LONDON AND FRANKFURT -- Germany is getting more power than ever before from sources dependent on wind and sunshine, pushing short-term price swings to the biggest in five years and boosting volume as utilities increase trading.
The gap between the highest and lowest price over two months for electricity deliverable the next day widened to the most since December 2007 through yesterday, according to broker data compiled by Bloomberg. German wind output peaked at a record 23,331 megawatts on Jan. 31, enough to supply 46 million homes. That compares with an average of 5,079 megawatts during 2012, data from European Energy Exchange AG on Bloomberg show.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is trying to push the proportion of German power produced by renewable sources to 35 percent by 2020. Solar and wind generation jumped 80 percent over the past three years, damping prices on sunny, gusty days and boosting them when natural gas or coal plants are required to offset shortfalls. Intraday volume on the EPEX Spot SE exchange in Paris rose more than 11-fold over the past five years as traders focused on near-term contracts for speculative buying and selling.
"Renewable generation has brought some volatility to the market," Johannes Teyssen, EON SE's chief executive officer, said on a Jan. 30 conference call. "We have the possibility to earn some extra money."
Germany's biggest utility lost 66 million euros ($88 million) from buying and selling energy commodities for its own account in the nine months through September last year, on an earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization basis. The performance cut EON's total income for the period to 8.82 billion euros, up 35 percent from a year earlier, according to its Nov. 13 earnings statement.
Day-ahead electricity in Germany traded in a 109.50 euro ($146.31) range from Nov. 23 to Feb. 18, the biggest 60-day price swing since the two months ending Dec. 27, 2007, according to broker data compiled by Bloomberg. Baseload electricity, for supplies delivered around the clock, fell as low as minus 48 euros a megawatt-hour on Dec. 25 and was at 44 euros at 2:42 p.m. Berlin time today.
Germany is expanding its output from climate-dependent renewable energy sources to replace nuclear power that will be phased out by 2022. Installed solar and wind capacity was about 64 gigawatts at the end of 2012 compared with 35.6 gigawatts at the end of 2009, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis of data from the German Environment Ministry and wind lobby Bundesverband WindEnergie e.V. Renewable plants provided enough electricity to meet about 22 percent of total demand last year, according to BDEW, a Berlin-based utility lobby group.
The electricity bill for German households with power consumption of 3,500 kilowatt-hours a year will rise to the highest in at least 15 years to pay for the increased generation from wind and solar, according to BDEW. The average price for a private three-person household will increase to 28.50 euro cents a kilowatt-hour this year from 25.89 cents in 2012 and 13.94 cents in 2000, the lobby group estimates.
Germany guarantees operators of wind and solar plants a fixed income for the electricity they generate and smaller users such as households pay for any discrepancy with market prices through a so-called renewable energy fee. The levy, for consumers of less than 1 gigawatt-hour a year, will rise to 5.277 euro cent a kilowatt-hour this year from 3.592 cents in 2012, according to BDEW.
It's possible for wholesale electricity prices to fall below zero if supply exceeds demand, prompting utilities to pay consumers to take delivery because power, unlike other commodities, can't be stored. Day-ahead prices turned negative for the first time in December amid above-average wind output, low demand and mild temperatures for the season.
Warmer-than-usual weather damped average hourly demand to 40.9 gigawatts on Dec. 25, according to data from European power grid operator group Entso-e, compared with a mean of 44.2 gigawatts during the last week of the year. Temperatures in Germany rose to a maximum of 18 degrees Celsius (64 Fahrenheit) in Stuttgart on Jan. 25, according to Deutscher Wetterdienst. That was the highest temperature on Dec. 25 since 1961, when the office started recording the data.
RWE AG, Germany's second biggest utility, "benefited from a substantial improvement" in the performance of its energy trading activities in the nine months through September, according to its Nov. 14 earnings report. The Essen, Germany-based company didn't disclose financial details.
Cumulus Energy Fund, a hedge fund with $176 million under management, surged 39 percent in December after predicting the slump in near-term prices that month, it said in an investor letter. The fund boosted its returns when "extremely bearish weather" caused the collapse in German spot prices over the holiday period, London-based Chief Investment Officer Peter Brewer wrote.
Intraday volume on EPEX Spot, the biggest exchange for short-term German power trading, climbed to 15.8 terawatt-hours last year from 1.4 terawatt-hours in 2007, according to a company statement on Jan. 8. Total electricity traded on the bourse, which covers contracts for as long as one day ahead in France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, increased by 8 percent in 2012 to a record 339 terawatt-hours.
"With more renewable generation increasing volatility we are concentrating more people and more effort into intraday trading," Stefan Dohler, head of asset optimization and trading at Vattenfall AB, Germany's third-largest power producer, said in an interview in Essen on Feb. 5.
Vattenfall made a profit from trading and optimizing the use of its power plants last year, Thorsten Ziegler, a Vattenfall spokesman said yesterday by e-mail. He declined to provide financial details.
In addition to the one-day market, utilities, banks and hedge funds trade electricity several years ahead. Germany's next-year contract is the most liquid in Europe and is used as a benchmark throughout the region. As renewable energy floods the market and increases price swings for next-day and intra-day electricity, it's having the reverse impact on longer-dated contracts as the boom in green power sources creates a surplus. Germany has a buffer of about 5,000 megawatts, Vattenfall's Dohler said.
Price swings in the next-year contract, as measured by 30-day historical volatility, slumped to 5.11 percent on Dec. 21 from 17.14 percent on March 19, according to EEX data on Bloomberg. The measure has recovered this year and was at 15.49 percent yesterday. Year-ahead trading fell 36 percent to 384 terawatt-hours on EEX in 2012 compared with a year earlier, the bourse said by e-mail.
Price swings in near-term electricity contracts may become more pronounced as daily fluctuations in the weather keep supplies in flux, Henrich Quick, an analyst at Poyry Oyj in Dusseldorf, said by phone.
"There used to be 50 extreme hours in a year and by 2020 it will be the new normal where you have 200 to 300 freaky hours," he said.
Copyright 2013 Bloomberg
Lead image: German Reichstag dome with the German national flag, via Shutterstock