Growing scale in renewable energy projects has sharply reduced the price of sustainable energy to near parity with fossil fuels, creating new opportunities for energy companies but also for investors.
This is the thrust of a report published this month by the National Bank of Abu Dhabi entitled "Financing The Future Of Energy," prepared by the University of Cambridge and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The report focuses on renewable energy prospects in the wider Gulf region – the ‘West-East corridor’ stretching from Africa into Central Asia – in the context of global energy development.
According the report, US$48 trillion will need to be invested in energy infrastructure worldwide over the next 20 years, with the bulk of that investment in non-OECD countries such as those in the Gulf.
Energy demand in MENA (Middle East-North Africa) is expected to grow at three times the global average in 2013-2019, at 8.3% a year.
‘The vibrancy of these economies is driven by the rise of new megacities, rapid industrialization and increasing middle class wealth and expectations,’ NBAD chief executive Alex Thursby says in a foreword to the report.
Prices for new sustainable energy have fallen so dramatically in the past few years that perceptions have failed to keep up, the report says. The price for solar PV has fallen by 80% in six years, and onshore wind by 40%.
A new global benchmark for utility scale solar PV was set at the end of 2014, the report says, as the 200 MW Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) bid in Dubai showed that photovoltaic technologies are competitive with oil at US$10 per barrel and gas at US$5 per MMBtu.
For the last few years, the report says, more than half of the total investment in new electricity generation worldwide has been in renewable technologies. In 2014 alone, US$150 billion was invested in solar and US$100 billion in wind globally.
This kind of scale means that renewable energy projects can now draw on the full panoply of financing used for large infrastructure projects.
Recent wind and solar projects have used new financing approaches, such as securitization, aggregation and green bonds. These projects can also lend themselves to Special Purpose Vehicle financing, with the advantages this brings for limiting liability but also for channeling government input.
Government policies have an important role to play, not only in setting energy and environmental goals, but in providing guarantees in the form of power purchase agreements or procurement frameworks.
Banks – including regional institutions like NBAD – will have a role to play in financing, but other financial service groups as well. As new restrictions from Basel III put limits on infrastructure loans from banks, it creates opportunities for insurance companies, pension funds and other long-term investors.
In the Middle East, the growing Sukuk market is poised to play a role in financing renewable energy projects. Sukuks are tradable Islamic finance instruments, often compared to bonds but containing some equity elements. Already the first ‘Green Sukuks,’ similar to green bonds, are appearing, offering an investment opportunity for non-Islamic investors who might not otherwise invest in this asset class.
As for the recent plunge in oil prices – not to worry, says the report. Oil accounts for only 5% of electricity generation worldwide, so investment in renewable power generation is little affected by the price of oil. The Middle East produces a much higher portion of electricity from oil but regional governments are making it a priority to shift away from this use.
By Darrell Delamaide for Oilprice.com
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