This note quantifies the actual, but limited scale of progress that has been made by Green-oriented thinking to influence electricity generation. Progress has been limited in spite of the massive heavily subsidised investments and legal commitments made by Western governments in their probably futile efforts to avert “Climate Change”.
This overview of six key nations involved in a transition to Green energy with proportional graphics actually show the minimal impact of Weather Dependent and Green mandated Renewables on Energy generation in six key Nations involved in Renewable transition.
The analysis covers:
- United Kingdom
Bases of analysis
The following six Nations probably represent the most important efforts to effect the Green electrical energy transition. These illustrations are intended to show the extent to which various electricity generation technologies are used by the following Nations:
- Germany: very heavily committed to Green thinking by die Energiewende, which is now coming to be seen as a hugely expensive policy error. The energy transition is now jeopardising the German economy.
- UK: is heavily committed to Green thinking by the 2008 Climate Change Act. Having voted for it en masse, UK politicians still seem ill-disposed to rectify their error by repealing the legislation. This is in-spite of the costs and dangers to the UK economy that the Act poses and the evidence of failure obvious in Germany and elsewhere such as South Australia and Ontario. In the UK the electrical generation margin is now less than ~5%: in a rational world any margin less than 20% should be regarded as an existential national emergency for any developed Nation.
- France: has the lowest CO2 emissions / head of any western Nation. It is largely reliant on nuclear power but with growing government mandated Renewables installations.
- USA: committed by Democratic administrations to the Climate Change and Green energy concept – this is changing significantly with the Trump presidency. Nonetheless the USA still has comparatively low proportions of power output from Renewables. Nonetheless since 2005 the USA has reduced its CO2 emissions from ~21 tonnes/head/year to ~17 tonnes/head/year, (by about 25%), This “success” has been enabled by the use of Fracked gas for power generation.
- China: signed up to the UN Paris accord but has no commitment to limit CO2 emissions till 2030. The main energy sources are coal and hydro power, ~86%. China still has a low proportional commitment of Weather Dependent Renewables. However China benefits from Western Green thinking as it provides the profitable manufacturing base for Solar power elements sold in the West and also provides most of the essential rare earth metals for Wind power magnet and Solar panel manufacture.
- India: signed up to the UN Paris accord but with no commitment to limit CO2 emissions till 2030, with a proportionally small commitment to Weather Dependent Renewables. The main energy sources are coal and hydro power, ~86%. At 1.7 tonnes/head/year India along with other developing nations has the lowest CO2 emissions worldwide and thus a concomitant poor provision of reliable electricity to much of their populations.
As well as from China from where no restriction can exist till 2030, there is the likelihood of major growth of CO2 emissions in the foreseeable future from India and throughout the underdeveloped world, (mainly from burning Coal).
To bring the populations of India and the underdeveloped world, (~3.8 billion people, 53% of world population), to the current global average level of CO2 emissions would imply increasing the level of CO2 emissions from 1.7 tonnes/head/year to 4.4 tonnes/head /year, i.e. by a further ~+30%.
This article uses creditable published data from 2015 and 2016 of:
- the actual electrical output in Terawatt hours in each Nation
- installed Gigawatts of each generation technology in each Nation.
These data are combined with data on comparative costs provided by the US Energy Information Administration on both overnight capital costs and estimated long-term running costs of each technology.
The idea here is not to have precise predictions but to visualise an indicative proportionality for the different power generation technologies in each Nation.
For the sake of indicative comparisons the electrical generation technologies are re-combined into the six generation types under consideration:
The cost parameters as extracted from the data published by the US EIA are shown below:
Note: throughout the US EIA US dollar values are used as the unified comparative basis. As the UK has a uniquely large commitment to offshore wind installations different, more costly capital and log-term cost parameters are used in its special case.
Comparisons between the six key Nations have been made on the basis of the following four parameters:
- reported electrical power output produced by each generation technology in 2015 as Terawatt hours per year.
- the reported Gigawatts nameplate capacity of each generating technology as installed in 2015.
- the overnight capital costs of the current generating installations in $bn: using the overnight capital costs comparative data provided by the US EIA according to the size of generating installations.
- simple estimates of the 60 year long-term cost of the current fleet of generating installations in $bn: combining the likely 60 year capital replacement costs with both fixed and variable operation and maintenance costs, including any current fuel costs. Further future generating installations whether renewable or conventional are not considered for this comparative analysis.
The aggregated data for the six Nations considered is shown below as percentages / proportional values.
This aggregated diagram summarises the combined percentage values for all six nations, showing an overall analysis between Green energy and conventional generation:
- green energy, (Solar, Wind power and Biomass), accounts for only about 87% of the electricity produced.
- the actual installations were about 16% of the total in terms of installed Gigawatts
- the capital costs amounted to about 17% of the total.
- the long-term costs for green energy approached 25% of the long-term generation expenditure.
- the burning of fossil fuels amounts to some 65% of electricity generation but about 52% of the longterm cost.
- the 1.2% power contribution from Solar energy is minuscule in spite of the massive subsidies and the support of Western governments and the ongoing costs of existing world installation of more than 10% of the long term generating costs.
- wind power produces almost 4% of total power output but costs more like 10% of the long-term generating investment.
- overall Hydro power and Nuclear energy make up ~26% of the combined generation capability and ~23% of the long term costs. Unlike weather dependent Renewable technologies these conventional technologies are reliable, normally dispatchable but do not emit CO2.
- burning fossil fuels account for some 66% of all global generation and 52% of the longterm costs, including their fuel costs.
- overall the use of gas-firing is currently limited to about 12% of all generation. This is in spite of its capital costs and long term running costs including fuel being comparatively cheap.
If the reduction of CO2 emission were a desirable objective, the use of gas for electricity generation is very effective, as has already been shown in the USA. The spread of the Fracking revolution means that gas for electricity generation is likely to be available throughout the world at reasonable prices for the foreseeable future.
Actual power production by generation technology
If the actual levels of power production are compared the insignificance of Weather Dependent Renewables, particularly of Solar Energy and the preponderance of coal fired generation worldwide and particularly in China, the USA and India becomes clear.
The comparatively minor achievement of Weather Dependent Renewables is starkly obvious. This is particularly marked by the inconsequential electrical output of Solar power.
The comparative insignificance of the generation capacity in Europe and the preponderance of electrical in China and now to a lesser extent in the USA is shown below. The hatched orange segment for Solar Energy is virtually invisible on this graphic.
However once these values are related to population there is more clarity. This graphic also shows the comparison between power generation achieved / head in act of these key Nations.
The proportionally minimal contribution by solar power except in Germany can be seen. Interestingly there is virtually no contribution from Solar or wind power in China and India.
This graph shows the disproportate scale particularly of the long term commitments made to supporting Weather Dependent Renewables both in Germany and the UK. The higher long-term costs in the UK are determined by its substantial commitment to Offshore wind power.
Percentage proportional breakdown of generation in individual Nations
Four further diagrams show the extent of differing detail proportions of generation technologies on a percentage breakdown basis. These charts show the proportions of the various commitments to generation technologies in the individual Nations.
These graphs show:
- even in Germany where the massive investment in the “die Energiewende” only about 20% of the electrical input is achieved by Weather Dependent Renewable technologies.
- capital costs of Green energy in Germany is already about 50% of generating commitment.
- long-term costs of Green energy in Germany is already amounting to about 60% of generating commitment.
- in the UK in spite of the 2008 Climate Change Act, Solar energy makes about 3% contribution to the grid and Wind power contributes about 11%.
- capital costs of green energy in the UK about 42% of generating commitment
- long-term costs of green energy in the UK being more than 52% of generating commitment.
- the high proportion long-term cost for wind power are result of the UK’s heavy commitment of Offshore wind power with its high maintenance cost.
- the very limited output achieved with Solar energy in the UK spite of the provision of massive government subsidies and the government mandated trebling of UK Solar installations 2013 – 2015.
- where Solar energy does make some contribution in the UK and Germany its long term costs are very significant roughly amounting to ~15% and ~25% of all future electricity generation costs respectively.
- it is an anachronism that the two European countries, Germany and the UK, that have chosen to opt for substantial Solar power are both in Northerly regions with the most adverse overcast weather. Their use of solar power results in very low measured capacity factors of resulting in less than 9% of the Solar nameplate values installed.
- there is a continuing dependence on coal firing for base load power in Germany, the UK and the USA.
- there is developing and continuing major dependence on the use of Coal in China and India.
- the extent of the penetration of Nuclear Energy in France is remarkable and is one of the country’s industrial successes. It results in a Nation with the lowest CO2 emissions in the Developed world.
Over the past 20 years very significant sums have been invested by Western nations in efforts to de-carbonise electricity generation. The government efforts in this direction have included massive financial subsidies and legislative measures to give preferential access and increased compensation for “Renewable Energy”.
These measures have manipulated and distorted the energy markets of Western nations.
But as was clearly stated by the late Prof David Mackay FRS, the whole concept of powering a developed country with Weather Dependent Renewables for electricity generation is “an Appalling delusion”.
The problem, which is unacknowledged or judiciously ignored by “Green thinking”, is that all “Weather Dependent Renewables”:
- are inherently very diffuse sources of electrical power
- are unreliable sources of power because:
- they are intermittent and/or unpredictable
- they are non-dispatchable, (they cannot be called on to supply power when required).
The outcome of these blatant disadvantages of Weather Dependent Renewables is that their capacity factors actual output / nameplate capacity are low:
- Onshore wind power 18% – 25%
- Offshore wind 25% – 35%
- Solar Energy 8% – 12%
The result is that power produced by Weather Dependent Renewables is intrinsically less useful and thus less valuable to the grid than electrical power that can be dispatched to meet demand. On the other hand as Renewable Energy needs extraordinary supportive measures and substantial subsidies to exist all.
Weather Dependent Renewable power, in spite of being of less value, is thus in effect much more costly for consumers. In addition, as it is impossible to store electricity at any meaningful scale, it is essential to ensure that sufficient back-up power resource is available to instantaneously match grid demand.
And as Professor Mackay also pointed out, if there is sufficient power capacity on hand to meet demand, when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow particularly in winter, then there is very little point in investing a second time in more costly, less effective Weather Dependent Renewables, as well as their essential back-up power generation and then giving Renewables preferential access to supply the grid.
So in any logical, engineering-oriented world there would be no call for Weather Dependent Renewables at all.
If one were to accept the publicity and propaganda from the Renewable Energy industry one would think that the massive investment in Renewables was a great success. It has only really been a profitable success for the promoters of these Green energy solutions, but certainly not for electricity consumers whose costs have increased substantially. And when viewed from cradle to grave, the effort to install / impose Renewables has probably not actually reduced CO2 emissions to any worthwhile extent at all.
However the real question that is still not being asked about this vast and burdensome investment is:
- “what is the investment actually achieving ?”
- “if the investment can reduce future temperatures, is that a really necessary and worthwhile objective ?”
In spite of the massive promotion, subsidy and investment, overall it is clear that Weather Dependent Renewables only make a marginal contribution to powering the six nations reviewed here:
- Solar ~1.2%
- Wind power, Onshore and Offshore ~4.6%
However the long-term costs of supporting the current level of installations of Weather Dependent Renewables (Wind Power and Solar) will absorb very substantial portions of all expenditures on future power generation:
- Germany 54%
- the UK 43%
whereas elsewhere the long-term costs are comparatively marginal in:
- China 17%
- India 14%
As even committed Nations, such as the UK and Germany, are now revising their support for Weather Dependent Renewables, it is unlikely that their ambitious targets for substantially powering their Nations with Renewable Energy can ever be met.
In proportional terms, Solar power is virtually non-contributive in France, the USA China and India.
In contradiction to the publicity about major advances of Renewable Energy in China and India their penetration still remains minimal in proportional terms.
Biomass produces ~2% of the power fro ~4% of the longterm costs. This power input of course includes the use of clear-felled mature woodland from eastern America for burning at the Drax power plant in the UK . The CO2 output from the heavily subsidised burning of biomass for electricity generation is counted as being Renewable and therefore is not considered as contributing to the overall atmospheric CO2 burden.
The major long-term commitment to nuclear power that has been made in France, results in the lowest CO2 emissions economy in the developed world.
The growth of Coal Firing is likely to continue as the underdeveloped nations and India increase the supply of reliable power to their populations. These Nations amount to some 53% of world population. Coal burning in the developing world and India would inevitably add about +30% to total world CO2 emissions just to attain the current average level of CO2 emissions/head, (an increase from 1.7 to 4.2 tonnes/head/year).
The extensive use of fracking and gas-firing in the USA has over the recent past substantially eroded coal-firing as the preferred electrical power generation fuel. Fracking has at the same time resulted in a major, (~25%), reduction of CO2 emissions in the USA since 2005.
The advantages of fracking and gas-firing for power generation have not yet been introduced to the developing world.