify energy wastage. Monitoring electricity use with real time energy analytics can also alert you to potential issues during operational hours.

This will allow you to act immediately rather than just seeing the impact on the monthly invoice the following month. With the rapid evolution of the internet of things, energy monitoring as a service is more cost effective than ever.

Are the good times over?

Unless there are structural changes in the market, Total Utilities does not see the retail price of energy for large commercial customers doing anything but remaining elevated (+/- 25% higher for electricity and +/- 45% for natural gas) compared to the 2013-2018 period.

A combination of dry weather, growth in the New Zealand population, general growth in usage and Government policy have put this in place.

Having an Energy Strategy that aligns with your business strategy and planning ahead, being proactive in minimising wastage and understanding where savings can be made will minimise the impact of rising prices.