Sustainable cost reductions – No, I’m not talking price

05 December 2017

Cost reduction in the energy market through procurement has been relatively easy in the last few years. Flat national demand, solid hydro storage, increased retailer competition and participation in the ASX market has led to competitive commercial contracts that have allowed many customers to save money without changing what they are doing.

While an immediate impact, it is not sustainable. Fixed price contracts are typically only 2-3 years in length and only relate to +/- 65% of a total bill, changes in transmission and distribution pricing is passed through at cost by the retailers and these costs are non-contestable.

In recent weeks, hydro storage has dropped for the second time this year to low levels which has driven large increases in Spot and ASX future pricing. Spot pricing through June moved well above the long term average, peak daytime periods were regularly priced at between 15-20c/kWh or more. While the South Island hydro storage lakes recovered in August from the dry winter, there has been little rain during spring which has meant that water inflows have been below 70% of average levels. It is not uncommon for Spot to bounce around at this time of year due to scheduled maintenance of thermal generators and other transmission related work, however the lack of South Island rainfall and the longer term NIWA forecasts are concerning. Over the last couple of weeks it has been like déjà vu as Spot pricing escalated to day time peaks of above 20c/kWh. 2017 is shaping up to be one of the more volatile years in recent history. Both ASX futures and Spot prices are lead indicators to over the counter retail pricing, pricing can change quickly and for customers who maybe engage with the market once every 2-3 years as contracts end, if the timing is wrong it can lead to significant price increases.

With New Zealand’s energy market so heavily reliant on environmental factors for supply of fuel, it is not enough to rely solely on pricing being the same or better every time a customer needs to sign a new commercial supply contract. Nationally we have around 6 weeks of hydro storage, tiny in comparison to Iceland who have around 6 months backup. Needless to say, it does not take much for the market here to spike, a period of unseasonably dry weather combined with a cold snap, some thermal generation outages and transmission constraint issues all lead the market in one direction.

Customers are asking us what else can be done to mitigate pricing risk in the future aside from securing competitive energy supply contracts. Utilities are a two way street, a symbiotic relationship between consumption and cost. If we take a strategic view, then time and effort needs to be directed at both sides of the coin.

We recently had a customer say, “It’s great when I can save 1-2 cents per kWh with a new contract, but for every kWh I don’t use, I save 10 cents. That’s where the real gold is hidden.”

Total Utilities has a range of energy management services that can assist customers identify sustainable energy savings. We can guide you through your energy efficiency journey from how and where to get started, device level energy monitoring and targeting to identify energy wastage, energy audits, solar viability analysis and system design, BMS optimisation and NABERNZ ratings though to implementation and post commissioning reviews.

Planning for efficiency now, can reduce cost risks in the future when commercial pricing increases. We’d welcome the opportunity to discuss with you what might be possible to ensure a commercially sustainable future.