Tag: Drax Power Station

Transporting carbon – How to safely move CO2 from the atmosphere to permanent storage

Key points

  • Carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) offers a unique opportunity to capture and store the UK’s emissions and help the country reach its climate goals.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) can be stored in geological reservoirs under the North Sea, but getting it from source to storage will need a large and safe CO2 transportation network.
  • The UK already has a long history and extensive infrastructure for transporting gas across the country for heating, cooking and power generation.
  • This provides a foundation of knowledge and experience on which to build a network to transport CO2.

Across the length of the UK is an underground network similar to the trainlines and roadways that crisscross the country above ground. These pipes aren’t carrying water or broadband, but gas. Natural gas is a cornerstone of the UK’s energy, powering our heating, cooking and electricity generation. But like the country’s energy network, the need to reduce emissions and meet the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 is set to change this.

Today, this network of pipes takes fossil fuels from underground formations deep beneath the North Sea bed and distributes it around the UK to be burned – producing emissions. A similar system of subterranean pipelines could soon be used to transport captured emissions, such as CO2, away from industrial clusters around factories and power stations, locking them away underground, permanently and safely.

Conveyer system at Drax Power Station transporting sustainable wood pellets

The rise of CCUS technology is the driving force behind CO2 transportation. The process captures CO2 from emissions sources and transports it to sites such as deep natural storage enclaves far below the seabed.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) takes this a step further. BECCS uses sustainable biomass to generate renewable electricity. This biomass comes from sources, such as forest residues or agricultural waste products, which remove CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. Atmospheric COreleased in the combustion of the biomass is then captured, transported and stored at sites such as deep geological formations.

Across the whole BECCS process, CO2 has gone from the atmosphere to being permanently trapped away, reducing the overall amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and delivering what’s known as negative emissions.

BECCS is a crucial technology for reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but how can we ensure the CO2 is safely transported from the emissions source to storage sites?

Moving gases around safely

Moving gases of any kind through pipelines is all about pressure. Gases always travel from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. By compressing gas to a high pressure, it allows it to flow to other locations. Compressor stations along a gas pipeline help to maintain right the pressure, while metering stations check pressure levels and look out for leaks.

The greater the pressure difference between two points, the faster gases will flow. In the case of CO2, high absolute pressures also cause it to become what’s known as a supercritical fluid. This means it has the density of a liquid but the viscosity of a gas, properties that make it easier to transport through long pipelines.

Since 1967 when North Sea natural gas first arrived in the UK, our natural gas transmission network has expanded considerably, and is today made up of almost 290,000 km of pipelines that run the length of the country. Along with that physical footprint is an extensive knowledge pool and a set of well-enforced regulations monitoring their operation.

While moving gas through pipelines across the country is by no means new, the idea of CO2 transportation through pipelines is. But it’s not unprecedented, as it has been carried out since the 1980s at scale across North America. In contrast to BECCS, which would transport CO2 to remove and permanently store emissions, most of the CO2 transport in action today is used in oil enhanced recovery – a means of ejecting more fossil fuels from depleted oil wells. However, the principle of moving CO2 safely over long distances remains relevant – there are already 2,500 km of pipelines in the western USA, transporting as much as 50 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

“People might worry when there is something new moving around in the country, but the science community doesn’t have sleepless nights about CO2 pipelines,” says Dr Hannah Chalmers, from the University of Edinburgh. “It wouldn’t explode, like natural gas might, that’s just not how the molecule works. If it’s properly installed and regulated, there’s no reason to be concerned.”

CO2 is not the same as the methane-based natural gas that people use every day. For one, it is a much more stable, inert molecule, meaning it does not react with other molecules, and it doesn’t fuel explosions in the same way natural gas would.

CO2 has long been understood and there is a growing body of research around transporting and storing it in a safe efficient way that can make CCUS and BECCS a catalyst in reducing the UK’s emissions and future-proofing its economy.

Working with CO2 across the UK

Working with CO2 while it is in a supercritical state mean it’s not just easier to move around pipes. In this state CO2 can also be loaded onto ships in very large quantities, as well as injected into rock formations that once trapped oil and gas, or salt-dense water reserves.

Decades of extracting fossil fuels from the North Sea means it is extensively mapped and the rock formations well understood. The expansive layers of porous sandstone that lie beneath offer the UK an estimated 70 billion tonnes of potential CO2 storage space – something a number of industrial clusters on the UK’s east coast are exploring as part of their plans to decarbonise.

Source: CCS Image Library, Global CCS Institute [Click to view/download]

Drax is already running a pilot BECCS project at its power station in North Yorkshire. As part of the Zero Carbon Humber partnership and wider East Coast Cluster, Drax is involved in the development of large scale carbon storage capabilities in the North Sea that can serve the Humber and Teesside industrial clusters. As Drax moves towards its goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030, transporting CO2 safely at scale is a key focus.

“Much of the research and engineering has already been done around the infrastructure side of the project,” explains Richard Gwilliam, Head of Cluster Development at Drax. “Transporting and storing CO2 captured by the BECCS projects is well understood thanks to extensive engineering investigations already completed both onshore and offshore in the Yorkshire region.”

This also includes research and development into pipes of different materials, carrying CO2 at different pressures and temperatures, as well as fracture and safety testing.

The potential for the UK to build on this foundation and progress towards net zero is considerable. However, for it to fully manifest it will need commitment at a national level to building the additional infrastructure required. The results of such a commitment could be far reaching.

In the Humber alone, 20% of economic value comes from energy and emissions-intensive industries, and as many as 360,000 jobs are supported by industries like refining, petrochemicals, manufacturing and power generation. Putting in place the technology and infrastructure to capture, transport and store emissions will protect those industries while helping the UK reach its climate goals.

It’s just a matter of putting the pipes in place.

Go deeper: How do you store CO2 and what happens to it when you do?

Global collaboration
is key to tackling
the climate crisis

Leaders from 40 countries are meeting today, albeit virtually, as part of President Joe Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate. The event provides an opportunity for world leaders to reaffirm global efforts in the fight against climate change, set a clear pathway to net zero emissions, while creating jobs and ensuring a just transition.

Since taking office President Biden has made bold climate commitments and brought the United States back into the Paris Agreement. Ahead of the two-day summit, he announced an ambitious 2030 emissions target and new Nationally Determined Contributions. The US joins other countries that have announced significant reduction goals. For example, the EU committed to reduce its emissions by at least 55%, also South Korea, Japan and China have all set net-zero targets by mid-century.

Here in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week outlined new climate commitments that will be enshrined in law. The ambitious new targets will see carbon emissions cut by 78% by 2035, almost 15 years earlier than previously planned. If delivered, this commitment which is in-line with the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee’s sixth carbon budget will put the UK at the forefront of climate action, and for the first time the targets include international aviation and shipping.

What makes climate change so difficult to tackle is that it requires collaboration from many different parties on a global scale never seen before. As a UK-North American sustainable energy company, with communities on both sides of the Atlantic, at Drax we are keenly aware of the need for thinking that transcends borders, creating a global opportunity for businesses and governments to work together towards a shared climate goal. That’s why we joined other businesses and investors in an open letter supporting the US government’s ambitious climate actions.

Collaboration between countries and industries

It’s widely recognised that negative emissions technologies will be key to global efforts to combat climate change.

At Drax we’re pioneering the negative emissions technology bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) at our power station in North Yorkshire, which when up and running in 2027 will capture millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, sending it for secure storage, permanently locking it away deep under the North Sea.

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic consider BECCS essential for reaching net zero. The UK’s Climate Change Committee says it will play a major role in removing CO2 emissions that will remain in the UK economy after 2050 from industries such as aviation and agriculture that will be difficult to fully decarbonise. Meanwhile, a report published last year by New York’s Columbia University revealed that rapid development of BECCS is needed within the next 10 years in order to curb climate change and a recent report from Baringa, commissioned by Drax, showed it will be a lot more expensive for the UK to reach its legally binding fifth carbon budget between 2028 and 2031 without BECCS.

A shared economic opportunity

Globally as many as 65 million well-paid jobs could be created through investment in clean energy systems. In the UK, BECCS and negative emissions are not just essential in preventing the impact of climate change but will also be a key component of a post-Covid economy.

Government and private investments in clean energy technologies can create thousands of well-paid jobs, new careers, education opportunities and upskill workforces. Developing BECCS at Drax Power Station, for example, would support around 17,000 jobs during the peak of construction in 2028, including roles in construction, local supply chains and the wider economy. It would also act as an anchor project for the Zero Carbon Humber initiative, which aims to create the world’s first net zero industrial cluster. Developing a carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen industrial cluster could spearhead the creation and support of tens of thousands of jobs across the Humber region and more than 200,000 around the UK in 2039.

Under the Humber Bridge

Additional jobs would be supported and created throughout our international supply chain. This includes the rail, shipping and forestry industries that are integral to rural communities in the US South and Western Canada.

A global company

As a British-North American company, Drax embodies the positive impact that clean energy investments have. We directly employ 3,400 people in the US, Canada, and the UK, and indirectly support thousands of families through our supply chains on both sides of the Atlantic. Drax is strongly committed to supporting the communities where we operate by investing in local initiatives to support the environment, jobs, education, and skills.

From the working forests of the US South and Western Canada to the Yorkshire and Humber region, and Scotland, we have a world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030. At Drax, we believe the challenge of climate change is an opportunity to improve the environment we live in. We have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% and transformed into Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. Drax Power Station is the most advanced BECCS project in the world and we stand ready to invest in this cutting-edge carbon capture and removal technology. We can then share our expertise with the rest of the world – a world where major economies are committing to a net zero future and benefiting from a green economic recovery.

If we are to reach the targets set in Paris, global leaders must lock in this opportunity and make this the decade of delivery.

Standing together
against climate
change

Global leadership illustration

Tackling climate change requires global collaboration. As a UK-US sustainable energy company, with communities on both sides of the Atlantic, we at Drax are keenly aware of the need for thinking that transcends countries and borders.

Joe Biden has become the 46th President of my native country at a crucial time to ensure there is global leadership and collaboration on climate change. Starting with re-joining the Paris Agreement, I am confident that the new administration can make a significant difference to this once-in-a-lifetime challenge.

This is why Drax and our partners are mobilising a transatlantic coalition of negative emissions producers. This can foster collaboration and shared learning between the different technologies and techniques for carbon removal that are essential to decarbonise the global economy.

Biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire at sunset

Biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire

Whilst political and technical challenges lie ahead, clear long-term policies that spur collaboration, drive innovation and enable technologies at scale are essential in achieving the UK and US’ aligned targets of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Collaboration between countries and industries

What makes climate change so difficult to tackle is that it requires collaboration from many different parties on a scale like few other projects. This is why the Paris Agreement and this year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow are so vital.

Sustainable biomass wood pellets being safely loaded at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge onto a vessel destined for Drax Power Station

Our effort towards delivering negative emissions using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is another example of ambitious decarbonisation that is most impactful as part of an integrated, collaborative energy system. The technology depends upon sustainable forest management in regions, such as the US South where our American communities operate. Carbon capture using sustainable bioenergy will help Drax to be carbon negative by 2030 – an ambition I announced at COP25, just over a year ago in Madrid.

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

Will Gardiner announcing Drax’s carbon negative ambition at COP25 in Madrid (December 2019).

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic consider BECCS essential for net zero. The UK’s Climate Change Committee says it will play a major role in tackling carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that will remain in the UK economy after 2050, from industries such as aviation and agriculture that will be difficult to fully decarbonise. Meanwhile, a report published last year by New York’s Columbia University revealed that rapid development of BECCS is needed within the next 10 years in order to curb climate change.

A variety of negative emissions technologies are required to capture between 10% and 20% of the 35 billion metric tonnes of carbon produced annually that the International Energy Agency says is needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

We believe that sharing our experience and expertise in areas such as forestry, bioenergy, and carbon capture will be crucial in helping more countries, industries and businesses deploy a range of technologies.

A formal coalition of negative emissions producers that brings together approaches including land management, afforestation and reforestation, as well as technical solutions like direct air capture (DAC), as well as BECCS, would offer an avenue to ensure knowledge is shared globally.

Direct air capture (DAC) facility

Direct air capture (DAC) facility

It would also offer flexibility in countries’ paths to net zero emissions. If one approach under-delivers, other technologies can work together to compensate and meet CO2 removal targets.

As with renewable energy, working in partnership with governments is essential to develop these innovations into the cost-effective, large scale solutions needed to meet climate targets in the mid-century.

A shared economic opportunity

I agree whole heartedly that a nation’s economy and environment are intrinsically linked – something many leaders are now saying, including President Biden. The recently approved US economic stimulus bill, supported by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and which allocates $35 billion for new clean energy initiatives, is a positive step for climate technology and job creation.

Globally as many as 65 million well-paid jobs could be created through investment in clean energy systems. In the UK, BECCS and negative emissions are not just essential in preventing the impact of climate change, but are also a vital economic force as the world begins to recover from the effects of COVID-19.

Engineer inside the turbine hall of Drax Power Station

Government and private investments in clean energy technologies can create thousands of well-paid jobs, new careers, education opportunities and upskill workforces. Developing BECCS at Drax Power Station, for example, would support around 17,000 jobs during the peak of construction in 2028, including roles in construction, local supply chains and the wider economy.

Additional jobs would be supported and created throughout our international supply chain. This includes the rail, shipping and forestry industries that are integral to rural communities in the US South.

We are also partnered with 11 other organisations in the UK’s Humber region to develop a carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen industrial cluster with the potential to spearhead creating and supporting more than 200,000 jobs around the UK in 2039.

The expertise and equipment needed for such a project can be shared, traded and exported to other industrial clusters around the world, allowing us to help reach global climate goals and drive global standards for CCUS and biomass sustainability.

Clear, long-term policies are essential here, not just to help develop technology but to mitigate risk and encourage investment. These are the next crucial steps needed to deploy negative emissions at the scale required to impact CO2 emissions and lives of people.

Engineer at BECCS pilot project within Drax Power Station

At Drax we directly employ almost 3,000 people in the US and UK, and indirectly support thousands of families through our supply chains on both sides of the Atlantic. Drax Power Station is the most advanced BECCS project in the world and we stand ready to invest in this cutting-edge carbon capture and removal technology. We can then share our expertise with the United States and the rest of the world – a world where major economies are committing to a net zero future and benefiting from a green economic recovery.

Breaking circuits to keep electricity safe

Electric relay with sparks jumping between the contacts doe to breaking a heavy inductive load.

Electricity networks around the world differ many ways, from the frequency they run at to the fuels they’re powered by, to the infrastructure they run on. But they all share at least one core component: circuits.

A circuit allows an electrical current to flow from one point to another, moving it around the grid to seamlessly power street lights, domestic devices and heavy industry. Without them electricity would have nowhere to flow and no means of reaching the things it needs to power.

But electricity can be volatile, and when something goes wrong it’s often on circuits that problems first manifest. That’s where circuit breakers come in. These devices can jump into action and break a circuit, cutting off electricity flow to the faulty circuit and preventing catastrophe in homes and at grid scale. “All this must be done in milliseconds,” says Drax Electrical Engineer Jamie Beardsall.

But to fully understand exactly how circuit breakers save the day, it’s important to understand how and why circuits works.

Circuits within circuits 

Circuits work thanks to the natural properties of electricity, which always wants to flow from a high voltage to a lower one. In the case of a battery or mains plug this means there are always two sides: a negative side with a voltage of zero and a positive side with a higher voltage.

In a simple circuit electricity flows in a current along a conductive path from the positive side, where there is a voltage, to the negative side, where there is a lower or no voltage. The amount of current flowing depends on both the voltage applied, and the size of the load within the circuit.

We’re able to make use of this flow of electricity by adding electrical devices – for example a lightbulb – to the circuit. When the electricity moves through the circuit it also passes through the device, in turn powering it. 

A row of switched on household electrical circuit breakers on a wall panel

A row of switched on household electrical circuit breakers on a wall panel

The national grid, your regional power distributor, our homes, businesses and more are all composed of multiple circuits that enable the flow of electricity. This means that if one circuit fails (for example if a tree branch falls on a transmission cable), only that circuit is affected, rather than the entire nation’s electricity connection. At a smaller scale, if one light bulb in a house blows it will only affect that circuit, not the entire building.

And while the cause of failures on circuits may vary from fallen tree branches, to serious wiring faults to too many high-voltage appliances plugged into a single circuit, causing currents to shoot up and overload circuits, the solution to preventing them is almost always the same. 

Fuses and circuit breakers

In homes, circuits are often protected from dangerously high currents by fuses, which in Great Britain are normally found in standard three-pin plugs and fuse boxes. In a three pin plug each fuse contains a small wire – or element.

One electrical fuse on electronic circuit background

An electrical fuse

When electricity passes through the circuit (and fuse), it heats up the wire. But if the current running through the circuit gets too high the wire overheats and disintegrates, breaking the circuit and preventing the wires and devices attached to it from being damaged. When a fuse like this breaks in a plug or a fuse box it must be replaced. A circuit breaker, however, can carry out this task again and again.

Instead of a piece of wire, circuit breakers use an electromagnetic switch. When the circuit breaker is on, the current flows through two points of contact. When the current is at a normal level the adjacent electromagnet is not strong enough to separate the contact points. However, if the current increases to a dangerous level the electromagnet is triggered to kick into action and pulls one contact point away, breaking the circuit and opening the circuit breaker.

Another approach to fuses is using a strip made of two different types of metals. As current increases and temperatures rise, one metal expands faster than the other, causing the strip to bend and break the circuit. Once the connection is broken the strip cools, allowing the circuit breaker to be reset.

This approach means the problem on the circuit can be identified and solved, for example by unplugging a high-voltage appliance from the circuit before flipping the switch back on and reconnecting the circuit.

Protecting generators at grid scale 

Power circuit breakers for a high-voltage network

Circuit breakers are important in residential circuits, but at grid level they become even more crucial in preventing wide-scale damage to the transmission system and electricity generators.

If part of a transmission circuit is damaged, for example by high winds blowing over a power line, the current flow within that circuit can be disrupted and can flow to earth rather than to its intended load or destination. This is what is known as a short circuit.

Much like in the home, a short circuit can result in dangerous increases in current with the potential to damage equipment in the circuit or nearby. Equipment used in transmission circuits can cost millions of pounds to replace, so it is important this current flow is stopped as quickly as possible.

“Circuit breakers are the light switches of the transmission system,” says Beardsall.

“They must operate within milliseconds of an abnormal condition being detected. However, In terms of similarities with the home, this is where it ends.”

Current levels in the home are small – usually below 13 amps (A or ampere) for an individual circuit, with the total current coming into a home rarely exceeding 80A.

In a transmission system, current levels are much higher. Beardsall explains: “A single transmission circuit can have current flows in excess of 2,000A and voltages up to 400,000 Volts. Because the current flowing through the transmission system is much greater than that around a home, breaking the circuit and stopping the current flow becomes much harder.”

A small air gap is enough to break a circuit at a domestic level, but at grid-scale voltage is so high it can arc over air gaps, creating a visible plasma bridge. To suppress this the contact points of the circuit breakers used in transmission systems are often contained in housings filled with insulating gases or within a vacuum, which are not conductive and help to break the circuit.

A 400kV circuit breaker on the Drax Power Station site

A 400kV circuit breaker on the Drax Power Station site

In addition, there will often be several contact points within a single circuit breaker to help break the high current and voltage levels. Older circuit breakers used oil or high-pressure air for breaking current, although these are now largely obsolete.

In a transmission system, circuit breakers will usually be triggered by relays – devices which measure the current flowing through the circuit and trigger a command to open the circuit breaker if the current exceeds a pre-determined value. “The whole process,” says Beardsall, “from the abnormal current being detected to the circuit breaker being opened can occur in under 100 milliseconds.”

Circuit breakers are not only used for emergencies though, they can also be activated to shut off parts of the grid or equipment for maintenance, or to direct power flows to different areas.

A single circuit breaker used within the home would typically be small enough to fit in your hand.  A single circuit breaker used within the transmission system may well be bigger than your home.

Circuit breakers are a key piece of equipment in use at Drax Power Station, just as they are within your home. Largely un-noticed, the largest power station in the UK has hundreds of circuit breakers installed all around the site.

A 3300 Volt circuit breaker at Drax Power Station

A 3300 Volt circuit breaker at Drax Power Station

“They provide protection for everything from individual circuits powering pumps, fans and fuel conveyors, right through to protecting the main 660 megawatt (MW) generators, allowing either individual items of plant to be disconnected or enabling full generating units to be disconnected from the National Grid,” explains Beardsall.

The circuit breakers used at Drax in North Yorkshire vary significantly. Operating at voltages from 415 Volts right up to 400,000 Volts, they vary in size from something like a washing machine to something taller than a double decker bus.

Although the size, capacity and scale of the circuit breakers varies dramatically, all perform the same function – allowing different parts of electrical circuits to be switched on and off and ensuring electrical system faults are isolated as quickly as possible to keep damage and danger to people to a minimum.

While the voltages and amount of current is much larger at a power station than in any home, the approach to quickly breaking a circuit remains the same. While circuits are integral parts of any power system, they would mean nothing without a failsafe way of breaking them.

End of coal generation at Drax Power Station

Coal picker, Drax Power Station, 2016

Drax Group plc
(“Drax” or the “Group”; Symbol:DRX)
RNS Number : 2747E

Following a comprehensive review of operations and discussions with National Grid, Ofgem and the UK Government, the Board of Drax has determined to end commercial coal generation at Drax Power Station in 2021 – ahead of the UK’s 2025 deadline.

Commercial coal generation is expected to end in March 2021, with formal closure of the coal units in September 2022 at the end of existing Capacity Market obligations.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said:

“Ending the use of coal at Drax is a landmark in our continued efforts to transform the business and become a world-leading carbon negative company by 2030. Drax’s move away from coal began some years ago and I’m proud to say we’re going to finish the job well ahead of the Government’s 2025 deadline.

“By using sustainable biomass we have not only continued generating the secure power millions of homes and businesses rely on, we have also played a significant role in enabling the UK’s power system to decarbonise faster than any other in the world.

“Having pioneered ground-breaking biomass technology, we’re now planning to go further by using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to achieve our ambition of being carbon negative by 2030, making an even greater contribution to global efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“Stopping using coal is the right decision for our business, our communities and the environment, but it will have an impact on some of our employees, which will be difficult for them and their families.

“In making the decision to stop using coal and to decarbonise the economy, it’s vital that the impact on people across the North is recognised and steps are taken to ensure that people have the skills needed for the new jobs of the future.”

Coal in front of biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station, 2016

Coal in front of biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station, 2016

Drax will shortly commence a consultation process with employees and trade unions with a view to ending coal operations. Under these proposals, commercial generation from coal will end in March 2021 but the two coal units will remain available to meet Capacity Market obligations until September 2022.

The closure of the two coal units is expected to involve one-off closure costs in the region of £25-35 million in the period to closure and to result in a reduction in operating costs at Drax Power Station of £25-35 million per year once complete. Drax also expects a reduction in jobs of between 200 and 230 from April 2021.

The carrying value of the fixed assets affected by closure was £240 million, in addition to £103 million of inventory at 31 December 2019, which Drax intends to use in the period up to 31 March 2021. The Group expects to treat all closure costs and any asset obsolescence charges as exceptional items in the Group’s financial statements. A further update on these items will be provided in the Group’s interim financial statements for the first half of 2020.

As part of the proposed coal closure programme the Group is implementing a broader review of operations at Drax Power Station. This review aims to support a safe, efficient and lower cost operating model which, alongside a reduction in biomass cost, positions Drax for long-term biomass generation following the end of the current renewable support mechanisms in March 2027.

While previously being an integral part of the Drax Power Station site and offering flexibility to the Group’s trading and operational performance, the long-term economics of coal generation remain challenging and in 2019 represented only three percent of the Group’s electricity production. In January 2020, Drax did not take a Capacity Market agreement for the period beyond September 2022 given the low clearing price.

Enquiries

Drax Investor Relations:
Mark Strafford
+44 (0) 7730 763 949

Media

Drax External Communications:
Ali Lewis
+44 (0) 7712 670 888

 

Website: www.drax.com/northamerica

END

Capacity Market agreements for existing assets and review of coal generation

Drax's Kendoon Power Station, Galloway Hydro Scheme, Scotland

RNS Number : 6536B

T-3 Auction Provisional Results

Drax confirms that it has provisionally secured agreements to provide a total of 2,562MW of capacity (de-rated 2,333MW) from its existing gas, pumped storage and hydro assets(1). The agreements are for the delivery period October 2022 to September 2023, at a price of £6.44/kW(2) and are worth £15 million in that period. These are in addition to existing agreements which extend to September 2022.

Drax did not accept agreements for its two coal units(3) at Drax Power Station or the small Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) at Blackburn Mill(4) and will now assess options for these assets, alongside discussions with National Grid, Ofgem and the UK Government.

A new-build CCGT at Damhead Creek and four new-build Open Cycle Gas Turbine projects participated in the auction but exited above the clearing price and did not accept agreements.

T-4 Auction

Drax has prequalified its existing assets(5) and options for the development of new gas generation to participate in the T-4 auction, which takes place in March 2020. The auction covers the delivery period from October 2023.

CCGTs at Drax Power Station

Following confirmation that a Judicial Review will now proceed against the Government, regarding the decision to grant planning approval for new CCGTs at Drax Power Station, Drax does not intend to take a Capacity Market agreement in the forthcoming T-4 auction. This project will not participate in future Capacity Market auctions until the outcome of the Judicial Review is known.

Enquiries:

Drax Investor Relations
Mark Strafford
+44 (0) 7730 763 949

Media:

Drax External Communications
Matt Willey
+44 (0) 0771 137 6087

Photo caption: Drax’s Kendoon Power Station, Galloway Hydro Scheme, Scotland

Website: www.drax.com/northamerica

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/northamerica/truckdumps and www.drax.com/northamerica/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/northamerica/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

7 things to see at Drax Power Station

Chimneys taller than the London Eye, domes bigger than the Albert Hall and enough steel tubing to run the length of the UK twice, Drax Power Station is a structure of superlatives. But it’s visiting the site that truly drives home the scale of the electricity generating process.

From tiny biomass pellets to landscape-shaping cooling towers, here are seven of the most-impressive and interesting parts of Drax Power Station.

Cooling towers

Arguably the power station’s most recognisable landmarks, Drax’s 12 giant cooling towers each measure 114 metres tall. To put that in perspective, each is large enough to fit the entire Statue of Liberty inside it – with room to spare.

These massive concrete structures cool the water used as part of the generation process. Water is pumped into the tower at roughly 40 degrees Celsius and is cooled by air naturally pulled into the structure by its unique shape. Once the water is cooled it is safely returned to the River Ouse.

So, what’s coming out the top of a cooling tower? Water vapour, and it only accounts for roughly 2% of all the water pumped into the tower.

Biomass domes

Standing 65 metres tall, Drax’s four biomass domes are each larger than the Royal Albert Hall and between them hold approximately 300,000 tonnes of compressed wood pellets – enough to power Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool for more than 12 days.

Each dome was constructed by inflating a massive PVC dome, coating its inside with a layer of polyurethane foam, and then adding steel and concrete reinforcements. Because of the sensitive nature of compressed wood pellets, the environment inside each dome must be very carefully monitored. One of the measures to keep the biomass inert is to feed in nitrogen (extracted from the air) into the dome.

Rail unloading bay

Coal’s days traversing the UK by train are almost numbered – biomass is taking over its routes. Compressed wood pellets arrive to English shores at the ports of Liverpool, Hull and Immingham and are then transported across the country in specially designed trains. Roughly 14 arrive every day, collectively unloading about 20,000 tonnes of pellets.

Drax’s bespoke wagons ensure the wood pellets are kept dry during transportation and unloaded as efficiently as possible. This includes a hatch on the bottom of the wagons that is opened magnetically to drop the pellets down into the collection area as they arrive.

Turbine hall

Here’s where the magic happens – it’s in the turbine hall that electricity is generated. Biomass is fast replacing coal to be combusted to produce steam, which is used to spin massive electromagnets at 3,000 rpm inside copper windings, which in turn generates electricity.

With each of the six turbines capable of exporting over 600 megawatts (MW) into the National Grid, the total capacity of Drax Power Station sits just shy of 4,000 MW, 70% of which now comes from sustainable biomass – an impressive 17% of Great Britain’s renewable electricity from this one, epic site.

Control room

The nerve centre of the power station, data from across the plant is fed into the control room, giving engineers a view of every stage of the generation process. The information displayed across the web of dials and screens around the room shows data on temperatures, levels or positioning of equipment, and enables operators to monitor and adjust activity around the plant.

This command and control centre at the heart of Drax Power Station is off the beaten track of most tours – so if seeing it is top of your list, please say-so on the tour booking form. As impressive as the control room and on the regular tour is the Queen’s Gallery, giving a birds-eye view over the turbine hall.

Visitor centre 

First port of call on a tour of Drax Power Station, the visitor centre offers an interactive history of Drax, from when construction began in the 1960s, via coal’s decline as a fuel source and through to the modern, predominantly-biomass power plant of today.

It’s here that visitors can step inside the electricity generation process and learn from Drax’s experienced guides about what happens at the heart of the UK’s largest power plant.

The Skylark Centre and Nature Reserve

Away from the noise of the turbine hall, a weekend trip to Drax also offers the chance to enjoy a peaceful walk through a unique natural environment. The Skylark Centre and Nature Reserve, Drax is home to more than 100 species of wildlife, including rare and endangered varieties guests might encounter along the reserve’s nature walks.

The centre offers the chance to learn more about this environment, its inhabitants and the unique story of its creation. The reserve is spread across Barlow Mound, a structure created as a means of safely storing the ash created in burning coal at the power station. More than 301 million m3 of ash is safely stored in the current site, on top of which grasses and trees have been planted to allow nature to thrive.

Its reinvention into an area of natural beauty reflects the power station’s own transformation away from coal.

Public tours of and visits to Drax Power Station are currently suspended. The suspensions are to reduce the risk to business-critical areas of our operation. We are planning to resume tours and visits in 2021, but we cannot guarantee this at the present time. Please check our website for the latest information and virtual tours.