Electricity Trading

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Written By
Contributor Image
Written By
Dan Buckley
Dan Buckley is an US-based trader, consultant, and part-time writer with a background in macroeconomics and mathematical finance. He trades and writes about a variety of asset classes, including equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, and interest rates. As a writer, his goal is to explain trading and finance concepts in levels of detail that could appeal to a range of audiences, from novice traders to those with more experienced backgrounds.

Electricity trading is the buying and selling of electricity on various markets, which enables the efficient distribution and consumption of power.

This process involves multiple stakeholders, regulations, and market mechanisms designed to provide a stable and efficient electricity supply.


Key Takeaways – Electricity Trading

  • Understand that electricity trading involves fluctuating prices influenced by supply, demand, weather conditions, seasonality, fuel prices, power plant operations, transmission and generation costs, and regulatory changes.
  • Electricity can potentially be traded through futures, CFDs, and the shares and securities of utility companies (and related ETFs).


Overview of Electricity Trading

Electricity trading occurs on wholesale and retail markets, involving a variety of participants including generators, suppliers, traders, and consumers.

The goal is to match supply with demand, so that electricity is available where and when it is needed.

Wholesale Market

In the wholesale market, large quantities of electricity are traded between generators and suppliers or traders.

Transactions are often conducted through power exchanges or over-the-counter (OTC) markets.

Retail Market

The retail market involves the sale of electricity to end consumers, including households and businesses.

Retailers purchase electricity from the wholesale market and sell it to consumers, often offering various pricing plans and services.


What Are Electricity Prices Determined By?

Electricity prices are influenced by:

  • supply and demand
  • seasonality and weather (weather extremes like very cold or hot weather tends to increase prices)
  • other energy costs
  • power plant operations
  • transmission and generation costs, and
  • regulatory factors


Key Participants


Generators produce electricity from various sources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar.

They sell this electricity to suppliers or directly on the wholesale market.


Suppliers, or retailers, buy electricity from the wholesale market and resell it to end consumers.

They manage customer relationships and billing.


Traders buy and sell electricity to capitalize on price differences in different markets or times.

They play a part in liquidity and price discovery.


Regulators oversee the market to ensure fair competition, reliability, and consumer protection.

They set rules for market operation and monitor compliance.


How Do Traders Gain Access to the Electricity Market?


Day traders can gain access to the electricity trading market by registering with energy exchanges such as the European Energy Exchange (EEX) or the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX).

The NYMEX does have some electricity futures contracts, but generally with light volume.


Some brokers allow electricity trading via CFDs.

CFDs, however, aren’t available to traders based in the US.

Electricity Companies

Trading the shares in public utility companies where electricity is a significant part of their business.

These can be bought individually or through ETFs.

Example utilities ETFs include XLU and VLU.


Types of Electricity Trading

Bilateral Contracts

Bilateral contracts are agreements between two parties to buy and sell electricity at a predetermined price and quantity.

These contracts provide price certainty and can be tailored to specific needs.

Day-Ahead and Intraday Markets

Day-ahead markets allow participants to buy and sell electricity for delivery the next day, while intraday markets enable trading for delivery within the same day.

These markets help balance supply and demand in real-time.

Futures, Options, CFDs, Shares, and ETFs

Futures and options are financial instruments that allow participants to hedge against price fluctuations.

Futures contracts obligate the buyer to purchase electricity at a set price on a future date, while options provide the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell at a specific price.

As we covered above, electricity can be traded indirectly through the stocks and securities of electricity companies and ETFs.

CFDs in electricity may be available to individuals outside the US.


Pricing Mechanisms

Market Clearing Price

The market clearing price is the price at which supply meets demand in the market.

It’s determined by the intersection of supply and demand curves in the auction process.

Locational Marginal Pricing

Locational marginal pricing (LMP) reflects the cost of delivering electricity to a specific location, accounting for generation costs, transmission constraints, and losses.

It ensures efficient use of the transmission network.


Challenges and Considerations


Electricity prices can be volatile due to factors such as weather, fuel prices, and demand fluctuations.

This volatility requires effective risk management strategies.

Regulation and Policy

Regulatory frameworks and policies significantly impact electricity trading.

Market participants must navigate complex regulations and stay informed about policy changes.

Technology and Innovation

Advancements in technology – e.g., smart grids and energy storage – are transforming electricity trading.

These innovations improve grid management, improve trading capabilities, and support the integration of renewable energy sources.

Let’s look at some example electricity trades.

Electricity trading involves various types of trades that can be executed on different platforms.

Here, we’ll outline specific trades, illustrating how they’re put on step by step, including the amounts involved.

Example 1: Day-Ahead Market Trade

Step-by-Step Process

Forecasting Demand and Supply:

A power supplier forecasts that they will need 500 MWh of electricity for their consumers for the next day.

Bidding Process:

The supplier places a bid in the day-ahead market to purchase 500 MWh at a maximum price of $50/MWh.

Market Clearing:

The market operator collects all bids and offers and determines the market clearing price based on the supply-demand intersection.

Let’s say the market clearing price is set at $48/MWh.

Trade Execution:

The supplier’s bid is accepted, and they secure 500 MWh at $48/MWh for delivery the next day.


The total cost for the supplier is calculated as 500 MWh * $48/MWh = $24,000.


Supplier Bid:

  • Quantity: 500 MWh
  • Maximum Price: $50/MWh

Market Clearing Price:

  • Price: $48/MWh

Total Cost:

  • 500 MWh * $48/MWh = $24,000


Example 2: Bilateral Contract



A large industrial consumer negotiates a bilateral contract with a generator for a fixed price of electricity.

They agree to buy 1,000 MWh per month at $45/MWh for the next year.

Contract Agreement:

Both parties sign a contract specifying:

  • quantity (1,000 MWh per month)
  • price ($45/MWh), and
  • duration (12 months)

Monthly Delivery:

Each month, the generator supplies 1,000 MWh of electricity to the consumer.


The consumer pays the generator $45,000 each month (1,000 MWh * $45/MWh).

Monitoring and Compliance:

Both parties monitor the delivery and consumption to ensure compliance with the contract terms.


  • Contract Terms:
    • Quantity: 1,000 MWh per month
    • Price: $45/MWh
    • Duration: 12 months
  • Monthly Payment:
    • 1,000 MWh * $45/MWh = $45,000
  • Annual Payment:
    • $45,000 * 12 = $540,000


Example 3: Intraday Market Trade

Step-by-Step Process

Real-Time Demand Adjustment:

A utility company realizes that due to unexpected weather conditions, they need an additional 200 MWh of electricity within the next 4 hours.

Market Participation:

The utility enters the intraday market and places a bid to buy 200 MWh at a maximum price of $55/MWh.

Market Matching:

The market matches the bid with available offers, and the trade is executed at a price of $52/MWh.

Trade Execution:

The utility secures 200 MWh for delivery within the next 4 hours.


The total cost for the utility is 200 MWh * $52/MWh = $10,400.


  • Utility Bid:
    • Quantity: 200 MWh
    • Maximum Price: $55/MWh
  • Trade Execution Price:
    • Price: $52/MWh
  • Total Cost:
    • 200 MWh * $52/MWh = $10,400


Example 4: Futures Contract Trade

Step-by-Step Process

Market Research:

A trader analyzes market trends and forecasts that electricity prices will rise in the next quarter due to seasonal demand.

Futures Contract Purchase:

The trader decides to purchase a futures contract for 1,000 MWh at $50/MWh – expiring in three months.

Contract Specifications:

The futures contract specifies:

  • Quantity: 1,000 MWh
  • Price: $50/MWh
  • Expiration: 3 months

Market Movement:

Over the next three months, electricity prices rise to $60/MWh.


Upon contract expiration, the market price is $60/MWh.

The trader can either:

  • Physically settle the contract and receive 1,000 MWh of electricity (often impractical), or
  • Settle the contract financially and receive the profit.

Profit Calculation:

If the trader opts for financial settlement, the profit is calculated as:

  • Market Price: $60/MWh
  • Futures Contract Price: $50/MWh
  • Profit per MWh: $60 – $50 = $10
  • Total Profit: 1,000 MWh * $10/MWh = $10,000


Example 5: Buying Shares in a Utility Company ETF (XLU)


Market Research:

A trader analyzes the utility sector and forecasts a steady increase in electricity demand due to an upcoming summer heatwave.

They anticipate higher profits for utility companies.

Selecting an ETF:

The trader decides to invest in the Utilities Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLU), which tracks the performance of large utility companies.

(VLU is another option.)

Placing an Order:

The trader places a market order to buy 500 shares of XLU, currently trading at $65 per share.

Order Execution:

The order is executed at the current market price of $65 per share.

Investment Amount:

The total investment amount is calculated as:

  • Number of Shares: 500
  • Price per Share: $65
  • Total Investment: 500 shares * $65/share = $32,500

Monitoring the Investment:

The trader monitors the performance of XLU, including quarterly earnings reports of the underlying utility companies and any changes in the electricity market.

Potential Returns:

If the value of XLU rises to $70 per share over the next quarter, the trader can calculate the potential returns:

  • New Price per Share: $70
  • Gain per Share: $70 – $65 = $5
  • Total Gain: 500 shares * $5/share = $2,500


Additionally, the trader may receive quarterly dividends from XLU, which is common for utility ETFs.

Yields of 3-4% annually are normal.



These examples illustrate the practical steps and amounts involved in various types of electricity trades.

Whether trading in the day-ahead market, negotiating bilateral contracts, adjusting supply through the intraday market, trading futures, CFDs, stocks, etc., each trade involves specific processes and financial calculations to ensure efficient and reliable electricity supply.