The Weather Dependent Renewables industry has deluded itself, its Green political supporters and the public at large by not admitting to detrimental impact of the massive capacity and thus cost differentials between Weather Dependent Renewables and reliable fossil fuel or nuclear power generation.
This post is concerned with the three main forms of Weather Dependent Renewable Energy in the European Union:
- Wind Power Onshore
- Wind Power Offshore
- On grid Photovoltaic Solar Power.
These technologies amount to the bulk of all installed Weather Dependent Renewable Electricity generation in the EU.
An estimate of the cost differentials in capital and long-term costs is made between traditional power generation and Weather Dependent Renewables which shows the scale of the financial commitments already made to the use of Green energy in Europe.
It gives a quantified guess using up to date costing as released by the US EIA of the excess costs of Green “virtue signalling” over using Gas-firing for electricity generation.
The estimates of current capital costs in Europe amount to about 550 €billion of which ~490 €billion are excess costs over Gas-firing. Maintaining just the current 2017 European Weather Dependent Renewables installations in operation for the coming 60 years is estimated to cost in the region of 1600 €billion of which ~1450 €billion are them excess costs over Gas-firing.
A comparison is made with the development of Weather Dependent Green energy in the USA and Europe.
The production and cost differentials discussed here do not account for the difficulties that arise from the inherent unreliability of using Weather Dependent Renewables as a National power source.
In the words of the late Professor David Mackay trying to harness the essentially dilute energy sources of Wind and Solar PV power was “an appalling delusion”.
This post uses the reported measures of the Name Plate values of Weather Dependent Renewable installations and their achieved power output in annual time series data set since 2008. It thus provides correct comparisons of the efficacy, (Capacity percentages / Load factors) of Weather Dependent Renewables as they have been reported by the Renewables promoting EurObserver’ER organisation, funded by the European Union.
The Capacity percentage or Load factor of any power generating installation is the actual electrical output in Gigawatts (GW) achieved annually and contributed to the grid divided by the nominal maximum Name Plate values. Name plate values are given in Gigawatts (GW) as installed and their actual power output in Gigawatthours/year reported by EurObserv’ER is converted to equivalent Gigawatts (GW) for the calculation.
(The conversion is simple: divide the EurObserv’ER reported Gigawatt hours / year by the number of hours in a year, (365*24 = 8,760).
To give an idea of scale, a large conventional fossil fueled power station has a full capacity factor of about 90% and is rated at about 1 Gigawatt. The maximum demand in the UK is in the region of 45GW). At 90% capacity a 1GW traditional power plant will produce ~8,000 GWhr / year.)
When announcements are made about Weather Dependent Renewable Energy installations, they are reported as the full Name Plate rating and then often disingenuously as the number of homes that could be supplied at their full level of power output. Such announcements are always exaggerated: the question of Capacity Percentages / Load Factors are not fully accounted and explained.
So Renewable Energy announcements assume erroneously that the wind blows all the time at a reasonable speed and that the sun shines overhead 24 hours/day.
But Weather Dependent Renewable Energy output is crucially dependent on intermittent, unreliable and essentially dilute energy sources:
- for wind, the vagaries of the weather
- for solar, the vagaries of the weather in combination with the latitude, the time of day and the season, (Solar PV is about 9 times less effective in winter than in the summer)
Thus the useful electrical output achieved by Weather Dependent Renewables is very substantially less that the Name Plate rating of the installation.
Accordingly in 2017 combined Weather Dependent Renewable Energy throughout the EU was only contributing less than one fifth of its nominal Name Plate capacity to the grid. The capacity factor of Solar PV in most of Europe is never much above 10% and Onshore Wind power rarely exceeds 25%.
Inevitably the power produced by Weather Dependent Renewables is un-coordinated with the timing of the demand for electricity. In Europe peak electricity demand usually occurs on winter evenings when Solar power generation is non-existent and when weather patterns can radically reduce wind speeds across much of Europe: anticyclonic conditions can often occur widely particularly in Winter. Add to that, there can be no functional coordination between the timing to the Weather Dependent Renewable electrticity production and a National demand for electricity. The adverse cost performance effects of the unreliable timing of the power contribution to the grid is not considered here.
However with the Government insistence on the mandatory obligation to use Renewable power if and when available, reliable traditional power generators become inefficient to run, underutilised and thus forced to be unprofitable.
If the electrical grid is not going too to fail, in effect, Green oriented Government mandates effectively ensure that the generating capacity has to be installed twice over, once for the Renewables at low efficiency and at significant extra cost and again for reliable generation to cover for the occasions when Weather Dependent Renewables do not produce power.
When viewed from the engineering viability of a nation’s electrical supply grid, without Green determination to try to reduce CO2 emissions and resulting Government intervention, Weather Dependent Renewable Energy generation would never be considered rationally as part of the electrical generating mix.
A simple model for comparative costing is used. It combines recent published overnight capital costs and long term maintenance costs from the US Energy Information Administration (US EIA), the installed Name Plate values for Renewables in the EU and their reported power output to arrive at comparative figures for the realistic costs of Weather Dependent Renewable power output achieved. The results are measured in €billion / Gigawatt (€bn / GW). A comparison can then be made with the costs of Gas-firing, including fuel, for power generation. When the capacity / load factors are taken into account, these are considerably less than the overall costs of Weather Dependent Renewables.
Traditional methods of electricity generation using Fossil Fuels particularly or Nuclear Power are not subject to the vagaries of the weather and can produce electricity continuously, whenever needed. So crucially traditional forms of electricity generation are reliable, non-intermittent and dispatchable to meet demand: those sources thus provide a much more valuable service to the grid and electricity consumers.
Without the Government mandates and financial subsidies to support Green thinking, the Weather Dependent Renewable Energy industry is not a viable business. The Renewable Energy industry could not exist without its Government mandated subsidies, consumption mandates and preferential feed-in tariffs. There is growing evidence that as the support for Renewables from Government diminishes so the suppliers and subsidy recipients go out of business.
Government action and decisions have mandated that there will be both the substantial extra costs for electricity generation and the probability of supply disruption. These are serious burdens on power suppliers and on both domestic and industrial electricity consumers. As the part played by Weather Dependent Renewable Energy grows, so those cost burdens and the risks to reliability will continually increase.
So in summary, Weather Dependent Renewable Energy is both:
- very expensive for what they produce and
- at the same time wholly unpredictable and unreliable.
Weather Dependent Renewables development in Europe (28)
The total Renewables output to the grid amounts to a contribution of ~53 GW out of the European total requirement of ~500 GW or ~10% of the need. But in order to achieve this level of contribution to the European grid about five times the Name Plate rating of ~275 Gigawatts has to be installed.
Over the period from 2008 the EU(28) average capacity percentages/load factors achieved are:
- Onshore Wind 21.2%
- Offshore Wind 28.4% in the UK
- Solar PV 11.1%
- Overall average capacity 18.0%
European Countries considered
EurObserver’ER publish their Renewable Energy “Barometers” for each type of Renewable generation annually, for example, see:
A limited number of EU Countries are considered here. In total they amount to about 80% of the European fleet of Weather Dependent Renewables. The scale of their installations and the commitment to Weather Dependent Renewables measured as GW / million of population is sumarised below.
- United Kingdom
Collating the data from the “EuroObserv’ER Barometers” a time series data set of the cumulative installations has been assembled for each year 2008 – 2017. The 2017 example of the data collated for six different countries is shown below.
The EurObserver’ER data has a deficiency, although the data set notes separately the amounts of Onshore and Offshore wind power as installed, the data does not distinguish between the output they produce. Accordingly an estimate of that output has been made by optimistically assuming that all Offshore wind power in the EU has similar historic capacity performance as has been measured in the UK.
The UK Renewable Energy Foundation produce separate local UK information and this data has been employed to make this assessment. This may well amount to an overestimate particularly in 2015, when the UK achieved remarkably high and unrepeated Offshore capacity results approaching 40%. See:
These measured capacity percentages for the period since 2008 are considerably lower than the optimistic UK government capacity percentages / load factors reported in their recent publication: See.
Germany is a world the leader in the installation of Weather Dependent Renewables with about 36% of the total EU(28) fleet in 2016. Germany has roughly equal installations of Onshore Wind power and Solar PV. As Germany is a Northerly country with cloudy weather conditions it is a poor candidate for Solar PV power. In spite of its more recent installation of Offshore Wind power the performance of Solar PV is reflected by its poor overall Weather Dependent Renewable capacity percentage of only 16.9% by 2017.
In spite of the fact that Germany has the highest European penetration of Weather Dependent Renewables at 1.21GW/million people, Germany’s efforts at “Die Energiewende” are failing because Germany’s CO2 emissions are now rising inspite of all the expenditures on Weather Dependent Renewables and in addition the German Electrical Grid is no longer fully reliable. See:
The table below summarises the data for Germany in 2017.
A recent study estimates that the German Renewable Energy cost up until 2025 will be about 520 €bn. See:
accordingly it would seem that the above 60 year cost estimate of ~565€bn is an underestimate. Nonetheless it would seem to validate the costs modelled here as being in the right ballpark and thus useful for comparative purposes.
It appears that changes in the subsidy structure and a reduction of feed-in tariffs by a quarter have reduced installation of German Solar PV from ~7.5 GW in 2012 to about 0.6 GW in 2017. This change in the subsidy support environment has resulted in most of the large German Solar PV providers going out of business and already a loss of jobs in the sector of ~70% by 2017. See:
It would also seem that a similar situation is rapidly arising for the massive German committment to Wind power as its subsidy committments expire and the older turbines are no longer profitable as they reach the end of their 20 year subsidy life. See:
Spain has about 10% of the EU(28) Renewables fleet. Spain was an early adopter of Weather Dependent Renewables but its installations stabilised in about 2012 and have shown little growth since.
Some reports attribute the difficulties of the Spanish economy to its early insistence on taking on Renewables with their consequential financial costs for support and subsidies. Even in its Southerly position its Solar PV installations stabilised by 2012. This has resulted eventually in a good overall capacity performance of about ~23%.
The penetration of Renewables in Spain is quite high but still at about half the level of Germany at 0.61GW/million population.
The UK now has about 11% of the EU(28) Renewable fleet. The UK has taken a mixed approach with all three forms of Weather Dependent Renewables and it has pioneered the extensive use of Offshore Wind Energy. But since 2013 it has also substantially grown its committment to Solar PV installations, which now match its installation of Onshore Wind power.
Like Germany, the UK has a Northerly situation and dull adverse weather for Solar PV: Solar PV power is 9 times less effective in the winter than in the summer. Thus the UK is one of the least favourable European contexts for Solar power. Nonetheless there has been excessive commitment to Solar PV power, trebling the scale of installations in the period 2013 – 2015. according to this model, the approximate capital expenditure on Solar PV power between 2013 and 2017 has been ~24 €bn with a likely long-term cost of ~40 €bn.
Specifically this gross level of expenditure has been due to the irrational influence of Ed Davey as the then Secretary of State for Energy with his attractive subsidy backing and very active promotion for Solar PV.
In the UK Solar installations now match the scale of Onshore wind power. But the capacity / load factors for UK Solar PV energy is only about 10%. And Solar energy can never contribute at all at peak load times on winter evenings.
At an overall capacity level of ~20% the unwarranted increase in Solar power has effectively wiped out the capacity advantages of the UK’s use of Offshore Wind power.
The massive commitments to Solar PV energy were made against strenuous internal advice from DECC. This was clearly stated by the late Prof David Mackay in a final interview before his untimely death in 2016. Even though Prof Mackay was a believer in man-made CO2 causing warming, his eventual view was that to try to power a developed country such as the UK with Weather Dependent Renewable energy was:
“an appalling delusion”.
As he also said at the time:
“There’s so much delusion, it’s so dangerous for humanity that people allow themselves to have such delusions, that they are willing not to 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.”
At 0.49 GW/million population the penetration of Renewables in the UK is less than half the level of Germany.
As a Southerly nation Italy has taken a different approach to Spain and emphasised the use of Solar PV power with massive installations in the period 2010 – 2013. Italy from 2010 onwards rushed to install Solar PV and now has twice the Solar PV power when compared to its Wind generation. This rush to install Solar PV has moderated since 2014. The installation of Solar PV has resulted, as with Germany, in a relatively low capacity factor of ~17% overall.
At 0.49 GW/million population the penetration of Renewables in Italy is high but still at less than half the level of Germany.
Logically, it is incredible that France has decided to try to avoid CO2 emissions by the installation of Renewables at all. France has the lowest CO2 emissions in the developed world resulting from its long standing use of Nuclear energy for electricity generation. See:
So far France has no comittment to Offshore generation and reasonably at ~8% of the European fleet has been a relativley slow to take on Weather Dependent Renewables. With the new Macron government this situation may be about to change. But in the French context of very low CO2 emissions / head such a development can only represent pointless “virtue signalling”. CO2 emissions in France have recently shown an increase.
At 0.34 GW/million population the penetration of Renewables in the France is less than third the level of Germany.
Even though Denmark only has ~2.4% of the European Renewables fleet, it is included here as it was one of the real pioneers particularly in installing wind based Weather Dependent Renewables, developing a manufacturing industry around its experience. At a capacity level overall of ~25% its industry is one of the best performers. However Denmark has stabilised its Offshore wind installations since 2013. Since 2012 it has also installed some Solar PV generation, progressively those installations will degrade its overall Renewable perormance in this cloudy Northerly country.
Denmark has a very high penetration of Weather Dependent Renewables at a similar level to Germany at 1.13 GW/million people. Like Germany, Denmark has some of the highest electricity prices in the world.
Modelling Costs and Performance
A simple cost model for Weather Dependent Renewable generation technologies is shown here to compare the cost of power production between Gas-fired generation and Weather Dependent Renewables. It is based on the following:
- Overnight Capital Cost information from the US EIA, as $bn / Gigawatt
- The data on installations and power output from the US. EIA to 2016
- the assumption that the purchasing power of the US $ and the Euro are roughly equivalent
- assumptions about the probable service life of different Generation types compared to the 60 year service-life of a Nuclear plant
- estimates of the probable costs of long-term capital replacement according to service-life
- an estimation of operation and maintenance (O+M) costs as indicated in the 2017 tables provided by US EIA, keeping the current installed level Weather Dependent Renewables running for the coming 60 year period.
- fixed O+M costs expressed as $ / KiloWatt / year
- variable O+M costs including fuel for Gas-firing measured in $ / MegaWatt hour
This model is not intended to be precise but can give an indication of the scale of costs and the comparison of financial performance of the Renewables involved. The variables used are believed to be conservative. It should be noted that these figures are just indicative as comparative costings. They do not account for:
- the dispatch-able back up generation capacity essential for whenever Weather Dependent Renewable power is not available
- the extended distribution networks required because Renewables are often located well away from the location of actual demand
- the increased costs imposed to run the grid to account for Renewables intermittency and unpredictability
The above assumptions indicate in bold the resulting values of costs / GW produced.
Combining these values with the actual EU(28) installations in 2017 gives the following results.
The 2017 model for the EU(28) results in:
- the total reported Renewables installation of some 275GW
- a reported gross power output contributed to the European grid of ~53GW.
- an estimated capital cost of the 2017 level of Weather Dependent Renewable installations of ~0.5 €trillion
- the long-term additional costs over 60 years of ~1.4 €trillion.
- 53GW of reliable electrical output could be provided with a capital investment of ~57 €billion in Gas-fired generation with 60 year running costs amounting to ~154 €billion.
The present excess capital cost of the commitment to “climate saving by CO2 reduction” Renewables in Europe therefore amounts to close to 500 €bn with a likely long-term cost differential to maintain those Renewables of ~1.4 €trillion.
Or alternatively the 500 €billion overnight capital cost investment already made in Europe for Weather Dependent Renewables is close to the investment required to fully re-equip the whole ~550+GW fleet of European generation with Gas-fired installations.
The crucial cost question is the value in terms of €bn / GW truly generated by Renewables and supplied to the grid, accounting for the actual capacity effectiveness of each generation technology and the likely 60 year long term cost / GW. These can best be compared for the whole EU(28) with the use of Gas-firing for electrical generation to give the same achieved power output is shown below.
Overall the combined Weather Dependent Renewables fleet in Europe cost on average 10 €bn/GW to install and a further 30 €bn/GW to run for 60 years.
Thus the excess additional costs attributable to the use on Weather Dependent Renewables in Europe according to this simple model amounts to ~490 €bn in capital expenditures and ongoing costs if they are to be sustained operating for the coming 60 years of ~1400 €bn.
Comparisons of Weather Dependent Renewables in the USA and Europe
The diagrams above point out the differences between the USA and Europe as follows:
- overall capacity percentage achieved in Europe is a third lower than in the USA
- the reported performance of Onshore Wind power in the USA is much higher than in Europe regularly achieving more than 30% as opposed to ~20% in Europe. For comparative reference see UK capacity results: see
- the US EIA assumption that all Solar PV power has a capacity of 11.4% closely matches the levels achieved in Europe as a whole at ~12%
- Europe has installed Renewables at a rate of ~0.50 GW/million population whereas the USA is lower at 0.38 GW/million population
- the European Weather Dependent Renewables installation at 256GW is substantially larger that the USA at 118GW but the USA output is not proportionally smaller because of the greater reported effectiveness of USA Onshore Wind power. Even the increased use and performance of costly Offshore power in Europe does not compensate for that differential.
- arising from the significantly improved Onshore wind capacity factors in the USA the overall performance in the USA is substantially better than that achieved in Europe. 6 – 7 times more costly than Gas-firing in the USA was opposed to 9 – 10 times more costly in Europe.
Renewable Energy Cost Effectiveness
The comparative cost effectiveness in terms of €bn/GW, of the different forms of Weather Dependent Renewables when taking full account of their capacity differentials is shown below.
The detailed calculations for each of the subject countries have been completed and are dependent on the mix of Renewables decided upon by different National administrations. In summary they each perform in comparison to Gas-firing as shown below. The comparative cost situation can also be expressed as the excess additional costs over using Gas-firing incurred by each European country according to this costing model are as follows:
So a current estimated cost of “virtue signalling” by installing Renewables in Europe to limit CO2 emissions is close to 490 €billion in capital costs and 1450 €billion long-term.
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.
When assessing the cost comparisons with traditional forms of generation and asserting that Renewables are now competitive with traditional generation technologies, 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 of their stated Name Plate values.
Because of the capacity limitations and with an assessment their true output performance Weather Dependent Renewables are intricsically much more expensive than consistent and reliable traditional electricity generation technologies, in particular the cheapest form, Gas-fired Generation. Beyond that the production and cost differentials discussed here do not account for the difficulties that arise from the inherent unreliability of using Weather Dependent Renewables in the grid as a National power source.
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 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. But in spite of its high capacity percentages Offshore Wind Power is in the region of only 30+% is certainly the least economic overall. 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.
These cost analyses do not take account of the intrinsic variability of Weather Dependent Renewables which make their power product much less valuable, much less useful and much more expensive to utilise than dispatchable on-demand power sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear power producers. So their poor comparative cost performance outlined here is compounded by an additional major disadvantage of unpredictable functional performance.
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 “virtue signalling” has already cost the populace of Europe about 500 €billion in excess capital expenditures and that extra cost would exceed 1.4 €trillion over a 60 year period. The detailed estimated excess costs by country are shown above.
So one can only conclude that there is little point in installing Renewables at all, save as a massive and costly exercise in “virtue signalling”.
By Government mandate relatively cheap and efficient economic fossils fuel generation is inevitably supplemented by expensive and unreliable Weather Dependent Renewables. This involves a complete duplication of generation capacity when the costly part of the generation can only contribute to grid for about one fifth of the time, and worse still this power production is unrelated and unrelatable to demand.
There are also three other major contraindications of pursuing Weather Dependent Renewables in Europe and the developed world:
- the international context in which these European attempts at CO2 reduction are taking place shows how futile Western efforts to respond to the “Climate Change Agenda” actually are.
(New York Times, 2017)
“Currently, 1,600 new coal plants in 62 countries are planned or in the process of being constructed across the world, expanding the world’s coal-fired energy capacity by 43% in the coming years .
And there can be no long-term CO2 emissions reduction benefit to installing more and more wind power if the long-term net effect of doing so leads to the requisite construction of more fossil fuel energy plants.”
- when viewed in the round from manufacture, installation and scrappage Weather Dependent Renewables technologies are probably less than Carbon neutral over their lifetime, (they produce more CO2 for their manufacture and installation than they can ever save in the CO2 output of Gas-fired fuel in the course of their operating lifetime).
- Their Energy Return on Energy Invested is less than 7 and therefore hardly in the viable range.
The EU(28) now only accounts for about 10% of global CO2 emissions and in order to affect these emissions marginally, if at all, the EU as a whole has already committed expenditures that amount to ~0.5 €trillion in capital costs and a likely future committed costs of about 1.4 €trillion.
If these calculations are close to being in 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 requote the late Professor David Mackay “an appalling delusion“.