Author: Will Gardiner

A net zero UK will be good for people and the planet

Peak district walker

For the UK to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and do its part in tackling the biggest challenge of our time, all sectors of the economy must reduce their emissions and do it quickly.

I believe the best approach to tackling climate change is through ‘co-benefit’ solutions: solutions that not only have a positive environmental impact, but that are economically progressive for society today and in the future through training, skills and job creation.

As an energy company, this task is especially important for Drax. We have a responsibility to future generations to innovate and use our engineering skills to deliver power that’s renewable, sustainable and that doesn’t come at a cost to the environment.

Our work on Zero Carbon Humber, in partnership with 11 other forward-thinking organisations, aims to deploy the negative emissions technology BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), as well as CCUS (carbon capture, usage and storage) in industry and power, and ramp up hydrogen production as a low carbon fuel. These are all essential technologies in bringing the UK to net zero, but they are also innovative projects at scale that can benefit society and the lives of people in the Humber, and around the UK.

New jobs in a new sector

The Humber region has a proud history in heavy industries. What began as a thriving ship building hub has evolved to include chemicals, refining and steel manufacturing. However, these emissions-intensive industries have grown increasingly expensive to operate and many have left for countries where they can be run cheaper, leading to a decline in the Humber region.

If they are not decarbonised, these industries will face an even greater cost. By 2040, emitters could face billions of pounds per year in carbon taxes, making them less competitive and less attractive for international investment.

Deploying carbon capture and hydrogen are essential steps towards modernising these businesses and protecting up to 55,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the region.

Capturing carbon at Drax: Delivering jobs, clean growth and levelling up the Humber. Click to view executive summary and case studies from Vivid Economics report for Drax.

A report by Vivid Economics commissioned by Drax, found that carbon capture and hydrogen in the Humber could create and support almost 48,000 new jobs at the peak of the construction period in 2027 and provide thousands of long term, skilled jobs in the following decades.

As well as protecting people’s livelihoods, decarbonisation is also a matter of public health. In the Humber alone, higher air quality could save £148 million in avoided public health costs between 2040 and 2050.

I believe the UK is well position to rise to the challenge and lead the world in decarbonisation technology. There is a clear opportunity to export knowledge and skills to other countries embarking on their own decarbonisation journeys. BECCS alone could create many more jobs related to exporting the technology and operational know-how and deliver additional value for the economy. As interest in negative emissions grows around the world, the UK needs to move quickly to secure a competitive advantage.

A fairer economy

This is in many ways the start of a new sector in our economy – one that can offer new employment, earnings and economic growth. It comes at just the right time. Without intervention to spur a green recovery, the COVID-19 crisis risks subjecting long-term economic damage.

Being at the beginning of the industrial decarbonisation journey means we also have the power to shape this new industry in a way that spreads the benefits across the whole of the UK.

We’ve previously seen sector deals struck between the government and industry include equality measures. For example, the nuclear industry aims to count women as 40% of its employees by 2030, while offshore wind is committed to sourcing 60% of its supply chain from the UK.

Wind turbines at Bridlington, East Yorkshire

At present, the Humber region receives among the lowest levels of government investment in research and development in the UK, contributing to a pronounced skills gap among the workforce. In addition, almost 60% of construction workers across the wider Yorkshire and Humber region were furloughed as of August 2020.

A project such as Zero Carbon Humber could address this regional imbalance and offer skilled, long term jobs to local communities. That’s why I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of £1bn investment to support the establishment of CCUS in the Humber and other ‘SuperPlaces’ around the UK.

As the Government’s Ten Point Plan says, CCUS can ‘help decarbonise our most challenging sectors, provide low carbon power and a pathway to negative emissions’. 

Healthier forests

The co-benefits of BECCS extend beyond our communities in the UK. We aim to become carbon negative by 2030 by removing our CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and abating emissions that might still exist on the UK’s path to net zero.

Background. Fir tree branch with dew drops on a blurred background of sunlight

This ambition will only be realised if the biomass we use continues to be sourced from sustainable forests that positively benefit the environment and the communities in which we and our suppliers operate.

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

I believe we must continuously improve our sustainability policy and seek to update it as new findings come to light. We can help ensure the UK’s biomass sourcing is led by the latest science, best practice and transparency, supporting healthy, biodiverse forests around the world; and even apply it internationally.

Global leadership

Delivering deep decarbonisation for the UK will require collaboration from industries, government and society. What we can achieve through large-scale projects like Zero Carbon Humber is more than just the vital issue of reduced emissions. It is also about creating jobs, protecting health and improving livelihoods.

These are more than just benefits, they are the makings of a future filled with opportunity for the Humber and for the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution.

By implementing the Ten Point Plan and publishing its National Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of COP26 in Glasgow next year, the UK continues to be an example to the world on climate action.

In a crisis people come first

This crisis will be remembered for many things. Many are not positive, but some are inspiring. Around the world we’ve seen tremendous acts of kindness and witnessed remarkable resilience from people continuing to live, work and to support one another. The actions we are all taking as individuals, businesses and communities will not only help us get through this crisis, they will shape how we emerge from it.

At Drax we are proud of the ongoing role we’re playing in supporting the UK and its essential services, continuing to generate and supply the electricity needed to keep people healthy and the economy running.

It is what we have always done, and it is what we will continue to do.

This is possible because our people have continued to carry out their important work in these uncertain times safely and responsibly. My leadership team in the UK and US must continue to support them, and we must also support the communities they are a part of.

Employees Drax Power Station show their support and appreciation for the heroic efforts of those within the NHS by turning one of its cooling towers blue at 8pm each Thursday

Employees Drax Power Station show their support and appreciation for the heroic efforts of those within the NHS by turning one of its cooling towers blue at 8pm each Thursday

Our communities are at the core of what we do and who we are. They support our business globally and enable us to supply energy to the country. We have a responsibility to do what we can to help them through this crisis.

To do this we have put together a Covid-19 support package totalling more than three quarters of a million pounds that goes beyond just financing to make a positive impact. I’d like to highlight a few of these.

Supporting communities in Great Britain and the US

The Robinson family collect their laptop at Selby Community Primary School

The closures of schools and the need to turn homes into classrooms has been one of the biggest changes for many families. With children now depending on technology and the internet for schooling, there’s a very real chance those without access may fall behind, with a long term negative impact on their education.

We want to ensure no child is left out. So, we have donated £250,000 to buy 853 new laptops, each with three months of pre-paid internet access, and delivered them to schools and colleges local to our sites across the UK.

This has been implemented by Drax, working closely with headteachers. As one of our local heads Ian Clennan told us: “Schools don’t just provide education – they’re a whole support system. Having computers and internet access means pupils can keep in touch with their teachers and classmates more easily too – which is also incredibly important at the moment.”

In the US, we’re donating $30,000 to support hardship funds for the communities where we operate. Our colleagues in Louisiana are playing an active role in the community, and in Amite County, Mississippi, they have helped provide PPE to first responders as well as supporting charities for the families worse affected.

Helping businesses, starting with the most vulnerable

As an energy supplier to small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), we must act with compassion and be ready to help those who are most economically exposed to the crisis. To do this, we are launching a number of initiatives to support businesses, starting with some of the most vulnerable.

It’s clear that care homes require extra support at this time. We are offering energy bill relief for more than 170 small care homes situated near our UK operations for the next two months, allowing them to divert funds to their other priorities such as PPE, food or carer accommodation.

But it is also important we understand how difficult a period this is for small businesses of all kinds. Many of our customers are facing financial pressure that was impossible to forecast. To help relieve this, we have agreed deferred payment plans with some of our customers who are unable to pay in full. We have also extended current energy prices for three months for 4,000 customers of Opus Energy who have not been able to secure a new contract during this period.

The impact of this crisis will be long term, so we made a significant, two-year charitable donation to Business Debtline. A dedicated phoneline and webpage will be provided to our small businesses customers, offering free debt advice and helping them to recover for the future.

An engineer looks up at flue gas desulphurisation unit (FGD) at Drax Power Station. The massive pipe would transport flue gas from the Drax boilers to the carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant for CO<sub>2</sub> removal of between 90-95%.

An engineer looks up at flue gas desulphurisation unit (FGD) at Drax Power Station. The massive pipe would transport flue gas from the Drax boilers to the carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant for CO2 removal of between 90-95%.

Change for the future recovery

While there is still uncertainty around how the UK, the US and the world will emerge from the pandemic it is the responsibility of the whole energy industry to show compassion for its customers and to take the actions needed to soften the economic blow that Covid-19 is having across the globe.

The disruption to normal life caused by the pandemic has changed how the country uses electricity overnight. In the coming weeks we will be publishing a more in-depth view from Electric Insights showing exactly what effect this has had and what it might reveal for the future of energy.

No matter what that future holds, however, we will remain committed to enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future. This will mean not only supporting our people, our communities and our countries through the coronavirus crisis, but striving for a bright and optimistic future beyond it. A future where people’s immediate health, safety and economic wellbeing are prioritised alongside solutions to another crisis – that of climate change.

Responsibility, wellbeing and trust during the COVID-19 outbreak

Engineers in PPE working at Drax Power Station

We are living through unprecedented times. Coronavirus is having far reaching effects on all industries not just here in the UK, but around the world. At Drax, we take our responsibilities as a member of critical national infrastructure and as an essential service provider very seriously. We are committed to maintaining a continuous, stable and reliable electricity supply for millions of homes and businesses in the UK.

The wellbeing of our people

Firstly, I’d like to thank our employees, contractors, supply chain workers and their families as well as the communities in the UK and US in which we operate, for their fantastic support and continued hard work during these difficult and uncertain times. Our employees’ health and wellbeing are vital, and we’re working hard to ensure we are supporting them with both their physical and mental health, whether working at home or at one of our sites.

Engineer maintaining equipment in Drax Power Station

Engineer maintaining equipment in Drax Power Station [Click to view/download]

Across all our sites we are have implemented strategies to reduce the chances of people spreading the virus and have operational plans in place to ensure continued delivery of power into the grid.

Power station resilience

At Drax Power Station, the UK’s largest power station, largest decarbonisation project in Europe and biggest source of renewable power into the national grid, we have arranged for the separation of key operational teams and employees so that they are physically distanced from each other. We have moved as many employees as possible to work from home, so that there are fewer people in our workplaces reducing the risk of the spread of infection, should it arise. We have strict controls on visitors to the site and on our contractors and suppliers. Our resilience teams are working well and we have contingency plans in place to manage risks associated with colleague absences.

We have closed the visitor centres at Cruachan pumped storage hydro power station and Tongland hydro power station in Scotland, as well as at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire. We have also stopped all but critically important travel between our sites.

Our supply chain

Sustainable biomass wood pellets destined for Drax Power Station unloaded from the Zheng Zhi bulk carrier at ABP Immingham [Click to view/download]

It is vital we maintain a resilient supply chain for the sustainably sourced biomass wood pellets required to produce electricity at Drax Power Station, the country’s largest power station. We’re working closely with our suppliers in the US and Europe to maintain biomass supplies as well as with rail and port infrastructure in the US and UK to ensure continuity of supply.

Just last week Associated British Ports (ABP) and Drax received and unloaded the largest ever shipment of sustainable biomass to arrive at the Port of Immingham in the UK’s Humber region. The vessel transported 63,907 tonnes of Drax’s wood pellets from the US Port of Greater Baton Rouge in Louisiana. The consignment supplies Drax Power Station with enough renewable fuel to generate electricity for 1.3 million homes.

Our three wood pellet manufacturing plants are running well, with US authorities classifying our employees as key workers. The same is the case for our rail freight partners on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, GB Railfreight recognises the strategic importance of biomass deliveries to Drax Power Station.

Our customers

Businesses – both large and small – are feeling the economic effects of this virus. Our employees involved with the supply of electricity, gas and energy services to organisations are working hard to support them. More information can be found via these links:

We are working closely with BEIS, HM Treasury and our trade associations to explore how government and industry can further support business through this challenging time. Organisations facing financial difficultly can access the unprecedented level of support already announced by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak via:

Drax employee in high visibility clothing on the telephone

Drax employee in high visibility clothing on the telephone [Click to view/download]

Leadership

Our Executive Committee is meeting regularly via video conference to discuss our contingency planning as the situation changes. We are working closely with the UK, US state and Canadian governments, National Grid and Ofgem to ensure that we remain up to date with the latest advice and that we are prepared for any further escalation.

This is an unprecedented time for the UK and the world. Rest assured that Drax’s critical national infrastructure and essential service operations, as well as its employees, are working hard 24/7 to make sure individuals, families, businesses and organisations are supplied with the vital electricity needed to keep the country running.

Letter from Will Gardiner to the Independent Advisory Board on Sustainable Biomass

Dear John, 

Thank you for your letter of the 9 January, detailing the findings and recommendations from the first meeting of the Independent Advisory Board on Sustainable Biomass.

I want to begin by reiterating how important the work of the IAB is to Drax’s purpose and ambition. As you know, we recently announced our intention to become the world’s first carbon negative company by 2030 by scaling up our pioneering biomass with CCS (BECCS) pilot project. This ambition will only be realised if the biomass we use makes a positive contribution to our climate, the environment and the communities in which we operate. To that end, both you and the IAB will play a vital role by guiding us on our sourcing choices and challenging us to be as sustainable and transparent as we can be.

I enjoyed meeting with the IAB and hearing your conclusions from the first meeting. I am also pleased to hear from my team that the longer discussions were useful and constructive. Please pass on my thanks to all the members of the IAB for their time and consideration.

In particular, I am grateful for their consideration of our new sustainable biomass sourcing policy and the insight and recommendations that were given. I am pleased to hear that you agree our policy is an accurate representation of the criteria laid down in the Forest Research report.

I agree that a key topic for us to explore is how science can be further developed with regards the use of small, early thinnings and small roundwood. I also agree that understanding the counter factuals in the usage of wood that has come to us is important. This is an area we have, and continue to, explore, and I would refer the IAB to a report we have published subsequent to the meeting, “Catchment Area Analysis of Forest Management and Market Trends (2019)”– which contains an independent analysis of the impact of our sourcing at our Amite pellet mill in Mississippi. The team look forward to discussing this with you at a future meeting and receiving your input to shape the next phases of this work.

I also agree the need to continuously improve our sustainability policy and seek to update it as new findings come to light, as well as ensure that the current policy is embedded into our operations. For that reason, our policy will be kept under regular review to accommodate changes in science and new evidence as it emerges. We have also committed to advancing scientific research in the areas applicable to our operations through partnerships with academic institutions and direct support for academic research.

With regards your suggestion of a restatement of the academic evidence on biomass sustainability, we shall give this interesting approach due consideration. I do believe that better alignment through a shared understanding of the evidence among the academic community, environmental groups, policy makers and industry would be a welcome development and would be grateful to the IAB for its further consideration of how this might be achieved.

I will also raise your considerations regarding the Sustainable Biomass Program (SPB) in my position a member of the SPB Board. You are correct that our new policy goes beyond SBP, and so an important work programme for us is how we demonstrate we are meeting the new policy.

Lastly, I welcome the addition of two interim telephone calls which will help to keep momentum between the half yearly meetings and will support us as we develop our policy, research and implementation projects further. Thank you for this commitment.

As the work of the IAB progresses, I look forward to hearing how you believe Drax can best build the evidence required to demonstrate that we are sourcing according to the best available science. As the world’s largest biomass consumer it is important that we lead by example. This means not only having a world leading biomass sustainability policy in place, but also the data and evidence available to give all our stakeholders the confidence that we are fulfilling our purpose of enabling a zero carbon, lower cost energy future.

Thank you once again for your participation and expertise.

Yours,

 

 

 

 

 

Will Gardiner

Group CEO

View/download the PDF version here

Will Gardiner’s Drax carbon negative ambition remarks at COP25

Will Gardiner at Powering Past Coal Alliance event in the UK Pavilion at COP25 in Madrid

Thank you very much Nick, it’s a pleasure to be here in Madrid. My name is Will Gardiner and I am the CEO of the Drax Group. We have been proud members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance for a year now, but our journey beyond coal began more than a decade ago, when we realised that we had a responsibility to our communities, our shareholders and our colleagues to be part of the solution to the escalating climate crisis.

And so at Drax we did something that many believed wasn’t possible and began to replace coal generation with sustainable, renewable biomass.

With the right support and commitment from successive UK ministers, and through the ingenuity of our people, within a decade we transformed into Europe’s largest decarbonisation project and its biggest source of renewable power – generating 12% of the UK’s renewable electricity last year while reducing our carbon emissions by more than 80% since 2012.

We have reduced our emissions, we believe, more than any other energy company in the world and we have enabled a just transition for thousands of UK workers who began their career in coal but will end it by producing renewable, flexible and low carbon power for 13 million British homes.

But as the climate crisis intensifies and the clock counts down, we can’t stand still. So today I am pleased to share our new ambition: to move beyond carbon neutrality, to achieve something that nobody has before, and become the world’s first carbon negative company by 2030.

By applying carbon capture and storage technology to our bioenergy generation we can become the first company in the world to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than we produce, while continuing to produce about 5% of the UK’s overall electricity needs.

As the IPCC and UK government’s Committee on Climate Change make clear – negative emissions are vital if we are to limit the earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

At Drax we can be the first company to produce negative emissions at scale, helping to arrest climate change and redefining what is possible in the transition beyond coal.

If we are to defeat the climate crisis we must do it in a way that unlocks jobs and economic growth, unleashes entrepreneurial spirit and leaves nobody behind. The UK is unrivalled in decarbonising in this way. We are second to none in deploying renewables like offshore wind and bioenergy, which have transformed lives and our post-industrial communities.

We need to apply a similar framework to Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage as made offshore wind so successful. Fundamentally, an effective strategic partnership of government and the private sector was critical. The government provided support and an effective carbon tax regime. With confidence in that regulatory framework, many businesses provided investment and innovation. As a result, offshore wind has grown from less than 600 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity in 2008 to more than 8,000 MW in 2018 — an increase of more than 13 times in 10 years to produce 7.5% of the UK’s electricity.

At the same time, the cost of that electricity has declined from £114/MWh in 2015 to £39/MWh in 2019, the latter being a cost that will make offshore wind viable without subsidy. With government support and an effective regulatory regime to give the private sector the confidence to invest and innovate, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage will trace that same path. At the same time, investing in this technology will both save lots of existing jobs and create many next generation green technology jobs.

That is why we have founded, along with Equinor and National Grid, Zero Carbon Humber, to work with the government to bring carbon capture and storage infrastructure to the northeast of the UK. We can save 55,000 existing heavy industry jobs, while capturing as much as 30 million tons of CO2 per year. At the same time we will create a new industry and also the infrastructure for a new hydrogen economy to take our decarbonisation further.

By creating the right conditions for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage to flourish, Britain can continue to benefit – socially, economically and environmentally from being at the vanguard of the fight against climate change.

And at the same time, it is our ambition at Drax to play a major role in that fight by becoming the first carbon negative company.

Thank you

Read the press release: Drax sets world-first ambition to become carbon negative by 2030

Photo caption: Will Gardiner at Powering Past Coal Alliance event in the UK Pavilion at COP25 in Madrid. Click to view/download.

Learn more about carbon capture, usage and storage in our series:

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time and Drax has a crucial role in tackling it.

All countries around the world need to reduce carbon emissions while at the same time growing their economies. Creating enough clean, secure energy for industry, transport and people’s daily lives has never been more important.

Drax is at the heart of the UK energy system. Recently the UK government committed to delivering a net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Drax is equally committed to helping make that possible.

We’ve recently had some questions about what we’re doing and I’d like to set the record straight.

How is Drax helping the UK reach its climate goals?

At Drax we’re committed to a zero-carbon, lower-cost energy future.

And we’ve accelerated our efforts to help the UK get off coal by converting our power station to using sustainable biomass. And now we’re the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

We’re exploring how Drax Power Station can become the anchor to enable revolutionary technologies to capture carbon in the North of England.

And we’re creating more energy stability, so that more wind and solar power can come onto the grid.

And finally, we’re helping our customers take control of their energy – so they can use it more efficiently and spend less.

Is Drax the largest carbon polluter in the UK?

No. Since 2012 we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions by 84%. In that time, we moved from being western Europe’s largest polluter to being the home of the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

And we want to do more.

We’ve expanded our operations to include hydro power, storage and natural gas and we’ve continued to bring coal off the system.

By the mid 2020s, our ambition is to create a power station that both generates electricity and removes carbon from the atmosphere at the same time.

Does building gas power stations mean the UK will be tied into fossil fuels for decades to come?

Our energy system is changing rapidly as we move to use more wind and solar power.

At the same time, we need new technologies that can operate when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

A new, more efficient gas plant can fill that gap and help make it possible for the UK to come off coal before the government’s deadline of 2025.

Importantly, if we put new gas in place we need to make sure that there’s a route through for making that zero-carbon over time by being able to capture the CO2 or by converting those power plants into hydrogen.

Are forests destroyed when Drax uses biomass and is biomass power a major source of carbon emissions?

No.

Sustainable biomass from healthy managed forests is helping decarbonise the UK’s energy system as well as helping to promote healthy forest growth.

Biomass has been a critical element in the UK’s decarbonisation journey. Helping us get off coal much faster than anyone thought possible.

The biomass that we use comes from sustainably managed forests that supply industries like construction. We use residues, like sawdust and waste wood, that other parts of industry don’t use.

We support healthy forests and biodiversity. The biomass that we use is renewable because the forests are growing and continue to capture more carbon than we emit from the power station.

What’s exciting is that this technology enables us to do more. We are piloting carbon capture with bioenergy at the power station. Which could enable us to become the first carbon-negative power station in the world and also the anchor for new zero-carbon cluster across the Humber and the North.

How do you justify working at Drax?

I took this job because Drax has already done a tremendous amount to help fight climate change in the UK. But I also believe passionately that there is more that we can do.

I want to use all of our capabilities to continue fighting climate change.

I also want to make sure that we listen to what everyone else has to say to ensure that we continue to do the right thing.

Laying down the pathway to carbon capture in a net zero UK

Humber bridge

The starting gun has fired and the challenge is underway. The government has officially set 2050 as the target year in which the UK will achieve carbon neutrality.

There’s no denying this economy-wide transformation will need a great deal of investment. Reaching net zero carbon emissions will require an evolutionary overhaul of not just Great Britain’s electricity system but the UK economy as a whole. And indeed, the way we live our lives and go about our business.

But that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach. Instead it will fall to technologies such as carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS), as well as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), to make it economical and possible.

The secret to making decarbonisation affordable

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) estimates the price of decarbonisation will cost as little as 1% of forecast GDP per annum in 2050.

However, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee inquiry found that failure to deploy CCUS and BECCS technology could double the cost to 2%. There are a number of reasons for this, such as the cost to jobs, productivity and living standards of shutting down industrial emitters. CCUS’s ability to contribute to a hydrogen economy can help avoid this.

Moreover, the CCC claims even with industries striving to decarbonise rapidly, as much as 100 megatonnes of hard-to-abate carbon dioxide (CO2) is expected to remain in the UK economy by 2050.

This makes carbon negative techniques and technologies, such as BECCS – which uses woody biomass that has absorbed carbon in its lifetime as forests – alongside direct air capture (DAC), the boosting of ocean plant productivity, much greater tree planting and better sequestration of carbon in soil, essential if the UK is to attain true carbon neutrality.

The importance of BECCS and CCUS in the zero carbon future is clear. Now is the time for rapid development. Not in 2030, not in 2040, but today in 2019 and into the 2020s.

But doing this requires the government to move beyond its historic policies that have failed to support the technology in the past. Progress needs long-term frameworks that provide private sector investors with the certainty they need to kick-start the commercial-scale deployment of CCUS technologies.

Laying down the tracks to negative emissions  

For carbon capture to become an integrated part of the energy system it must deliver value well beyond the energy sector. Establishing markets for products developed from captured carbon will play a role here, but to set the wheels in motion, financial frameworks are needed that can allow BECCS and CCUS to thrive.

One device that can allow the market to develop CCUS is the creation of contracts for difference (CfDs) for carbon capture. These currently exist in the low-carbon generation space, between generators and the government-owned Low Carbon Contracts Company (LCCC). Through these contracts, power generators are paid the difference between their cost of generating low carbon electricity (known as a strike price) and the price of electricity in Great Britain’s wholesale power market. If the power price in the market is higher than the strike price generators pay the difference back to the LCCC, meaning consumers are protected from price spikes too.

It means that the generator is protected from market volatility or big drops in the wholesale price of power, offering the security to invest in new technology. More than this, CfDs last many years meaning they transcend political cycles and the cost per megawatt can be reduced with a longer contract. Creating a market for carbon capture or negative emissions generation could offer the same security to generators to invest in the technology.

A CfD for BECCS should not only incentivise the building of infrastructure to capture carbon, but we must also recognise the valuable role that negative emissions can play. By compensating BECCS producers for their negative emissions, it should provide a lower cost alternative to reducing all other CO2 emissions to zero, while still ensuring that the UK can get to net zero.

Beyond installing carbon capture at existing generation sites, one of the major financial barriers to the wider deployment of CCUS and BECCS is the cost and liability associated with transporting and storing captured carbon.

A Regulated Asset Base (RAB) funding model, would encourage investment by gradually recovering the costs of transport and storage via a regulated return. This approach is currently under consideration as a means of financing other major infrastructure projects.

A RAB allows businesses, including investment and pension funds, to invest in projects under the oversight of a government regulator. In exchange for their commitment, investors can collect a fee through regular consumer and non-domestic bills.

Led by industry; guided by government

Ultimately, the current carbon trading system is based around charging polluters. But as we approach a post-coal UK and in order to achieve net zero, it’s necessary for this to evolve – from economically disincentivising emissions to incentivising carbon-negative power generation.

However, with the cost of carbon capture and negative emissions differing between types of industries and technologies, there’s a requirement to consider differentiated carbon prices to guide industry through long-term strategy. But the need for carbon capture development is too pressing for us as an industry to wait.

At Drax Power Station our BECCS pilot is just the beginning of our wider ambitions to become the first negative emissions power station. Our use of biomass already makes Drax Power Station the largest generator of renewable electricity in Great Britain. The responsibly-managed working forests our suppliers source from absorbed carbon from the atmosphere as they grew so adding carbon capture at scale to this supply chain can turn our operation from low carbon, to carbon-neutral and eventually carbon negative.

And we have bigger plans still to create a net zero carbon industrial cluster in the Humber region, in partnership with Equinor and National Grid. The cluster would deliver carbon capture at the scale needed to not just decarbonise the most carbon-intensive industrial region in the UK, but to put the country at the forefront of the decarbonisation of industry and manufacturing.

Government action is needed to make CCUS and BECCS economically sustainable at scale as an integrated part of our energy system. However, the onus is on us, the energy industry to lead development and act as trusted partners that can deliver the decarbonisation needed to reach net zero carbon by 2050.

Learn more about carbon capture, usage and storage in our series:

The roadmap to zero carbon

The UK has come a long way in its efforts to decarbonise. Greenhouse gas emissions last year were 43% below 1990 levels, while increasing renewable electricity generation and a strengthening carbon price means the country could soon go coal-free for an entire summer.

There is still, however, much work needed to reach the UK target of reducing emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050 and meeting the Paris Agreement’s aim of keeping temperature increases below two degrees Celsius. As ambitious as these goals may be, recent research by the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) believes they can be met by 2050, with the right government policies and action from businesses.

To help to mitigate man made climate change, all industries, across all sectors must cut carbon emissions. It’s a big challenge but a clear first step must be the decarbonisation of electricity generation. This step will enable other industries to reduce their emissions in turn through electrification.

Since 2000 we have been building our experience in decarbonising electrical generation, transforming what was once Western Europe’s largest coal-fired power station into the UK’s biggest decarbonisation project. This puts us in a unique position to offer the leadership and innovation needed – across the electricity industry and other sectors – to reach a zero-carbon world.

Electricity generation will lead decarbonisation

The electrification of carbon-intensive sectors, such as transport and heating, will only contribute to reducing overall emissions if the electricity comes from mostly low or zero-carbon sources.

The ETC’s research suggests wind and solar will be capable of providing 85% of the world’s electricity generation by 2050. When these intermittent sources are unable to generate electricity the remaining 15% will come from a combination of nuclear, hydro, biomass and storage (including batteries, pumped storage and new technologies).

In fact, biomass alone could provide as much as half of that 15% but it is critical that this flexible, renewable, low carbon fuel must be sustainably sourced. For the wood biomass we use at Drax Power Station, its sourcing should contribute to growing and healthy forests, which will be another key part of the climate change solution.

Will Gardiner, CEO, Drax Group

At Drax, we have a long history of finding ways to cut emissions and improve the efficiency of our own biomass pellet supply chain, from bigger ships to more efficient rail freight loading and unloading.

The skills and experiences gained from these efforts serve not only to decarbonise our business but will benefit other supply chain-based industries along the path to lower-carbon emissions. More than this, it is far from the only way we are working towards doing this.

From here to zero-carbon

One of the biggest hopes for removing carbon from industry lies in carbon capture and storage. We’re leading the charge on bringing this technology to the fore by running a six-month pilot of a Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) system, which will capture a tonne of carbon every day from one of our four, 600+ megawatt (MW) biomass units.

Capturing emissions not only further reduces the carbon intensiveness of electricity generators of all kinds, but also opens new revenue streams for businesses through utilising captured carbon. For Drax, BECCS takes us another step towards becoming a carbon negative operation, where we remove more carbon from the atmosphere than we emit. It is also an opportunity to further expand the knowledge and experience of our team and become leading experts in a field which will be essential in meeting climate change goals.

Alongside this, our plans to repower the last of our coal-fired units to highly-efficient combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) and build four, rapid-response open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) will give the electricity system the flexibility needed to support more intermittent renewable sources. The abilities of gas plant in balancing and system services can help to complete the journey away from coal before 2025. In subsequent decades, gas can play a pivotal role assisting the transition to a zero-carbon power system.

Our retail businesses, Haven Power and Opus Energy, also allow us to help companies and the public sector outside of electricity generation to reduce their carbon footprint. Beyond just supplying renewable electricity, we’re also looking at ways through closer customer partnerships to help businesses leverage new technologies to use electricity more efficiently and in turn lower their costs.

Reaching a zero-carbon future is a monumental task for electricity producers that depends on innovative thinking and new technologies. We have the experience in developing transformative ideas and making them a reality – all of which will be essential in guiding us into a brighter, more stable, decarbonised future.

Chief Executive’s review

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

Market background

The UK is undergoing an energy revolution – a transition to a low-carbon economy requiring new energy solutions for power generation, heating, transport and the wider economy. Through our flexible, lower carbon electricity proposition and business to business (B2B) energy solutions, the Group is positioning itself for growth in this environment. More details can be seen on page 4 of our annual report.

Our strategy

Our purpose is to help change the way energy is generated, supplied and used.

Through addressing UK energy needs, and those of our customers, our strategy is designed to deliver growing earnings and cash flow, alongside significant cash returns for shareholders.

Our ambition is to grow our EBITDA to over £425 million by 2025, with over a third of those earnings coming from Pellet Production and B2B Energy Supply to create a broader, more balanced earnings profile. We intend to pay a sustainable and growing dividend to shareholders. Progression towards these targets is underpinned by safety, sustainability, operational excellence and expertise in our markets.

Summary of 2017

We made significant progress during 2017, but were below our expectations on the challenging scorecard targets we set ourselves in pellet production and biomass availability, the latter reflecting the significant incident we experienced on our biomass rail unloading facilities at the end of 2017, which extended into January 2018. Energy Supply performed well with Opus Energy in line with plan and Haven Power exceeding its targets. Through a combination of this performance and the progress of our strategy we have delivered EBITDA of £229 million, significantly ahead of 2016 (£140 million) and with each of our three businesses contributing positive EBITDA for the first time.

The Group scorecard is reported in full in the Remuneration Report (pp. 81-107 of our annual report) and the KPIs are also shown below. They reflect the diversity of our operations and our need to maintain clear focus on delivering operational excellence.

On a statutory basis we recorded a loss of £151 million, which reflects unrealised losses on derivative contracts, previously announced accounting policy on the accelerated depreciation on coal-specific assets as well as amortisation of newly- acquired intangible assets in Opus Energy. We also calculate underlying earnings, a profit after tax of £2.7 million, which excludes the effect of unrealised gains and losses on derivative contracts and, to assess the performance of the Group without the income statement volatility introduced by non-cash fair value adjustments on our portfolio of forward commodity and currency futures contracts.

During the year we refinanced our existing debt facilities, reducing our debt cost. We also confirmed a new dividend policy which will pay a sustainable and growing dividend (£50 million in respect of 2017), consistent with our commitment to a strong balance sheet and our ambitions for growth. At year end our net debt was £91 million below our 2x net debt to EBITDA target, providing additional headroom. There is more detail on our financial performance in the Group Financial Review on page 46 of our annual report.

In the US, our Pellet Production operations recorded year-on-year growth in output of 35%, with our first two plants now producing at full capacity. During the second half of 2017 we also completed the installation of additional capacity enabling our Morehouse and Amite facilities to handle a greater amount of residue material, supporting efforts to produce good quality pellets at the lowest cost.

As part of our target to expand our biomass self-supply capability we completed the acquisition of LaSalle Bioenergy (LaSalle) adding pellet production capacity. LaSalle commenced commissioning in November 2017 and due to its close proximity to our existing US facilities, once complete, will provide further opportunities for supply chain optimisation.

As in 2016, we benefited from the flexibility of self-supply. This often overlooked attribute of our supply chain enables us to manage biomass supply across the Power Generation business’ planned outage season and to benefit from attractively priced biomass cargoes in the short-term spot market.

In Power Generation, we experienced a significant incident on our biomass rail unloading facilities, including a small fire on a section of conveyor. We fully investigated the incident and following repairs over the Christmas period have now recommissioned the facility, with enhanced operating procedures. This is a timely reminder of the combustible nature of biomass and the need for strong controls and processes to protect our people and assets.

Our biomass units continued to produce high levels of renewable electricity from sustainable wood pellets for the UK market – Drax produced 15% of the UK’s renewable electricity – enough to power Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester combined. In doing so, we are making a vital contribution to the UK’s ambitious targets for decarbonisation across electricity generation, heating and transport – an 80% reduction by 2050 vs. 1990 levels.

We benefited from the first year of operation of our third biomass unit under the Contract for Difference (CfD) scheme which provides an index-linked price for the power produced until March 2027. The unit underwent a major planned outage between September and November, with a full programme of works successfully completed.

The flexibility, reliability and scale of our renewable generation, alongside an attractive total system cost, means we are strongly placed to play a long-term role in the UK’s energy mix. To that end we continue to see long-term biomass generation as a key enabler, allowing the UK Government to meet its decarbonisation targets and the system operator to manage the grid.

The UK Government recently confirmed support for further biomass generation at Drax Power Station and we now plan to continue our work to develop a low-cost solution for a fourth biomass unit, allowing us to provide even more renewable electricity, whilst supporting system stability at minimum cost to the consumer.

Our heritage is coal, but our future is flexible lower-carbon electricity. We are making progress with the development of four new standalone OCGT plants situated in eastern England and Wales and our work to develop options for coal-to-gas repowering with battery technologies. If these options would be supported by 15-year capacity market contracts, providing a clear investment signal and extending visibility of contract-based earnings out to the late 2030s.

In B2B Energy Supply, we completed the acquisition of Opus Energy, a supplier of electricity and gas to corporates and small businesses. The transaction completed in February 2017 and Opus Energy has continued to operate successfully within the Group, achieving its targets and making an immediate and significant contribution to profitability. Alongside this good performance we have also implemented the operational steps necessary to realise further operational benefits of the acquisition, and we now source all of Opus’ power and gas internally.

Haven Power delivered a strong performance with the sale of large volumes of electricity to industrial customers. Through our customer focus and efficiencies, margins have improved and the business generated a positive EBITDA for the first time.

Together, our B2B Energy Supply business now has over 375,000 customer meters, making it the fifth largest B2B power supplier in the UK.

We are delivering innovative low-carbon power solutions, with 46% of our energy sold from renewable sources. As the power system transforms, we will be working closely with our customers to help them adapt to a world of more decentralised and decarbonised power. We see this as a significant opportunity for the Group in the medium to long term.

In October 2017 we completed the sale of Billington Bioenergy (BBE) to Aggregated Micro Power Holding (AMPH). Consideration for the transaction was £2.3 million, comprised of £1.6 million of shares in AMPH and £0.7 million of cash.

The sale of BBE is aligned with our strategy to focus on B2B energy supply. However, through our shareholding in AMPH, we will retain an interest in the UK heating market, whilst gaining exposure to the development of small-scale distributed energy assets.

Political, regulatory and economic background

We continue to operate in a changing environment. The full impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU is still unknown.

The immediate impact on the Group was a weakening of Sterling and an associated increase in the cost of biomass, which is generally denominated in other currencies. Through our utilisation of medium-term foreign exchange hedges the Group protected the cash impact of this weakness. In 2017, Sterling has generally strengthened, and we have been able to extend our hedged position out to 2022 at rates close to those that we saw before Brexit.

In terms of UK energy policy, the Government’s main focus has been on what it sees as unfair treatment of domestic consumers on legacy standard variable tariff (SVT) contracts. SVT are not a common feature of the B2B market. At the microbusiness end of this market, which is closer in size to domestic, most of our customers are on fixed price products and are active in renewing contracts.

The UK Government’s response to its consultation on the cessation of coal generation by 2025 has confirmed an end to non-compliant coal generation by October 2025.

We believe our assets, projects and ability to support our customers’ electricity management will support the Government’s ambition to maintain reliability when coal generation ceases.

Running a resilient, reliable grid is not simply about meeting the power demand on the system; there are also system support services which are essential to its effective operation. As the grid decentralises and becomes dependent on smaller, distributed generation, the number of plants able to provide these services is reducing. Biomass generation, our proposed OCGTs and our repowering project would allow us to meet these needs, but this will not come for free. A reliable, flexible, low-carbon energy system will require the right long-term incentives.

In November 2017, the Government confirmed that the UK will maintain a total carbon price (the combined UK Carbon Price Support – CPS – and the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme – EU ETS) at around the current level. CPS has been the single most effective instrument in reducing the level of carbon emissions in generation and we continue to support the pricing of carbon, a view echoed in a report prepared for the UK Government by the leading academic Professor Dieter Helm.

Against this backdrop we continue to make an important contribution to the UK economy. According to a study published by Oxford Economics in 2016, Drax’s total economic impact – including our supply chain and the wages our employees and suppliers’ employees spend in the wider consumer-economy was £1.7 billion, supporting 18,500 jobs across the UK.

Safety, sustainability and people

The health, safety and wellbeing of our employees and contractors is vital to the Group, with safety at the centre of our operational philosophy. We also recognise the growing need to support the wellbeing of our employees and their mental health.

During the year we continued to use Total Recordable Injury Rate (TRIR) as our primary KPI in this area. Performance was positive, at 0.27, but we expect this to improve in the coming year.

The incident at our biomass rail unloading facilities in December did not lead to physical injuries but was nonetheless a significant event and caused disruption into 2018.

We consequently launched an incident investigation to ensure our personal and process safety management procedures are robust.

To promote greater awareness around wellbeing we have embedded this in our new people strategy and expect to focus more energy and resources on this important area during 2018.

Strong corporate governance is at the heart of the Group – acting responsibly, doing the right thing and being transparent. As the Group grows the range of sustainability issues we face is widening and recognising the importance of strong corporate governance, we have published a comprehensive overview of our sustainability progress in 2017 on our website. This also highlights future priorities to broaden our approach to sustainability and improved reporting of environment, social and governance (ESG) performance. We have also completed the process which allows us to participate in the UN Global Compact (UNGC) – an international framework which will guide our approach in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.

During 2017 we published our first statement on the prevention of slavery and human trafficking in compliance with the UK Modern Slavery Act. We have added modern slavery awareness to our programme of regular training for contract managers and reviewed our counterparty due diligence processes.

We have continued to maintain our rigorous and robust approach to biomass sustainability, ensuring the wood pellets we use are sustainable, low-carbon and fully compliant with the UK’s mandatory sustainability standards for biomass. The biomass we use to generate electricity provides a 64% carbon emissions saving against gas, inclusive of supply chain emissions. Our biomass lifecycle carbon emissions are 36g CO2 / MJ, less than half the UK Government’s 79g CO2 / MJ limit.

Our people are a key asset of the business. Through 2017 we developed a new people strategy. The strategy focuses on driving performance and developing talent to deliver the Group’s objectives. We have established Group-wide practices, including a career development and behaviour framework focused on performance and personal development.

Research and innovation

A key part of our strategy is to identify opportunities to improve existing operations and create options for long-term growth. To that end we have established a dedicated Research and Innovation (R&I) team led by the Drax engineers who delivered our world-first biomass generation and supply chain solution.

We are actively looking at ways to improve the efficiency of our operations, notably in our biomass supply chain.

Biomass is our largest single cost and as such we are focused on greater supply chain efficiency and the extraction of value from a wide range of low-value residue materials.

In B2B Energy Supply we are using our engineering expertise to help offer our customers value-adding services and products which will improve efficiency and allow them to optimise their energy consumption.

In the following sections we review the performance of our businesses during the year.

Performance review: Pellet Production

Our pellets provide a sustainable, low-carbon fuel source – one that can be safely and efficiently delivered through our global supply chain and used by Drax’s Power Generation business to make renewable electricity for the UK. Our manufacturing operations also promote forest health by incentivising local landowners to actively manage and reinvest in their forests.

Operational review

Safety remains our primary concern and we have delivered year-on-year reduction in the level of recordable incidents.

Output at our Amite and Morehouse pellet plants increased significantly, although was below our target for the year.

We have remained focused on opportunities to improve efficiencies and capture cost savings as part of our drive to produce good quality pellets at the lowest possible cost. We still have more work to do in this area to optimise quality and cost, as our performance was below target for the year.

As part of our plans to optimise and improve operations we added 150k tonnes capacity at our existing plants, bringing total installed capacity to 1.1 million tonnes and increasing the amount of lower cost sawmill residues we are able to process and used in our pellets.


CASE STUDY

Low-cost, high-impact capacity increase

By-products of higher value wood industries, such as sawdust from sawmills, offer a low-cost source of residues for use in our pellet production process and during 2017 we added an additional 150k tonnes of capacity at our pellet plants to allow us to use more of this material. By investing in giant hydraulic platforms known as ‘truck dumps’, operators at Amite and Morehouse can unload a 50-foot truck carrying either sawdust or wood chips and weighing 60 tonnes in less than two minutes, increasing processing capacity, reducing the cost of processing and increasing the use of lower cost residues.

Find out more: www.drax.com/truckdumps and www.drax.com/sustainability/sourcing


At our Baton Rouge port facility greater volumes of production from our facilities drove higher levels of throughput with 17 vessels loaded and dispatched during the year (2016: 11 vessels).

In April, in line with our strategy to increase self-supply, we acquired a 450k tonne wood pellet plant – LaSalle Bioenergy (LaSalle). Commissioning of the plant began in November 2017 and we expect to increase production through 2018. LaSalle is within a 200-mile radius of our existing facilities. By leveraging the locational benefits of these assets we aim to deliver further operational and financial efficiencies.


CASE STUDY

Locational benefits of Gulf cluster

The location of our operations allows us to leverage benefits of multiple assets and locations for operational efficiencies

All sites within 200-mile radius

Operational efficiencies

  • Common plant and joint strategic spare parts
  • Maximise reliability, minimise capital outlay
  • Flexibility through outage cycle
  • Human capital

Shared logistics to Baton Rouge

  • Rail and road
  • Increased port throughput

Complementary fibre sourcing

  • Optimisation of supply between plants

Find out more: www.draxbiomass.com


Financial results

There was a significant improvement in 2017, with EBITDA of £5.5 million (2016: £6.3 million negative EBITDA), driven by increasing volumes of wood pellets produced and sold to the Power Generation business. Sales of pellets in the year ending 31 December 2017 totalled £136 million, an increase of 84% over 2016.

Gross margin increased, reflecting higher production volumes. Raw fibre procurement, transportation and processing comprised the majority of cost of sales and as such this remains an important area of focus and an opportunity for the business. Through incremental investment in plant enhancements we expect to see further benefits from efficiencies and greater utilisation of lower cost residues.

Total operating costs have increased, reflecting an increase in operations at Amite, Morehouse and the Port of Baton Rouge, alongside the addition of LaSalle.

We acquired LaSalle for $35 million and have invested an additional $27 million as part of a programme to return the unit to service.

Pellet Production financial performance

 2017
£m
2016
£m
Revenue135.773.6
Cost of sales(96.7)(55.5)
Gross profit39.018.1
Operating costs(33.5)(24.4)
EBITDA5.5(6.3)

Key performance indicators

AreaKPIUnit of measure20172016
OperationsFines at disport%9.67.6
OperationsOutput,000 tonnes822607
FinancialVariable cost/tonne$/tonne7782

Looking ahead

Through 2018 we expect to continue to deliver growth in EBITDA from our existing assets. Our focus is on the commissioning of LaSalle alongside opportunities for optimisation and efficiencies in our processes, to deliver good quality pellets at the lowest cost.

We remain alert to market opportunities to develop further capacity as part of our self-supply strategy.

Performance review: Power Generation

Drax Power Station remains the largest power station in the UK (almost twice the size of the next largest). During the year the station met 6% of the UK’s electricity needs, whilst providing 15% of its renewable electricity, alongside important system support services.

With an increase in intermittent renewables and a reduction in the responsive thermal generation historically provided by coal, the system of the future will require capacity which is reliable, flexible and able to respond quickly to changes in system demand and provide system support services. These long-term needs inform our biomass generation and the development of options for investment in gas – Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGTs) and coal-to-gas repowering.


STRATEGY IN PROGRESS

Gas power station development

We are developing options for four new OCGT gas power stations, two of which already have planning permission and could be on the system in the early 2020s, subject to being awarded a capacity agreement.

A high-tech new control room at Drax Power Station will allow engineers to have real time remote control of our OCGT assets via a fibre-optic cable network. Able to fire up from cold and produce power in minutes rather than hours, our OCGTs will help maintain system security as intermittent renewable sources of power increase and older thermal plants close.

Investment case

  • Option to develop 1.2GW of new OCGT gas
  • Investment decisions subject to 15-year capacity agreement
  • Multiple revenue streams, with high visibility from capacity contract
  • Low capital and operating cost
  • Attractive return on capital 
  • Broader generation asset base and location

Find out more: www.drax.com/about-us/#our-projects


Regulatory framework

In October the Government published its Clean Growth Plan, setting out its plans for delivery of its legally binding target to reduce 2050 carbon emissions by 80% versus 1990 levels across electricity generation, heating and transport. This reinforces the Drax proposition – flexible, reliable, low-carbon electricity.

In November the Government updated its intentions regarding the future trajectory of UK Carbon Price Support (CPS), indicating that the total cost of carbon tax in the UK (the total of CPS and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme) would continue at around the current level (the tax is currently set at £18/tonne) whilst coal remains on the system.

We believe that CPS has been the single most effective instrument in reducing carbon emissions from generation and that having an appropriate price for carbon emissions is the right way to provide a market signal to further reduce emissions in support of the UK’s long-term decarbonisation targets.

The UK Government has now confirmed an end to non-compliant coal generation by 2025. We support this move subject to an appropriate alternative technology being in place. With this in mind we have continued to develop options for our remaining coal assets to convert to biomass or gas, to provide the reliable, flexible capacity which we believe will be required to manage the increasingly volatile energy system of the future.

Most recently with confirmation of Government support for further biomass generation at Drax Power Station we plan to continue our work to develop a low-cost solution for a fourth biomass unit, accelerating the removal of coal-fired generation from the UK electricity system, whilst supporting security of supply.

Generation capacity and system support

2017 saw the first full year of operation of our biomass unit under the Contract for Difference (CfD) mechanism, which provides index-linked revenues for renewable electricity out to 2027.

Our other biomass units are supported by the Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC) mechanism which, similar to the CfD, is also index-linked to 2027. This acts as a premium above the price of power we sell from these units. We sell power forward to the extent there is liquidity in the power markets which, combined with our fuel hedging strategy, provides long-term earnings and revenue visibility.

Lower gas prices, higher carbon costs and the continued penetration of intermittent renewables have kept wholesale electricity prices subdued.

With increasing levels of intermittent renewables we are continuing to see opportunities to extract value from flexibility – short-term power and balancing market activity, the provision of Ancillary Services and the value achieved from out-of-specification fuels. To capture value in this market we continue to focus resource on optimising availability and flexibility of both coal and biomass units. This whole process requires a high level of teamwork between the operational and commercial teams across the Group to capture and protect value.

Over the period 2017 to 2022 we expect to earn £90 million from a series of one-year capacity market contracts for our coal units, demonstrating that they still have a role to play. The first of these contracts commenced in October 2017, adding £3 million to EBITDA.

Lastly, we continue to source attractively priced fuel cargoes – out-of-specification coals and distressed cargoes, which help keep costs down for the business and consumers. We do this for both coal and biomass. This is a good example of how our commercial and operational teams work together to identify opportunities to create value for the business, as these fuels typically require more complex handling processes.

You can follow the market and see prices at electricinsights.co.uk


STRATEGY IN PROGRESS

Repowering away from coal

Options for Drax Power Station to operate into the late 2030s and beyond moved up a gear in 2017 with the development of an option to repower two coal units to gas. Drax gave notice of the nationally significant infrastructure project to the Planning Inspectorate in September 2017. One of the units could be eligible for the capacity market auction planned for December 2019.

Local community consultations began in November 2017 and continued in February 2018 on options including up to 3.6GW of new gas generation capacity, a gas pipeline and 200MW of battery storage in line with Government plans to end non-compliant coal generation by 2025 and Drax Group’s strategy of playing a vital role in the future energy system.

Find out more: repower.drax.com


Operational review

Overall, we delivered a good performance during 2017 and maintained a strong safety performance.

We completed a major planned outage on the unit supported by the CfD contract. This unit provides stable and reliable baseload renewable electricity to the network and long-term earnings visibility for the Group. The safe and efficient completion of these complex works is a credit to those involved and reflects our continued focus on opportunities for improvement and efficiencies.

The entire organisation has responded to a number of challenging unplanned events. Most notably, in December we experienced a fire on a section of conveyor at our biomass rail unloading facility and consequently an unplanned outage from late December 2017 to mid-January 2018. Following investigation and recommissioning, the facility has returned to service with enhanced operating procedures. Although this issue did not relate to the operation of the biomass-generating units, the resulting restriction on fuel deliveries by rail required the optimisation of generation across our biomass units, resulting in lower EBITDA and full year biomass availability than our target for the year.

Financial results

Financial performance has significantly improved, with EBITDA of £238 million (2016: £174 million), principally due to the CfD mechanism.

Value from flexibility was below our target for the year, principally reflecting a lower level of Ancillary Service payments versus 2016.

Our operational performance drives the results. The financial impact of the unplanned outage on the rail unloading facility was mitigated by optimisation of our available biomass and the use of additional generation capacity retained for self-insurance purposes. However, this incident is a reminder of the need to invest appropriately to maintain a high level of operational availability and flexibility.

At the operating cost level, we have reduced costs reflecting the efficient single outage and our focus on the implementation of lean management techniques.

Power Generation financial performance

 2017
£m
2016
£m
Revenue2,719.62,490.9
Cost of power purchases(891.2)(904.4)
Grid charges(62.9)(69.4)
Fuel and other costs(1,367.1)(1,180.1)
Cost of sales(2,321.2)(2,153.9)
Gross profit398.4337.0
Operating costs(160.9)(163.2)
EBITDA237.5173.8

Key performance indicators

AreaKPIUnit of measure20172016
OperationsBiomass unit technical availability%Below targetBelow target
OperationsValue from flexibility£m88N/A

Looking ahead

We aim to optimise returns from our core assets, through reliable, flexible, low-carbon energy solutions which provide a long-term solution to the UK’s energy needs. Alongside this, value in the generation market will be created from an ability to execute agile decisions and capture value from volatile short-term power markets.

We will also continue to explore opportunities for lower carbon generation, to exploit our strengths and create opportunities for the long term. To that end we will continue to develop options for gas and pursue efficiencies through our biomass supply chain.

Performance review: B2B Energy Supply

Our B2B Energy Supply business – comprised of Opus Energy and Haven Power – is the fifth largest B2B power supplier in the UK. As the power system transforms, we will be working closely with our customers to help them adapt to a world of more decentralised and decarbonised power. The key factors influencing our business are regulation, competition and our operational performance.

Regulation and competition

The UK Government’s main focus has been on what it sees as unfair treatment of domestic consumers on legacy standard variable tariff (SVT) contracts. The Government will take forward legislation which will provide the regulator Ofgem with the authority to cap these domestic tariffs. SVTs are not a feature of our business. Our focus remains on the B2B market. At the microbusiness end of the market, which is closer in proximity to domestic, most of our customers are on fixed price products and are actively rather than passively renewing their power supply contracts.

The B2B market remains competitive with 65 different suppliers across the market. Our Haven Power and Opus Energy businesses offer customer-centric power, gas and services. We offer simplicity and flexibility across our products and actively engage with customers to help them manage their energy requirements and reduce carbon emissions.


STRATEGY IN PROGRESS

An innovative energy supplier

90% of the electricity that Opus Energy supplied last year came from clean, renewable sources, at no extra cost to their predominantly small and medium-sized business customers. For those customers who want it, 100% renewable energy contracts are also available.

This was exactly what All Saints Church in Ascot was looking for to power their business.

Assistant Church Warden, Chris Gunton, commented:

“We wanted to move to a greener energy supplier, without paying a premium, so approached an energy broker for guidance. They advised us that Opus Energy were a reliable company with a good reputation, and when we asked for a quote they were the most competitive.”

It was a similar story for the Salisbury Museum, in Wiltshire. Nicola Kilgour-Croft, Finance Manager, said:

“We were looking for an energy supplier that offered great value, combined with the right length of contract and good ethics. Opus Energy ticked all these boxes for us.”

Alongside supplying customers, Opus Energy has Power Purchase Agreements with over 2,300 independent UK renewable energy generators. These could be anything from a single wind turbine owned by a village community, to Europe’s greenest zoo, Hamerton Zoo Park.

Commented Andrew Swales, Director of Hamerton Zoo:

“Working with Opus Energy has given us competitive prices, considerably better documentation and a highly efficient service. We’d happily recommend them.”


Operational review

We have remained focused on delivering an excellent standard of customer service, which is central to our proposition.

February 2017 saw the completion of the acquisition of Opus Energy, which has made good progress integrating into the Group supported by a dedicated team, who have been working on systems, people and commercial projects to ensure our processes work effectively together.

In March we completed the purchase of a new office facility in Northampton, enabling the consolidation of four Opus Energy offices into one and the centralisation of the operational teams.

Sales volumes at Opus Energy were lower than target, reflecting our focus on margin which has remained strong and customer renewal rates were towards the high end of expectation. This reflects the continued commitment to a strong level of customer service and in recognition of this Opus Energy was awarded Utility Provider to Small Businesses of the Year 2017 at the British Business Awards.

At Haven Power we have continued to focus on value-adding flexible products and services particularly to Industrial & Commercial customers whose needs extend beyond commodity supply.

This is demonstrated through our ability to help customers manage and optimise their power consumption profiles through collaboration with our carefully selected partners. Through better systems and services, customer targeting and a keener focus on cost to serve we are driving efficiencies and improved margin at Haven Power.

Following the acquisition of Opus Energy the major Enterprise Resource Platform (ERP) system upgrade was re-planned which has led to a revised timeline from Q2 2018 onwards.

We continue to actively manage credit risk by assessing the financial strength of customers and applying rigorous credit management processes, with a strong focus continuing to be placed on billing and cash collection.

Health and safety remains an area of focus for the business and we continue to target a reduction in the level of recordable incidents.

Financial results

Financial performance has significantly improved, with EBITDA of £29 million in line with our guidance (2016: £4 million negative). This was principally due to the acquisition of Opus Energy, which added 10 months of EBITDA, but also improved financial performance from Haven Power, which was ahead of plan.

Third Party Costs (TPCs) include grid charges, the cost of meeting our obligations under the Renewable Obligation (RO) and small-scale Feed-in-Tariff schemes. Grid charges include distribution, transmission and system balancing costs. TPCs have continued to increase and now account for 50% of revenue.

Total operating costs have risen with the acquisition of Opus Energy. We remain confident that over time the benefits of common platforms and knowledge sharing will lead to efficiencies.

B2B Energy Supply financial performance

 2017
£m
2016
£m
Revenue1,999.01,326.4
Cost of power purchases(883.7)(688.9)
Grid charges(435.8)(310.4)
Other retail costs(562.1)(303.6)
Cost of sales(1,881.6)(1,302.9)
Gross profit117.423.5
Operating costs(88.0)(27.8)
EBITDA29.4(4.3)

Key performance indicators

AreaKPIUnit of measure20172016
OperationsImplementation of new ERP (Haven Power)DateQ2 2018N/A
OperationsSales volume (Opus Energy)TWh5.7N/A
OperationsRenewal rate (Opus Energy)%Above TargetN/A

Looking ahead

In 2018 we will focus on Opus Energy on-boarding, systems development and the roll out of smart meters.

We continue to see opportunities for EBITDA growth in the B2B markets, which we will deliver through our customer-focused supply proposition.

Outlook

Our focus in 2018 remains on the delivery of our strategy and long-term ambitions for earnings growth, underpinned by safety, sustainability, operational excellence and expertise in our markets. We also recognise that being the most efficient operator in each of our markets is a key factor in our success.

Our objective in Pellet Production remains the commissioning of LaSalle, the production of good quality pellets at the lowest cost, cross-supply chain optimisation and identifying attractive options to increase self-supply.

Our biomass proposition is strong – reliable, flexible, low-carbon renewable electricity and system support which, combined with an effective fuel hedging strategy, will provide long-term earnings visibility. We remain focused on ways to increase supply chain efficiency and make biomass competitive beyond 2027. As part of this we remain focused on the optimisation of our assets in the US Gulf and reduction in pellet cost. To support this focus we are moving our US headquarters from Atlanta to Monroe, Louisiana, which benefits from a much closer proximity to these assets.

In Power Generation, we continue to explore ways to optimise our existing operations, whilst meeting the needs of the changing UK electricity system.

We remain supportive of the UK Government’s decarbonisation targets and will continue our work to deliver four OCGTs and a low-cost biomass unit conversion utilising existing infrastructure at Drax Power Station, alongside developing the option to repowering the remaining coal units to gas.

In B2B Energy Supply, we will continue to grow our B2B offering, with significant opportunities to grow market share. At the same time, we will invest in supporting infrastructure to ensure we can continue to grow, offer market-leading digital propositions and smart metering services.


2018 priorities

Pellet Production 

  • Commissioning of LaSalle Bioenergy
  • Development of options for optimisation and efficiencies
  • Consistent production and quality of pellets
  • Continued cost reduction and improvement in EBITDA

Power Generation

  • Reliable biomass generation
  • Development of fourth biomass unit
  • System support services
  • Development of OCGT options
  • Development of coal-to-gas repowering option
  • Continued cost reduction and growth in EBITDA

B2B Energy Supply

  • Development of value-added services
  • Continued cost reduction and growth in EBITDA
  • Investment in systems to support growth and Smart compliance


We have made good progress on the delivery of our strategy and will continue to build on this as we progress our targets for 2025, whilst playing an important role in our markets and helping to change the way energy is generated, supplied and used.

Read the Drax Group plc annual report and accounts 2017