The excess costs of Weather Dependent Renewables over Gas-firing for electricity generation
This post estimates of the additional costs that are being incurred over the costs of Gas-firing for equivalent electricity generation. The costs are estimated on the basis of the Weather Dependent Renewable installations in the Europe and the USA as of the end of 2017. These expenditures will continue long-term to re-install, maintain and support the current Weather Dependent Renewables in Western economies.
These calculations thus estimate a significant part of the capital and future wasted costs of “Green Virtue Signalling” to Western economies.
Weather Dependent Renewables are both more expensive to install and more expensive to run long-term than using Gas-firing, so this calculation estimates the overspend needed for Renewables to input the same amount of power to the grid: these excess costs largely arise from the low capacity factors that are actually achieved by Wind and Solar Power, as well as the additional costs of installing and supporting Renewables.
The table above puts an estimated value on the excess costs that are needed to install and support for Weather Dependent Renewables in Europe (28) and the USA, ostensibly to try to control global Climate Change.
The long-term costs assume that the Renewable installations will continue to be run, serviced or replaced for some 60 years: (about equivalent to the service life of a Nuclear plant). Accordingly these calculations count the barebones gross costs of the Renewable power contributions to the Grid.
But Weather Dependent Renewables also incur significant other costs because of their inefficiency for power generation not accounted for here: they include:
- Renewables intermittency
- Renewables non-dispatchability: power production is unrelated and unrelatable to demand
- Renewables requirement for continuous power back-up for the times when wind or solar power is non-existent.
- the dilute and variable Renewables energy sources being harvested
- the dispersed locations of Renewable installations requiring extended networks.
The calculations use recent, (2017), updates to the comparative capital and running cost estimates for Weather Dependent Renewables available from the US Energy Information Administration as well as the Renewables installation status at the end of 2017. This post makes estimates of the excess cost differences in capital costs and long-term costs between Weather Dependent Renewable installations in the EU(28) and the USA and using Gas-firing for electricity generation.
There is a well established but unfounded propaganda assumption that deploying of Weather Dependent Renewables can have a worthwhile influence on the climate by reducing overall CO2 emissions.
Viewed in the round from manufacture to demolition that assumption is in error.
In spite of the fact that nominally the fuel for Renewables is free, the achievable CO2 reduction effect of Renewables is marginal. Accordingly the extra expenditures on installing Renewables will have been made to no useful purpose. They thus impose unnecessary costs on the populace of those Western Nations whose governments have chosen to be involved.
These investments may respond to the “Green agenda”, but voters in Europe and the USA have not endorsed these costs from direct taxation, in the extra costs of their utilities and unreliable electricity supplies. For the populace at large the “Green agenda” seems to have little traction.
The earliest populist mass demonstrations against the Green agenda are now ongoing in France in November 2018.
The scale of the surplus expenditures made and committed to date shows the level of financial waste in the name of “Green virtue signalling”. But Green thinking is an elitist concept with no popular mandate. This has been made clear recently in France 70 -80% support for “Gilets Jaunes”.
The costing model
The US Energy Information Administration published the table below in 2020.
This recent costs table reflects the costs reductions that have been achieved for some Renewables installations, particularly the reduction of costs for Solar PV microchip technologies.
However further significant cost reductions for Solar energy are unlikely in future because all the fundamental ancillary support structures, grid connections, DC to AC inverters, etcetera are substantial additional fixed costs that are not susceptible to any further advances in microchip technology.
Using data selected from this US EIA data table, information is condensed and expressed as $/€billion/Gigawatt for the three types of Weather Dependent Renewables, Biomass, Gas-firing, Coal / Lignite and Nuclear generation. Note is taken of the achieved EU(28) capacity factors.
That comparative data from the US EIA table emphasises:
- the excessive comparative costs for generation per Gigawatt for Renewables that are adversely affected by their poor capacity factors, particularly for Solar PV
- the excessive costs of maintaining Offshore wind power in the long-term
- the real cost effectiveness of Gas firing and other fossil fuels
- the long term cost effectiveness of Nuclear generation
Notes on the above tables of comparative costs:
- for the sake of these estimated calculations the US $ and the Euro are assumed to have roughly equivalent purchasing power
- nominally Onshore wind is the cheapest Weather Dependent Renewable generator but across Europe its capacity factor is ~20%, so it is only effectively operational 1/5 of the time. It is unpredictable when Onshore Wind power might provide that power to the grid
- Offshore wind is expensive in both capital costs and long-term estimated costs. Its assumed lifetime of 20 years may well also be optimistic, because the Offshore turbines have to contend with a very adverse maritime climate. In Europe Offshore wind has a better capacity factor at ~31%, even so it is still only effectively operational less than 1/3 of the time.
- similarly Solar PV is relatively cheap to install but in the European context has a capacity factor of less than 11%, so it is only operational about 1/10th of the time. Those productive intervals are not well timed to electricity demand: not in the evenings and not in the winter. Nonetheless although cheap to install overall, when accounting for its low capacity percentage and short service life, Solar energy using these parameters is probably the most expensive Renewable generator overall.
- Biomass is the only dispatchable, ostensibly Renewable power source. If the Biomass is not sourced from waste materials, it is potentially very destructive of woodland environments and thus local biodiversity. In addition burning wood produces substantially more CO2 for the power generated than any fossil fuel. The comparative costs shown here do not account for the costs and CO2 output of the production and transport of Biomass pellets from North America as is the case for the major, highly subsidised UK Biomass usage at Drax in the UK
- France and Germany do have significant access to dispatchable legacy hydro electricity, however most viable sites may well now have been developed. The geography of the UK on the other hand means that hydroelectric power is only a minimal contributor to the grid. These costs here are assumed to include any pumped storage, the only viable mechanism for large scale power storage
- Coal and Lignite are assumed to have roughly similar associated costs. Lignite generation is a major contributor in Germany but results in comparatively high CO2 emissions as opposed to other fossil fuels
- In terms of overnight capital and long-term costs Gas-fired CCGT is by far the cheapest means of electrical generation, especially as if it is supplied by locally sourced Fracked gas.
- Advanced nuclear is relatively expensive in capital costs and legacy installations such as those in France were probably developed at lower cost. Over-regulation has probably increased the current capital costs of this form of non CO2 emitting generation.
- The comparative US EIA costings are for new installations: legacy costs for installations were probably significantly different, particularly Nuclear
- Conventional generation in these calculations is assessed at its full capacity potential at 90% capacity. The reduction in reported reduced capacity because conventional generation is used inefficiently to load-follow intermittent Renewables arising from any local Renewables Obligation is ignored.
- The costs of imported power via interconnections is assumed to be at the same low rate as Gas-firing CCGT.
- A value Battery storage is included here with the costs of supplying 1 Gigawatt for a 4 hour period. After that time the battery installation would have to be recharged from other power generating sources, if available. Charging and re-charging losses are about 30% and take a significant time, as and when the additional power source is actually available. Accordingly the assessed capacity figure used here is spurious as it does not account for the actual likely production time from a Battery installation which is bound to be very short. It is unlikely that a battery source would only ever be used at times of significant long-term emergency. However such a supply emergency could well persist for more than 4 hours and it would seem that a more useful emergency back up could well be emergency diesel generation, which would not be time limited, in the event of wind drought over night.
This post is supported earlier more detailed posts:
The US EIA data shows the following comparisons in overnight capital installation costs and 60 year long-term installation costs per Gigawatt. These values do not account for the capacity percentage reported for Renewables, just the cost / Gigawatt of Name plate capacity installed as if they were fully productive 100% of the time.
Even before accounting for the discrepancies in capacity performance of the different generation types there are very significant differences in capital and long-term costs as shown above. But the Renewables industry carefully ignores the differentials of capacity performance when promoting its products.
Using the recent US EAI comparative the long-term (60 year) cost comparisons are:
- at 20.4% capacity Onshore wind is ~7.5 times more costly than Gas-firing
- at 31.0% capacity Offshore wind is ~17.5 times more costly than Gas-firing
- at 11.4% capacity Solar PV is ~18.2 times more costly than Gas-firing
- at 31.0% capacity Offshore wind is ~5.3 times more costly than Nuclear generation in the long-term.
- at 11.4% capacity Solar PV is ~4.3 times more costly than Nuclear generation in the long-term.
- at 20.4% capacity even Onshore wind is ~2.3 times more costly than Nuclear generation in the long-term.
- Nuclear generation ~3.3 times more costly than Gas-firing in the long-term.
This comparison results in very significant long-term costs for all Renewables generation when compared with the service life of either Gas-firing or Nuclear.
Clearly Gas-firing is substantially cheaper than all forms of Renewables. However although according the US EIA data the capital costs for Nuclear generation closely matches Offshore wind power, when comparing long-term costs Nuclear overall becomes extremely competitive even when set against Onshore wind power and the substantial long-term costs of both Offshore wind and Solar PV.
Excess costs in the European Union (28)
The history of the productive performance of Weather Dependent Renewables in the EU(28) at an overall capacity performance of ~19% is shown below. 275GW is about one quarter of the 1000GW+ of EU(28) generation capacity, however the Weather Dependent Renewables output at 53GW only contributes ~5% of EU demand.
The 2 €trillion cost would be sufficient to replace the EU generation ~1000GW capacity twice over with Gas-fired generation or viewed the other way round it would require about 40 €trillion to replace the full European generation capability with Weather Dependent Renewables.
The cost model gives an excess cost of ~500 €billion for capital investment and a further long term excess commitment of ~2 €trillion for maintaining the current level of installations for a 60 year future. The table below outlines the calculation of the excess costs for the major proponents of Renewables in Europe.
It is clear that the excess costs to those nations using low capacity Solar PV power and expensive but more effective Offshore wind power, such as in the UK and Germany, are substantially higher than elsewhere.
Excess costs in the USA
The history of the productive performance of Weather Dependent Renewables in the USA at an overall capacity performance of ~24% is shown below.
Using the cost model above this gives an excess cost of ~200 $billion for capital investment and a further long term excess commitment of ~600 $billion for maintaining the current installation for a 60 year future.
It is clear that the low capacity factors of Solar power, lead to much greater excess costs for those states using Solar PV power than for those States limiting themselves to mainly to wind power: for example in California and Arizona.
The EU(28) and the USA are the two Western Nation blocks with the most commitment to Weather Dependent Renewables and these calculations provide a useful indication of the scale of some of the financial resources that they have already been committed by their policies to support their Green agendas.
These values assume only the level of Renewable (Wind and Solar) installations as reported by end 2017 and with the continuation of that level of Weather Dependent Renewables installations in future. These estimated costs will of course escalate further as more Weather Dependent Renewables are installed in future.
- The EU(28) Weather Dependent Renewables installation is about twice the size of the USA
- the USA Weather Dependent Renewables installation are ~+30% more efficient than the EU(28) as measured by their reported capacity factors
- The apparent added efficiency of the USA installations is reflected both in capital costs and long-term cost ratios
- The current total excess expenditures in Europe are +170% greater than the USA
- The current estimated excess costs in Europe are approaching 2 trillion $€ whereas the excess costs incurred in the USA have only reached 0.7 Trillion $€.
- all these excess costs are a burden on the Western populations either through subsidy support from direct taxation, favourable taxation treatment by Government or as surcharges on electricity bills.
The excess cost estimates outlined here do not include nor account for:
- the actual usefulness of the unpredictably intermittent Renewable Energy production as it gets supplied to the grid
- the ancillary support and extensions of the grid to accommodate Renewables often at locations remote from demand
- the essential maintenance of back-up, (supplied by fossil fuel generation), running inefficiently to accommodate the variable production output from Renewables
These simple calculations are not precise. They do give a basic lower estimate of the excess costs involved.
The values shown here are derived from the US EIA data for “overnight capital costs” are absolute comparative costs. They do not take into account any subsidies, advantageous tax treatments, utility surcharges, etcetera, which can give the illusion that Weather Dependent Renewables are approaching cost competitiveness with conventional technologies. Whatever the publicity, without their Government mandates, support and subsidies Weather Dependent Renewables are not cost competitive businesses.
It is not clear that the policy makers, who have been committed to and who are continuing to promote Weather Dependent Renewables as a mechanism to control Climate Change, have made any rigorous, open-minded cost benefit analyses for these very substantial expenditures.
They just base their support for Weather Dependent Renewables on the unsupported assertion that:
“Man-made Global Warming is caused by burning fossil fuels and it is bound to be catastrophic”.
With the scale of the sums involved to affect “Climate Change” that dogma should be closely questioned: is the attempt to reduce CO2 emissions by using Weather Dependent Renewable Energy technologies is an effective and a truly worthwhile approach to controlling Man-made climate change, if it were occurring at all ? For example:
- it is not clear that Weather Dependent Renewables are overall CO2 neutral when viewed from their construction through to scrappage: do the technologies produce more CO2 to implement than they can ever save in comparison with Gas-fired generation during their service life.
- nor is it clear that Weather Dependent Renewables are significantly better than energy neutral, (they probably require more energy expended for their construction and continued support) than they can ever generate in their service life.
- whereas the USA has significantly reduced its CO2 emissions over recent years by switching from coal to Fracked gas for electricity generation, the EU(28) are now showing increasing levels of CO2 emissions, even in France. This is specifically due to the use of lignite and coal in Germany to compensate for the irrational decision for the closure of their Nuclear fleet, after the Fukushima tsunami.
Combined the EU(28) and the USA account for about a quarter of there world CO2 emissions as reported by BP.
Man-made CO2 emissions worldwide are now growing again. This growth of CO2 emissions is now arising rapidly from the Developing Countries. The proportion of CO2 emissions that could be affected by replacing Fossil fuels by Renewables for electricity generation in Western Nations is therefore limited and diminishing.
Thus it should be questioned whether attempting to control Man-made Climate Change by the use of Renewables by Western Nations is either feasible or rational. See the views of Bjorn Lomborg on the Paris Climate agreement.
Comparison with Fracked Gas-firing
In the USA the growing use of fracked natural gas has reduced the CO2 produced by electricity generation very significantly. See:
The widespread global distribution of available shale gas plays shows that shale gas exploitation is still in its infancy. Its availability is worldwide and will be for the long-term, as can be seen below.
However the very active anti-fracking movements in Europe and in the USA have been successful in holding back the exploitation of this very valuable long-term energy resource for Western Nations. That sabotage of the energy systems in the West, mainly benefits Gasprom and Russia, so it should be regarded as a continuing element of the “Cold War” to damage the energy economies of the West. Fortunately it is unlikely to continue in the face of economic imperatives.
All that those anti-fracking activist organisations are achieving in Europe is the maintenance of the dependence of European nations on the use of Russian gas. Russia’s proven and extensive support of Western Green NGO’s has been very successful. But perhaps a realisation of this subversion and sabotage is beginning to dawn. Frankly this subversion by local “useful idiots” is a very good and very cheap but effective business ploy by Gasprom.
In spite of the efforts on behalf of Russia as fracking progressively comes into wider use the costs of gas and other fossil fuels are likely to remain relatively stable.
The ingrained dogma that Man-made CO2 is a pollutant has damaged the use of potentially abundant Natural gas for Electricity generation in much of the Western world.
Were CO2 emissions causing Man-made climate change of real concern, it should be noted that burning gas as opposed to coal for generation producers significantly less CO2 per unit of energy. This point has been amply demonstrated in the USA where CO2 output per head has fallen significantly in recent years.
The reason for this is simple chemistry: the proportion of Carbon atoms in gas molecules is very substantially lower than is found in solid fossil fuels.
The extreme scale of the financial commitment to Weather Dependent Renewables is clear above. It must be noted that these figures only account for the current Weather Dependent Renewable installations: the costs will escalate further as additional Renewable installations are brought into service. But who in the West voted for these costs to be imposed for possibly “saving the Planet” ?
The Weather Dependent Renewables industry has deluded itself, its Green politcal supporters and the most importantly the public at large in Western nations, particularly by not admitting to detrimental impact of the massive capacity and thus performance / cost differentials between Weather Dependent Renewables and reliable fossil fuel or nuclear power generation.
It is often asserted that Weather Dependent Renewables are now competitive, without subsidies, with traditional electricity generation technologies and indeed the massive Renewables installations, (275 GW in Europe), can surpass conventional generation on rare occasions with a combination of appropriate weather conditions. But the Renewables industry conveniently forgets the capacity / load factor differences with traditional generation mean that overall throughout Europe their Renewables only produce about 1/5 – 1/4 of their stated Name Plate output values.
The business case for Weather Dependent Renewables is not viable without the massive subsidy support, the additional costs charged for electric power and advantageous business environments imposed by Government mandates.
Overall in the EU, using this cost model and taking into account real reported capacity percentages, Weather Dependent Renewable technologies in Wind and Solar PV in combination are about 8-9 times more costly in overnight capital costs and about 10 times more costly in terms of long-term running costs than using Gas-firing for generation, even when including the cost of fuel.
Certainly Onshore wind power is the least costly Renewable technology. In spite of its high performance capacity percentage ~30+% Offshore Wind Power is certainly the least economic overall. Even when the significant reduction of the manufacturing costs of the solar panels themselves is taken into account Solar PV is still relatively expensive in comparison to Onshore Wind power and even when compared to Nuclear power long-term.
These cost analyses do not take account of the intrinsic variability of output from Weather Dependent Renewables which make the power they produce much less useful and much more expensive to utilise. Their poor cost performance is compounded by a further major disadvantage that Weather Dependent Renewables are unpredictably unrelated and unrelatable to demand.
The post below estimates the costs of the July 2018 wind drought in terms of replacement battery storage. The costs involved to compensate for 13 days of wind drought, just in the UK, are vast, in the region of 750€billion.
The UK wind drought in July 2018 and the diurnal nature of Solar PV power is shown below. The Renewables component power was being generated from ~19GW of combined Wind power and ~12GW of installed Solar power: an installed Name plate total that well exceeds the monthly average demand. But the effects of the diurnal nature Solar power and the extensive wind drought in the early weeks of July 2017 below.
As the installations of Weather Dependent Renewables grow it is now clear that fossil fuel usage must grow alongside, if a reliable electricity supply is to be maintained.
In Europe according to this version of a cost model, this “Green virtue signalling” has already cost the populace of Europe about 500 €billion in excess capital expenditures and that extra cost will exceed 2.7 €trillion over the coming 60 year period.
By Government mandate relatively cheap and efficient economic fossils fuel generation is inevitably supplemented by expensive and unreliable Weather Dependent Renewables. This involves duplication of generation capacity when the costly part of the generation can only contribute to grid for about one fifth – one quarter of the time, and that contribution is unrelated and unrelatable to demand.
So one can only conclude that there is little point in installing Weather Dependent Renewables at all, save as a massively costly exercise in “Green virtue signalling”.
- because of their low capacity factors, their intermittency and their unreliability, the use of Weather Dependent Renewables are a substantially more costly forms of electrical generation than using conventional fossil fuels particularly Gas or even Nuclear energy in the long run.
- trying to control global temperature by reducing a relatively minor part of the world’s CO2 emissions with Weather Dependent Renewables in Western nations is a very expensive and truly ineffective fools errand.
- so one can only conclude that there is little point in installing Weather Dependent Renewables at all, except as a massively costly exercise in “Green virtue signalling”.
- overall the late Professor David Mackay said it all in his final interview: ie that by ignoring simple arithmetic, the use of Weather Dependent Renewable energy to try to power a developed country is
“an appalling delusion”
and he eventually admits that in the UK
“there really is no point in having wind power or solar power in the UK”