Hello everyone, welcome to "Energy in Transition", the first in a weekly series of virtual fireside chats where we'll be speaking with key movers and shakers in the clean energy sector to get their expert views on the future of the industry, how we're going to get to net-zero and how things are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
My name is Levent Gürdenli and I'm a renewable energy and sustainability lawyer at the leading national law firm, Weightmans. We are passionate about tackling climate change achieving net-zero and facilitating the transition to a cleaner smarter and more flexible energy system. Our energy team are sector experts and we have extensive experience advising across the lifecycle of all types of clean energy projects.
So, each week we're going to be tackling a different topic. And today we're going to be discussing Corporates PPAs and also subsidy-free generation and I'm delighted to be joined by Juan Pablo Cerda who is the founder and CEO of Zeigo.
JP has a trading and operations backgrounds across several commodities and recently founded and exited a business in the renewable energy industry. He subsequently founded Zeigo 18 months ago. It is an innovative and disruptive start-up that wants to digitize the way that organizations can access renewable energy.
So JP, thank you so very much for joining us today. Just before we start could you introduce yourself and give us a little bit more detail, please?
Yes, absolutely. So thank you very much Lev for this amazing fireside chat. So yes, my name is Juan Pablo. But you know everyone calls me JP. I am the CEO and founder of Zeigo.
Zeigo is a technology platform and we use smart technology AI and various different algorithms to facilitate the contractual process of finding and procuring renewable energy directly from generators.
So essentially we help the corporate world to find and contract energy directly from wind and solar farms. Obviously it's a really topical, big growth area.
How's your business developed in last 12 months? And can you let us know about any kind of recent achievements or big development that you'd like to share with us?
Yeah. Sure. So as you mentioned the platform has been going for about 18 months. Since then it has been, you know, absolutely crazy. The whole idea of the platform was to try and digitize the way that companies buy renewable energy.
The reason we're doing this, or the main reason we're doing this, is because we didn't consider it fair the fact that just the big guys like Google and Amazon had access to PPAs and achieving renewable energy targets from generation.
So we are very strongly focused on democratising the way that smaller companies can access renewable energy the same way. So the first one is building the platform and since then we've had some evolution in the products that we've designed and it's been absolutely crazy.
The second one is how quickly the platform has grown across Europe. So for example, last month, we've added about 4 gigawatts of capacity from developers.
So to explain that a little bit more, we have supply and demand in the same place. So on one side, we have developers who post a project and we help the developers "chop" those projects down into smaller contracts so so they can be more accessible to corporates. On the other side, we have corporates basically interested in "greenifying" the grid and finding renewable energy contracts.
The third thing is, that we've been working with great clients, big airports and different very large clients around the world and we've been publishing reports with companies like Bloomberg and S&P Platts and some of the largest developers in the world.
Really amazing. Look, we're at a time where there are low - historically low - power prices at the moment, likewise with oil prices as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. There's a chunk of demand that's been removed and the market is a bit volatile. What other challenges do you see in the market at the moment? And what is the market facing in the Corporate PPA world?
That's a very good question. So yeah, it definitely is facing strong uncertainty. So basically demand and prices across the other commodities are very volatile the moment but that also creates opportunities. So we're strong believers that for every problem there's a there's an opportunity on the other side. So yeah, this is creating opportunities for the corporate sector.
Okay, so actually despite this volatility you see some opportunities for growth during this time, or expansion. Do you think in light of the current climate anything in terms of PPA structures might have to change in the shorter or near term to get deals done? If so, any idea how that might happen? And, I guess, where do you see Zeigo's role within these opportunities?
Yeah, absolutely. So volatility and uncertainty always creates, historically have always created, windows of opportunity. So, for example, there need to be more options for the corporates. So recently we ran a tender for one large network operator in the UK. Yeah. And literally finished it about probably six days ago. Okay. And we saw high levels of flexibility. And some of the lowest prices we've ever seen in the market came back.
So we had about 30 renewable energy projects coming back for that specific tender, all over the UK, all amazing projects. Some of them virtual, some of them operational, some of them pipeline. So it's our role to increase that flexibility and offer different options via the platform. So the aggregation, like for example, the aggregation, near term, long term PPAs that kind of stuff.
So you are saying instead of having the traditional 15-year type Corporate PPA, you see people willing to accept different, shorter terms, for example?
Yeah. Yeah, and I've also heard maybe people saying that maybe they'd have to be much more flexible and a kind of gain share, pain share mechanism in the future to reflect the fact that nobody knows quite which way prices are going to go.
Is that the sort of thing you're seeing in practice with these new tenders or recently closed tenders?
Yeah, sure. So we've seen something like seven years offered for potentially new projects as well. So some operational, some new. So yeah, I think the supply side, the developers are very keen to keep the momentum going that they had a couple of months ago and actually shift those projects and build more and that's what we need right now.
Absolutely, and any feelings as to the level of activity for the next month or two? Do you think we will see similar tenders or might there be a pause being pressed on things until, well.... I don't know exactly when, but in the short-term? I think no one knows exactly, right?
Yeah actually a little bit of both. So some companies are you know carrying on business as usual and understanding that there's a little bit of an opportunity right now. Whilst others are pausing anything not essential or non-essential until further notice, basically.
Yeah, that's fair enough. And I guess there are certain sectors which will obviously be immune to this kind of thing. In the tech sector, for example, that's obviously going to continue going because we're using our computers more than ever. Where I guess in other sectors where you know activity has ceased for a while, the demands obviously not there so much. So maybe they're, as you say, taking a bit more time and assessing things.
Moving away from I guess COVID-19 specific stuff for the moment. Although it is all-encompassing. Before it all kind of happened, were you seeing any, you alluded to some already I think, any particular trends in the PPA Market at the moment, whether that's new geographies, new players in the market, new PPA structures? Anything that you'd be able to share with us?
Yeah, basically all of the above! So yeah, before this situation more and more companies were, or are actually in fact still, setting internal and external targets to become greener, but actually in order to achieve that they need to feel a lot more confident and educated about PPAs.
So even before this pandemic, there was a kind of need to understand a little bit. Further the PPAs and what was their impact, what were the risks and becoming aware of the different pricing structures, prices, levels and flexibility etc. So that's fundamentally what needs to happen.
So basically, PPAs need to fundamentally evolve. So they need to become simpler and more efficient and a lot more digestible by different sectors of the corporate world so they can be integrated into the day-to-day strategy. But that's our job basically.
And are you seeing, do you think we'll get to a world where the SMEs of this world as opposed to the Googles and Amazons will be able to enter the market and, if so, when do you think that that might start happening and how I guess?
Yeah, so that definitely is something that needs to happen. So basically companies need to understand that there are definitely different shades of green and if you want to contribute to tackling climate change or any other, green, "greenifying" structure within your corporation, you need to understand that contracting energy directly from generation is the most impactful way because you're not only buying the cleanest energy, but you're also supporting the supply side to build more wind and solar farms and replace, green electrons in the grid. So yeah, it's very important.
But before that point happens, before we consider that there's a lot that needs to be happening behind the scenes in terms of simplifying the contractual structure, which we're trying to do, chopping down the big projects into smaller pieces, which we're trying to do as well and finding a very easy way to see how a PPA reflects in your overall strategy and your overall portfolio and what impact that can have.
So just for people listening, when we say "chopping down" the big projects I think what you're saying is instead of historically someone like a Google or Amazon saying "right, I'm going to buy the entire output of this wind farm here because I need it and I actually probably need more power then you're saying actually Company X or company Y, you could buy 10% of that output or 15% of that output, whatever their requirements are and your platform is trying to facilitate that process and so therefore multiple entities will be buying power from the same or potentially from the same project?
Correct. Thank you very much. Yeah, that's really important.
You talk about simplifying the process and I guess you are talking about standardisation in lots of ways aren't you? As well and getting to the point where there are more... I hate to use the word "standard" but yes standard kind of PPA type documents, legal agreements as well. I guess you're talking about there? But I guess on the counterpoint, do you think there is also potentially more value to be extracted from much more bespoke corporate PPA negotiations where you really are truly able to reflect what your demand profiles are and really kind of negotiate what you need to?
Yeah. I'm sure but that can be standardized using technology as well. So for example, we're trying to do is actually using AI to profile corporates and understand every single aspect of how they buy energy, when they buy energy, why do they want to buy renewable energy and what are the renewable energy, what are their targets? What are the preferences? Is price important or is location important or is it .... Do you have a strong preference on solar or wind?
So building that profile and understanding in a very smart way what can be matched or how you how we can match you to the perfect project is crucial.
On the other side, we need to understand the flexibility of the projects and how those projects can be adapted to different takers and I think in the future that's exactly what we're moving towards - a more dynamic way buying of energy based on exact your exact profile and your exact requirements. All being made possible through the use of technology essentially and, as you said, making much smarter decisions than you're able to necessarily without that.
I'd like to just touch upon a report that you recently collaborated on with Bloomberg New Energy Finance on Corporate PPAs, the state of the market and Zeigo provided the data points for that survey. Could you share with us any of the key findings or anything that surprised you within that report for those that haven't read it?
So one of the key takeaways of that report is that Spain and the Nordics are the cheapest countries in Europe to buy renewable energy from. But that's something we kind of already knew. But the interesting thing about the report is that it's basically understanding the different purchasing requirements and purchasing options in different European countries and understanding the different pricing structures and understanding the different prices and why those prices are like that in every single country is very important because we can learn a lot from the Nordics, for example. Although the UK is quite sophisticated and quite advanced in how we buy our energy, there are some aspects that we can learn from how companies buy energy in the Nordics.
The UK, was it right that the survey showed that the UK was actually, on average, the most expensive corporate PPA market across Europe? I think it's average prices. I'm sure there's obviously a range.
Okay, and I guess then just lastly on this in terms of the key points of a PPA, what do you think are the key sticking points or the key elements of a PPA for the purposes of negotiating and concluding one or the factors that make the most difference if you see what I mean, or that are going to have the most effect on the potential deal if someone is thinking about doing or contemplating doing one of the future?
I mean the contractor side as you know, obviously is it's one of the most important factors so essentially if you now take the PPA negotiation and the PPA concept into the it's bear concept, you know you have two parties: one that wants to buy power and another one that wants to sell power. And in between is where it gets a little bit complicated.
For example, one of the biggest complications that we've seen in the market is term. So a lot of companies don't like getting into 10-year contracts, others see it as a hedge, which is fine.
The other one is price. So basically there's a lot of uncertainty about price and what price is going to do. Am I being very smart entering a 10-year contract in fixing 20% of volume for this amount, or am I being silly? And if you look at the forward energy curves and the forward energy scenarios out there in the market, all very significantly. So again, that provides a certain level of uncertainty to corporates.
So probably having too much information is it's not great because it makes you confused and who do you believe basically? So what we're again trying to do is solve that issue by providing a more dynamic approach to the forward energy scenarios available in the market. But yeah that, price, tenure and size also.
And the tendering process has also been quite historically challenging. Okay. So those are your key messages really to anyone thinking about this. Think about those key elements. Where you can move. Where you can't move and start your negotiations from there as well as obviously using your platform to make things a bit more flexible.
Correct, correct. And there's two main points that can be negotiated, or two main aspects that can be negotiated, and we have seen high levels of negotiation and that's price and tenure really.
Thank you for that.
More generally, three last questions, onto COVID-19 again, but just more broadly within industry. Do you see this pandemic as a - because I personally felt prior to this there was a lot of momentum behind getting to Net Zero, the green economy, sustainability, and it was just gathering pace worldwide. Do you think all of a sudden COVID-19 is a threat to achieving Net Zero in the future or just more of a temporary glitch?
I definitely think it's just a temporary glitch. So if you look at the history of pandemics that hit the world and if you look at the timeline, you look at the history and the time that the humans have been on earth etc... being isolated for three to six months potentially, or a year, it's really nothing compared to the advance of and the development of renewable energy across the world and everything that has been happening. I think it's a glitch and if I'm completely honest, I think like a lot of people are becoming more aware of how impactful your contribution can be to the planet - this has only highlighted the damage that has been done to the planet and how it can be healed.
So yeah people are definitely more conscious and appreciative of what we currently have.
I think that's right. And you know what, my hope at least is that, assuming we do have some kind of worldwide recession or economic downturn, investment into the green economy and the clean energy sector could be the real kind of kick start that the world needs to actually increase productivity and get it back up to where it needs to be. That's certainly my optimistic view on things anyway.
Yeah, the sun's still going to be shining and the wind is still going to be blowing. Yeah, just got to get that money flowing!
So we're running short of time so I'll ask you two final short questions, JP, which I'm going to ask everybody in this series. Can you give me three words for you that represent getting to or achieving Net Zero?
Global climate emergency.
And on the flipside, three words that might stop us from getting to Net Zero?
Corporate red tape.
Excellent. That's all we've got time for on today's session and we've had some really interesting insights here today from JP. I think, in particular, what I am taking away from this is the power of technology and AI to really kick start this very important Corporate PPA market, which we really need to ensure that global renewable energy continues to be built out. There is a massive demand for it. Plenty of us would have heard of organizations such as RE100 pledging to procure 100% of their power from renewable sources. The demand from them alone is vast, so we really need to find a way to plug that gap. And platforms like Zeigo I think are clearly going to be the way forward to do this as opposed to the old historic tendering processes, which, we all know take time and have been very challenging.
So thank you so much, JP for your input and letting us know about your work and a bit more about Zeigo. If anyone is interested in buying or selling renewable power then you should be sure to check them out. So go to their website at zeigo.energy and they are on Twitter at @zeigoenergy. They are on Instagram at @zeigo.energy and you can follow them on LinkedIn as well.
This interview will be available to view on our website - weightmans.com. It may well be on Zeigos website as well. As well as on our social media channels including LinkedIn and Twitter. So all that remains to be said is that I hope you, the audience, enjoyed today's interview. We will be back next week with a new guest to get some further expert opinion insight. So until then, it's goodbye from me.
Thank you very much, Lev. That was great. Thank you everyone and I hope everyone that you will join us again soon. Thank you.