Comparing Performance and Costs of power generation technologies: 2020

Introduction

The Industrial Revolution and the exploitation of fossil fuels has provided and can still provide an ample supply of abundant energy.  Fossil fuels have advanced the quality of of life and the prosperity particularly of the Western world over the past 2 centuries.  But there remains a very large proportion of the Global population who are yet to see similar advances in their wellbeing.  Nonetheless, in spite of the rapid growth in the Global population there has still been a progressive decline in absolute poverty levels and climate related losses worldwide.

Green Thinking is now a major obstruction to the availability of abundant energy worldwide.  Western Nations try to demonstrate their “Virtue” by demonising Carbon Dioxide CO2, the essential Gas on which life depends, tackling their idea of a Climate emergency by promoting the concept of    Net Zero“.

Green Thinking

 

Real CO2 emissions reductions

The use of Weather-Dependent generation to effect CO2 emissions reduction is a fallacy, although it is superficially attractive because the fuel is nominally “free”.

The only seriously effective and well proven solutions to Man-made CO2 emissions reduction at scale are:

  • the use of Nuclear energy as in France ~-40% reduction since 1992:  France now has CO2 emissions / head lower than anywhere in the developed world and ~15% lower than the Global average.
  • the use of Natural gas substituting for Coal-fired power generation as has been achieved:
    • in the USA  ~-33% since 2000
    • as in UK ~-53% since 1990.

Screenshot 2021-09-04 at 11.45.22.png

Global Man-made CO2 emissions 1965 – 2020: BP data

But these real solutions to limiting Man-made CO2 emissions somehow always get rejected out of hand by those involved in Climate Change activism:  these solutions do not accord with the “Green religion”.

By way of example, the promotion and representation of Nuclear energy was specifically excluded from the upcoming major Climate conference, COP26.

But Western  demonstrable CO2 emissions reductions shown above were also achieved by massively offshoring many heavy industries from the Western world.  The consequent CO2 emissions from that manufacturing therefore still exist or are increased overall by exporting CO2 emissions to countries with the less onerous environmental concerns.

More recently as a result of the Covid effect in Western nations in 2020 their CO2 emissions were reduced.  The Covid emissions reduction effect can be expected to be rapidly reinstated in coming years.

Overall since 1990 worldwide Man-made CO2 emissions have increased ~+52%, even accounting for the 2020 Covid downturn.

The diagram below shows the proportions of CO2 emissions compared.

Screenshot 2021-12-22 at 11.59.16.png

Coal-firing results in about twice the CO2 emissions of Gas-firing:  this is the origin of the CO2 reductions achieved in the USA since 2000.  Biomass producing ~3.6 times the CO2 emissions of Gas-firing is particularly self-defeating.  In the UK and Germany this misguided use of imported Biomass has entirely negated any CO2 emissions savings that may have been achieved by the use of all other installed Weather-Dependent Renewables.

The contradictory Green policies to limit CO2 emissions

Considerations in this post

This post considers the following power generation technologies:

  • Onshore Wind
  • Offshore Wind
  • Solar PV on grid
  • Biomass
  • Gas-fired CCGT
  • Advanced Nuclear
  • Coal / Lignite
  • Hydro + Pumped.

This post examines the comparison between these power generation technologies from the following points of view:

  • Energy Return on Energy Investment, ERoEI
  • Mass of installations required for a comparable power output
  • Tonnage of non fuel CO2 emissions embedded in various generation technologies for a comparable power output
  • Cost comparisons between generation technologies
  • Excess expenditures on Weather-Dependent Renewables in Europe.

Energy Return on Energy Invested ERoEI

The abundance of available energy is the source of Man-kind’s advancement and wellbeing, the greater the excess the better.  Any power generation technology must return more energy to the system than it takes for its implementation and a great deal more to be truly viable.

ERoEI for Beginners

ERoEI is the ratio of the Energy output over Energy expanded to create and maintain the generation technology.  The diagram below shows the levels of excess energy required to support civilisation.  It is generally accepted that any ERoEI ratio for a particular power generation technology less than 7 is insufficient to maintain the minimum wellbeing of Mankind.  The greater the ERoEI ratio value above the economic threshold of 7 the better for the provision of abundant useful Energy for the benefit of civilisation and Man-kind.

Screenshot 2021-08-25 at 08.43.04.png

 

Screenshot 2021-12-22 at 11.57.54.pngThese results assume that energy storage is provided by Pumped Storage, the least costly form of Energy storage.  However the availability of Pumped Storage is severely limited by the configuration of local terrains

All other proposed means of grid scale Energy storage, in Batteries, are grossly more expensive and can only ever operate for the very short-term.  Note that conventional generation technologies at 90% productivity / capacity% have no need for ancillary storage:  their back-up energy storage is in their stockpiles of fuel on site or immediately available..u

In effect these results indicate that, even if cost effective storage were available, neither Weather-Dependent generators nor imported Biomass can ever produce sufficient useful excess power to support civilisation.  Accordingly all Weather-Dependent generation and Biomass are parasitic on other sources of power for their utilisation.  As they are further imposed upon the power grid they increase the likelihood of Grid failure.

(https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2020/06/Constable-Brink-of-Darkness.pdf)

Net Zero Wind: Britain saved by coal – at huge cost

Without accounting for storage to cover the unreliability and intermittency of Wind power both Onshore and Offshore may exceed the economic threshold, (ERoEI 7), on occasions but because of their unreliability they are still comparatively ineffective when compared with conventional generation technologies.

Weight of materials for power generation installations per unit of power output

Screenshot 2021-12-22 at 11.58.26.pngThe weight of the material involved to install generation technologies gives an indication of the necessary scale of engineering enterprise they require.  The bulk of the materials involved are concrete and steel:  the following comments clarify the reasons for the comparative materials requirement:

  • Onshore Wind:  requires massive concrete foundations that combined with its moderate productivity results in relatively high materials requirement.
  • Offshore Wind:  has higher productivity and is not dependent on massive concrete emplacements.  However the engineering requirements of installation and maintenance at sea are onerous and costly.
  • Solar PV on grid:  the low productivity of Solar energy in Europe and the widespread land use of the installations gathering this dilute, diurnally intermittent and distributed power source results in high material usage.
  • Biomass:  burning Biomass requires similar installation to conventional Coal-fired power.  But in addition, it requires installations for timber processing, drying, pelletisation and shipment.  This requires more extended installations both locally and overseas wherever the wood products are harvested.
  • Gas-fired CCGT:  the engineering resources necessary to use Natural Gas as a power source are minor in comparison with other generation technologies.
  • Advanced Nuclear:  involves more engineering works than classic Coal generation but not as much as Onshore Wind.
  • Coal / Lignite:  generation installations are similar to Biomass but the ancillary support infrastructure for local fuel sourcing are significantly lower.
  • Hydro + Pumped:  involves massive civil engineering works for its dams.

Non-fuel CO2 emissions embedded in various generation technologies per unit of power output

Screenshot 2021-12-22 at 11.58.47.png

  • Onshore Wind:  the embedded CO2 involved is accounted for by their the heavy but essential concrete foundations.
  • Offshore Wind:  does not require massive foundation but much more steel is involved.
  • Solar PV on grid:  the high CO2 emissions arise both from its low productivity, (~11%+ in EU(28)) and the excessive CO2 emissions from large scale Silicon chip manufacture.
  • Biomass:  burning Biomass requires similar installation to conventional Coal-fired power.  But with additional installation for timber processing, drying , pelletisation and shipment.  This requires more extended installations both locally and overseas wherever the wood product is harvested.
  • Gas-fired CCGT:  the embedded CO2 emissions for Natural Gas power generation are minor in comparison even with other conventional generation technologies.
  • Advanced Nuclear:  involves larger quantities of engineering materials than conventional generation.
  • Coal / Lignite:  installation of Coal-fired power is comparatively modest but not as limited as Gas-firing.
  • Hydro + Pumped:  involves massive civil engineering works with large quantities of mainly concrete for dams.

reference (https://spiral.imperial.ac.uk:8443/bitstream/10044/1/71248/10/EP_2018_JEPO-D-17-02472_ZKis_NPandya_RKoppelaar_ManuScript.pdf)

Cost comparisons between power generation technologies

There are continual assertions that Weather-Dependent power generation technologies have become cheap and cost effective.

The capital costs may be approaching parity when compared to current large scale Nuclear power installations.  But such assertions take no account of:

  • the low productivity and unreliability of Weather-Dependent generators
  • thus the resulting true cost of the power supplied to the Grid.

However Productivity / Capacity percentages are crucial, as can been see in the performance of UK and French Wind power throughout the period April – September 2021.Screenshot 2022-02-03 at 08.06.25.png

Screenshot 2022-05-15 at 09.38.19.png

The recent post below outlines a power generation costing model based on 2021 comparative data from the US  Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Comparative costing of Power Generation technologies

Screenshot 2022-02-01 at 07.42.34.png

That US  EIA sourced data is condensed and summarised below.

Screenshot 2022-02-11 at 17.08.26.png

This table assumes a modest service life of 40 years for all conventional power generation technologies, including Biomass.  Lower but reasonable service lives are assumed for Weather-Dependent Renewables, Wind and Solar power.  Their bare comparative capital costs are shown graphically below.

Screenshot 2022-05-15 at 09.39.04.png

It is essential to considering the productivity / capacity % of power technologies to be able to realistically  compare the effective costs of the power supplied to the grid:

  • Weather-Dependent generation Wind power and Solar PV in Europe only achieves an overall combined productivity of ~20%.
  • Dispatchable conventional generation and Biomass is counted at their full productivity / capacity potential of 90%, (only accounting only for maintenance).

This calculation thus avoids the effects of any Climate Change policy interference with the productivity of conventional generators.

By mandating Renewable Obligations by policy intentionally degrades the performance of conventional power technologies by giving preference to Weather-Dependent generators.

This policy mandate is one amongst several other Green-oriented support measures and financial subsidies for Weather-Dependent generation.

Such annually based data records the overall productivity of Weather-Dependent generation, the data does not in any way represent the scale of difficulties that the inherent intermittency and variability that Weather-Dependent Renewables inevitably introduce to managing the stability of the Grid.

The following graphic shows the scale of comparative effective costs when Weather-Dependent Renewable the annual values productivity / capacity % is taken into account.

Screenshot 2022-05-15 at 09.39.45.png

Of course if a power source is non-productive its costs will become virtually infinite.  However the sudden and precipitous unreliability of Weather-Dependent generation is better expressed when seen on a 5 minute to 5 minute basis as shown below for example in the month of April 2021.

Screenshot 2021-12-01 at 11.32.20.png

After the two peaks of Wind power output in Early April the subsequent low wind power output was the commencement of a six month long wind drought in Europe during  the summer of 2021.

 

 

Estimates of the excess costs of European Weather-Dependent energy generation over Gas-fired and Nuclear power technologies

In 2019 the installed European fleet of Weather-Dependent generators:

  • amounted to ~320 Gigawatts
  • produced as power output ~64 Gigawatts
  • at an overall productivity / capacity of ~20%
  • estimated capital cost ~600€billion.
  • estimated long-term, (40 year), cost~1,470€billion.

Weather-Dependent generation Solar PV and Wind power unreliably supplied about 20% of the European power in 2019.

Screenshot 2022-02-11 at 07.34.47.png

The equivalent power output could have been reliably provided for ~68€billion capital cost and ~150€billion long-term costs using Gas-fired power and ~480€billion capital and ~830€billion long-term using Nuclear power.

The excess costs of not using Gas-firing as opposed to Weather-Dependent Renewables amount to ~530€billion in capital and ~1,320€billion long-term, or 9-10 times more.

Screenshot 2022-02-11 at 07.35.18.png

The excess costs of not using Nuclear power as opposed to Weather-Dependent Renewables amount to ~120€billion in capital and ~650€billion long-term, or 1.2 – 1.8 times more.

However the sudden and precipitous unreliability of Weather-Dependent generators Wind and Solar becomes clearer when seen on a 5 minute to 5 minute basis as shown below for the UK example in the month of April 2021.

If a power source is non-productive, in effect its costs become virtually infinite.

Screenshot 2021-10-19 at 14.21.33.png

For consideration of the UK position see:

https://edmhdotme.wordpress.com/the-performance-of-uk-weather-dependent-renewables-2002-2019/

 

Cost comparisons with effective means of CO2 emissions reduction

The two main means of actually reducing CO2 emissions from Power generation are replacing Coal-firing by Gas-firing and by the use of Nuclear power.

The use of Gas-firing to provide the same level of power to the Grid is generally much cheaper the any Weather-Dependent generation or Biomass.  In capital cost terms Solar power is only marginally dearer, whereas Onshore wind power is only about twice the cost to install.  Offshore Wind power is significantly more costly 5 – 7 times on capital cost terms and 3- 4 times more costly respectfully.

It is only when their actual  productivity contributing power to the grid that true cost comparisons of the power supplied to the Grid can be made: these are summarised below.

Screenshot 2022-05-14 at 11.03.41.png

So, when not accounting for productivity, the US EIA comparative power generation costs for the installation and running of:

  • Onshore Wind power is roughly twice the cost of Gas-firing
  • Offshore Wind power is 5 – 7 times the cost of Gas-firing.
  • Solar Power is about 1 1/2 times the cost of Gas-firing

But taking into account productivity the installation and running of:

  • Onshore Wind power is ~7 times the cost of Gas-firing
  • Offshore Wind power is ~16-20 times the cost of Gas-firing.
  • Solar power is about ~10-12 times the cost of Gas-firing

https://edmhdotme.wordpress.com/a-2020-model-of-comparative-costings-for-power-generation-technologies/

Any assertion that “Renewables” are reaching cost parity with conventional power generation is patently false.

These comparative values show how the irrational political obsession with nominally reducing CO2 emissions, (UK at 1% of Global CO2 emissions), increases the costs and reliability of power generation for the Nation.

 

Conclusions

These points can be summarised as follows:

  • In ERoEI terms, Solar PV power and Biomass do not generate sufficient excess power to support society. As such they can only ever be a drain on the energy resources of any Nation opting by policy to use them.
  • Wind power both Onshore and Offshore might generate some excess power for society in ERoEI terms on occasions. But as they are non-dispatchable, variable, unreliable and intermittent, they require full duplication by other power generation technologies to provide consistent service, whenever they are unavailable.
  • In 2019 the combined productivity of Weather-Dependent Renewables across Europe EU(28) achieved just ~20%.
  • Gas-firing, Nuclear power and a diminishing amount of Coal / Lignite generation at a productivity of ~90% provided the essential power to maintain European society whenever Weather-Dependent Renewable energy failed.
  • measured in terms of their sheer mass:
    • Onshore Wind and Biomass require almost 20 times the scale of engineering installations than Gas-fired CCGT installations.
    • Onshore Wind power and Solar PV power results in Engineering installations about twice the size required by Nuclear power facilities.
    • Biomass requires about twice the size engineering installation as conventional Coal-firing.
  • measured in terms of the non-fuel CO2 embedded in the technologies for their manufacture:
    • Wind power has ~10 times the embedded CO2 of Gas-fired CCGT installations.
    • Solar power requires ~25 times the embedded CO2 of Gas-fired CCGT installations, the bulk of this is associated with overseas chip fabrication
    • Biomass requires about twice the embedded CO2 of Coal / Lignite.

It is to be hoped that the development of Small Modular Reactors, (SMR), using current fission technologies will in due course mean that Nuclear power can become much cheaper to install and more widely employed.  Fission power as an Energy source will become increasingly important if Fossil fuels become progressively depleted.

However, Fossil Fuel resources, if not maligned and negated by Climate Change alarmism, would be able to provide interim power and power for the developing world for several generations with Coal use at ever increasing levels.

Fission power as an Energy source will become increasingly important, if Fossil fuels ever become progressively depleted.  Thereafter, Fusion power with no concern for Nuclear waste might finally become viable.

As conventional generation installations become underused by Green policy, they have become unprofitable and thus either require subsidy support to maintain their operation and sustain Grid viability or are subject to closure.  Such closures seem to be a short-sighted but intended consequence of the Energy policies of Western Governments.

As such those policies are rendering the power supplies in Western nations more and more vulnerable.  That process of making power generation ever more unreliable, poses a real and existential danger to Western societies.  The immediate damage from the danger of loss of power supplies for Western societies is far in excess of any possible risk from Man-made Global Warming far in the future.

 

Estimated Costing implications:

In terms of costs, by way of example in 2019 the European Weather-Dependent Renewable fleet amounted to the installed European fleet of Weather-Dependent Renewables amounted to ~320 Gigawatts and produced as power output ~64 Gigawatts at an overall productivity / capacity of ~20%.

This level of power output amounted to ~20% of the total European power needs but the nominal Nameplate value of Weather-Dependent Renewables almost equalled the total European generation requirement.  So, in real terms the whole European fleet has been needlessly duplicated by comparatively unproductive Weather-Dependent generation.

  • according to these estimates the current European Weather-Dependent generation the fleet cost:
    • in capital costs of the European Renewables fleet is ~600€billion or
    • long-term, (40 year), costs of the European Renewables fleet is ~1,470€billion.
    • the ~64 Gigawatts power output could have been replaced by:
      • Gas-firing of ~68€billion in capital costs or ~140€billion long-term
      • Nuclear power of ~480€billion in capital costs or 650€billion long-term.
  • the excess costs therefore expended and wasted in Europe on Weather-Dependent generation in the name of Controlling the Climate to date in 2020 were:
    • Gas-firing ~530€billion in capital costs ~1,300€billion in 40 year long-term costs or
    • Nuclear power ~120€billion in capital costs ~650€billion in 40 year long-term costs.

However if Weather-Dependent generation is so unreliable as to be entirely non-productive for the extended periods, then the actual costs of the their power generation at those times should be regarded as being virtually infinite.

These estimates based on US  EIA comparative costings show the true scale of:

  • the massive fiscal damage.
  • the actual failures to curtail actual CO2 emissions.

achieved by the obsessions of “Green Thinking” by:

  • using regulation to effectively ban Fracking for Natural Gas in Europe, benefiting Russian Natural Gas exports.
  • the irrational demonisation and legislative obstruction of Nuclear power.
  • the use of imported Biomass for power generation.

The appalling delusion

The late Professor Sir David Mackay, (former chef scientific advisor of the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change), in a final interview before his untimely death in 2016 said that the concept of powering a developed country with Weather-Dependent “Renewable” energy was:

“Renewable Energy” was driven by an “appalling delusion”.

Screenshot 2022-01-28 at 08.10.15.png

At the time Professor David Mackay also said:

“there’s so much delusion, it’s so dangerous for humanity that people allow themselves to have such delusions, that they are willing to not think carefully about the numbers, and the reality of the laws of physics and the reality of engineering….humanity does need to pay attention to arithmetic and the laws of physics.”

and later in the same interview he said:

“if it is possible to get through the winter in the UK with low CO2 Nuclear and possibly with Carbon Capture and Storage, there is no point in having any Wind or Solar power at all in the UK generation mix.  This is especially so for Solar energy:  the UK is one of the darkest nations on earth and produces about 1/7th of the power output in winter as in the summer.”

The delusion has been perpetrated by people who have no understanding of the mathematics, engineering and practicalities of Energy technologies.

Would anyone sane ever buy a car costing up to 20 times the normal price that only works one day in five, when you never know which day that might be ?  And then insist that its technology is used to power the whole economy.

These simple results should raise serious questions for all emotionally based policies to avert Climate Change which are not supported by clear calculation.

https://www.manhattan-institute.org/green-energy-revolution-near-impossible

https://www.netzerowatch.com/content/uploads/2021/10/Prins-Net-Zero-National-Security.pdf?mc_cid=7a38710bf7&mc_eid=623cda4c83

The comparative figures above are underestimates of the true costs of mandating Weather-Dependent “Renewables”.  These comparative results only account for the cost comparisons for capital and running costs of the generation installations themselves and the actual electrical power generated accounting for their measured productivity capability of each generating technology.

There are however other Cost implications and CO2 emissions penalties of Weather Dependent “Renewables” not accounted here.

 

Geopolitical considerations

Subsequent to the outbreak of war and Russia’s invasion of  the Ukraine, it has now become clear that the wholesale imposition  of “Green / Net Zero Thinking” in the West is the successful outcome of a long standing fifth column operation supported by Russia and probably China over the last several years.

https://www.cfact.org/2022/05/06/china-and-russia-rejoice-at-americas-quest-to-go-green/#

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/19/russia-secretly-working-with-environmentalists-to-oppose-fracking

https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/december-2019/the-plot-against-fracking/

These undermining processes, aimed at damaging Western economies were fully recognised as a serious threat to the West by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen as long ago as 2014.  So, an excellent way to damage Western economies has been to render their power generation progressively more unreliable and more expensive.

This self-harming process has led to the incautious dependency of Germany and other European Nations on Russian energy supplies.  Europe and in particular Germany, is now wholly energy dependent on a supplier antagonistic to the West.  Those energy sales are funding Russia’s incursion into the Ukraine and enable the threats to other Nations in Western Europe.

This successful “Green / Net Zero Thinking” fifth column operation promoted the damaging activities of Putin’s convinced “useful idiots”, (Lenin’s term), in “environmental” Non-Government Organisations and Western academia:  these nominally “virtuous” and well meaning but damaging beliefs have been spread throughout Governments in the Western world.

Green Thinking has been imposed by Western Governments without popular understanding or mandate.

The ambitions of the vastly greater populations of the Developing World will be to continue to improve their well-being, particularly by exploiting their indigenous fossil fuel resources.  Western actions alone to control their own CO2 emissions, without full Global participation, could never have any influence at all over World Climate and could never save the World from CO2 induced “Man-made Climate Change”, even if it needed saving.

But Western Green Thinking and Net Zero Climate policies have already done massive and fruitless self-harm to Western economies and Western populations:  the damage is set to continue.