“A billion here, a billion there, suddenly you’re talking real money”
This post estimates of the additional costs being incurred over Gas-firing for electricity generation that are being spent and will continue long-term to support installations of Weather Dependent Renewables in Western economies.
Thus these calculations estimate a significant part of the capital and future costs of “Green Virtue Signalling” to the West.
Weather Dependent Renewables are both more expensive to install and 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 overspends show the impact of the low capacity factors achieved by Wind Power and Solar PV as well as the additional costs of installing Renewables.
The table above puts a value on the excess costs that are projected to install and support for Weather Dependent Renewables in Europe (28) and the USA, ostensibly to control global climate change.
The long-term costs assume that the Renewable installations will continue to be run, serviced or replaced for 60 years; about equivalent to the service life of a Nuclear plant. But in addition there are also significant other costs not included in these estimates that arise from using Weather Dependent Renewables, including:
- their intermittency
- their non-dispatchability
- the dilute and variable energy sources being harvested
- the dispersed locations of Renewable installations.
Using recent, 2017, updates to the costs estimates for Weather Dependent Renewables available from the US Energy Information Administration this post makes estimates of the excess cost differences in capital costs and long-term costs between the Renewables installations in the EU(28) and the USA and using Gas-firing for electricity generation.
There is an unfounded assumption that employing of Weather Dependent Renewables can have a worthwhile influence on the climate. If that influence is marginal, these extra expenditures will have been made to no useful purpose and imposed 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 scale of the surplus expenditures made and committed to date shows the level of financial waste in the name of “Green virtue signalling” with no popular mandate and with a dubious assumption of benefit in the distant future, if at all.
The costing model
The US Energy Information Administration published the table below in 2017. This recent 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 to be achieved 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 for the three types of Weather Dependent Renewables, Gas-firing and Nuclear generation, noting EU(28) capacity factors.
- for the sake of these indicative calculations the purchasing power of the US$ and the Euro are considered equivalent.
- as of 2017 there were no significant installations of Offshore Wind power in the USA.
- although it is clear that Gas-firing is certainly the cheapest form of power generation available, the results of similar calculations for Nuclear power are included here.
- a 60 year long-term view is taken to give a direct comparison with the probable service life of a Nuclear installation.
- 90% capacity for Gas-firing and Nuclear generation are assumed, both technologies are capable of giving that level of sustained dispatchable output.
When their measured capacity in the European context is checked they may well report significantly lower capacity levels, but this will only be as a result of the mandatory acceptance of Renewable input in accordance with Government dictat.
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.
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. The long-term (60 year) cost comparisons in the EU(28) context:
- at 20.4% capacity Onshore wind is ~7 times more costly than Gas-firing
- at 31.0% capacity Offshore wind is ~17 times more costly than Gas-firing
- at 11.4% capacity Solar PV is ~14 times more costly than Gas-firing
- Offshore wind is ~5 times more costly than even Nuclear in the long-term.
The following chart shows the reality of cost comparison when accounting for the actual productivity (capacity percentages) of the capital and long-term costs.
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 is extremely competitive even when set against Onshore wind power and the substantial long-term costs of both Offshore wind and Solar PV.
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 Renewable 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 population 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. But they do give a basic low 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 make the unsupported assertion that that:
“Man-made Global Warming is caused by burning fossil fuels and its is bound to be catastrophic”.
That dogma should be 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 CO2 emission. This is particularly due to the use of lignite and coal in Germany to compensate for the closure of their Nuclear fleet.
Combined the EU(28) and the USA account for about a quarter of there world CO2 emissions as reported by BP.
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 diminishing and limited.
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.
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 is more like 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.
Using the cost model above this 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 roof 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 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 excess costs to those states using Solar PV power are substantially higher than those States limiting themselves to wind power.
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 for 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 in Western Nations. That sabotage, mainly benefitting Gasprom and Russia 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 support of Green NGO’s has been successful but perhaps a realisation of this subversion 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 achieving 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. 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 public at large 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 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. 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 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.
Like this post this comment below estimates the costs of the July 2018 wind drought in terms of replacement battery storage. The costs involved in compensating 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 total that well exceeds the monthly average demand.
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 would 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”.
If these calculations are close to the right ballpark, this post confirms that the pursuit of Weather Dependent Renewables to provide power for any developed economy is essentially a very expensive and truly ineffective fools errand.
To quote the late Professor David Mackay “an appalling delusion“.