This post gives indicative, (back of the envelope), estimates of the net capital and net 60 year long-term costs of Weather Dependent Renewables in the EU28 as compared to the use of Nuclear energy and Gas-firing for electricity generation. Those results for 2018 are summarised above, which show the extreme costs of Renewables, particularly Offshore Wind and Solar PV, in comparison with conventional generation.
Only the three main forms of Weather Dependent Renewable Energy in EU28 are. considered, Wind Power, (Onshore and Offshore), and on grid Photovoltaic Solar Power: these amount to about 75% of total installed Renewables. The other “Renewable” energy inputs include traditional Hydro power ~8% and the remainder are other sources such as biomass, waste and landfill gas amounting to ~17%.
However note that these comparative figures are underestimates of the true costs of using Renewables. The results above only account for the cost comparisons for the actual electrical power generated accounting for capacity.
They ignore the other additional costs inevitably associated with Wind power and Solar Renewables:
- unreliability in terms of both intermittency and variability
- poor timing of generation, unlikely to be coordinated with demand
- long transmission lines with costly power losses and increased maintenance
- additional infrastructure necessary for access
- the costs of largely redundant back up generation only used on occasions but wastefully running in spinning reserve nonetheless
- unsynchronised generation with lack of inherent momentum.
- inability to be used for a “black start” when essential after failure
A Ready Reckoner combines costings as defined by the US Energy Information Administration, (updated in 2017), and the reported EU28 Weather Dependent Renewable installations and outputs from the EurObserv’ER organisation. More detailed comparative calculations are provided for the 5 main Weather Dependent Renewable protagonist countries in Europe.
These net calculations should avoid the distortions arising from the political interventions in support of Renewables.
These Ready Reckoner estimates give an idea of the present scale of the excess costs for Government mandated “Green Virtue Signalling” within the EU28 and a comparison between various EU countries in the cost effectiveness of their Renewable Energy programmes. It then indicates by how much the cost of Renewables varies compared to using Gas-firing or Nuclear for electricity generation both in extra capital and estimated long-term costs. Such excess costs and inefficiencies fall both on EU taxpayers and EU industrial electricity consumers.
The table above shows that the indicative overnight capital costs of the current 290GW EU28 Weather Dependent Renewable fleet is ~600€billion and the anticipated further 60 year long-term costs would amount to ~2.6€trillion, were those Renewables installed in 2018 were sustained for a full 60 year service life. The name plate installation of some 290GW actually produces a generated output of ~54GW, an overall capacity figure of ~19%. 54GW of Renewable generation actually represents about 8% of the EU28 overall power requirement.
The equivalent costs using Gas-firing to provide a similar level of continuous power generation, (~54GW), would be ~60€bn in capital costs and a further ~240€bn in 60 year long-term as compared with Renewables with capital costs of ~ 0.6€trillion and long-term costs ~2.6€trillion. The use Nuclear power would also be significantly cheaper than installing Renewables: ~250€bn less in capital costs and ~1.8€trillion less in the long-term.
The context and status of EU28 Weather Dependant Renewables
In 2018 the EU28 represented only ~10% of the global CO2 emissions and power generation in the EU only accounted for about one quarter of those CO2 emissions, transport, industry and space heating accounting for the remainder.
The ~10% EU28 portion of global emissions will diminish further as India, China and all other developing nations continue to use coal as their cheapest fuel for electricity generation, in contradiction to the spirit of the Paris Climate Accord. For the underdeveloped world to reach the current world average level of CO2 emissions / head will take about a further +~20% and to reach the present level of Chinese CO2 emissions / head will add approximately a futher ~60%. These values do not account for any further Population growth in the developing world.
So making costly modifications UK / EU28 electricity generation technologies can only have a marginal impact on a minor proportion of current global CO2 emissions. That impact is even less if one questions the CO2 emission footprints of current Renewable technologies or their Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) from manufacture to scrappage. In addition current Weather Dependent Renewable technologies are barely Carbon neutral, (they may require more CO2 emissions for their installation, manufacture and demolition), than they can ever save in the course of their service life.
EurObserv’ER is a Renewables promoting organisation supported by the European Union. They publish, as promotional material for Renewables, the installations and output achieved on an annual basis. These data have been collated since 2008 to develop this post.
The current time series EurObserv’ER data up till 2018 shows a significant reduction of Weather Dependent Renewable installations. The 2018 installation rate is less than half the maximum level achieved in 2010. Both onshore Wind power and Solar PV are reducing most rapidly.
The corresponding historic capacity factors being achieved by the Weather Dependent Renewables in Europe showing their variability can be seen below:
And the overall achieved capacity factors are compared here with conventional generation technologies.
A Comparative Cost Model
The US Energy Information Administration, (US EIA), provides detailed cost comparisons in US$, avoiding the distorting effects of Government fiscal and subsidy policies supporting Renewable Energy.
This table of comparative US$ values has been condensed and reduced to a common costs comparator as $:€billion / Gigawatt for both capital and long-term costs, (60 years, the equivalent life of a Nuclear generation installation), as below.
The comparative costs of generation of different Weather Dependent Renewables are charted below. However the true comparative costs (€bn/GW) of the power actually generated can be seen when capital and long-term costs are assessed with the productive output as was achieved by the EU28 in 2018 and is expressed graphically as below
Notes on the above comparative costs:
- The graphic above shows the actual costs of differing generation technologies in capital and in the 60 year long-term.
- This graphic effectively shows the bare costs of electricity actually generated compared to conventional generation. In spite of Renewable announcements asserting that Renewables now have equivalent costs, these comparative figures clearly show that that promotional assertion is very exaggerated, particularly for Offshore Wind and Solar PV.
- These high costs per Gigawatt actually produced do not account for the fact that the power supplied by Weather Dependent Renewables is
- Renewable power is unable to maintain essential grid frequency without synchronous input from conventional generators, (nuclear or fossil fuels), which have sufficient inherent inertia to compensate for the variable intermittency of Renewables.
- In tackling electricity generation with Renewables only about one quarter of any National CO2 emissions are being affected, the remainder arising from transport, space heating, industry, etcetera.
- Nominally Onshore wind is the cheapest Weather Dependent Renewable generator but across Europe its capacity factor is overall ~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 Offshore turbines contend with the very adverse maritime climate. In Europe Offshore wind has a better capacity factor than Onshore, more than ~30%+, even so it can still be only effectively operational about 1/3 of the time. Even with this better capacity Offshore wind power is expensive at ~68€bn/GW long-term.
- Solar PV is relatively cheap to install but in the European context it has a capacity factor of 12% or less, so it is only operational about 1/8th of the time. Those productive intervals for Solar PV are not well timed to match 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 may be the most expensive Renewable generator overall at ~74€bn/GW long-term.
- Biomass is the only dispatchable, ostensibly Renewable power source. If the Biomass is not sourced from truly waste materials, it is potentially very destructive of woodland environments and thus local biodiversity, wherever the forests are felled. In addition burning wood produces substantially more CO2 for the power generated than any fossil fuel, even more than Coal or Lignite. The comparative costs shown here do not account for the costs and resulting 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 have already been developed. The geography of the UK on the other hand means that hydroelectric power can only ever be a minimal contributor to the grid. These costs here are assumed to include any pumped storage, the only viable mechanism for large, multiple hour scale power storage.
- Coal and Lignite are assumed to have roughly similar associated costs. CO2 emitting Lignite generation is still a major power 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. This would be especially so if the Gas is supplied by locally sourced Fracked gas, obviating the need for import costs. It is also important to note that the UK 1990’s “dash for gas” policy was coincidentally responsible for a substantial drop in UK CO2 emissions resulting in one of the lowest CO2 emissions / head in Europe except for France with its ~80% commitment to Nuclear generation.
- Advanced nuclear is relatively expensive in capital costs and legacy installations such as those in France were probably developed at lower cost. Over-regulation and irrational popular antagonism has probably increased the current capital costs of this very effective form of CO2 free electricity generation. Thus France is alone amongst developed nations in as much as it has attained CO2 emissions at a level equal to the Global average: this average includes the whole of the developing world.
- The comparative US EIA costings are for new installations: legacy costs for installations were probably significantly different, particularly for 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 often used inefficiently to load-follow intermittent Weather Dependent Renewables so any local Renewables Obligation is ignored.
- For the sake of these calculation estimates the US $ and the Euro are assumed to have roughly equivalent purchasing power.
It should be noted that the estimated service life used here, particularly for Wind power may be over optimistic, thus adversely affecting the cost performance of Renewable installations.
It is clear from the costing table above that Gas-firing, at ~1€billion / Gigawatt in capital costs and ~4€billion / Gigawatt in 60 year long-term running costs, is the cheapest form of effective electricity generation. Seeing these comparative figures particularly when associated with the actual capacity figures achieved by Renewables, the publicity claims that Renewables are now competitive with Conventional power sources are wholly refuted.
Gas-firing generation has a potential up-time of ~90%, and can be built relatively rapidly, in about 2 years.
Importantly these indicative values do not account for the following additional costs that the use of Weather Dependent Renewables impose on an electricity supply system:
- Renewables intermittency and unreliability and the dilute and variable energy sources being harvested
- the non dispatchability of Weather Dependent Renewables: the power produced is unrelated and unrelatable to demand
- the disruption of the Grid from the fluctuating and intermittent power production from Renewables with large and sudden swings in Renewable power output
- the dispersed locations of Renewable installations requiring extended networks for generators remote from centres of population
- Renewables requirement for continuously available high inertia power back-up to maintain Grid frequency for the times when wind or solar power is fluctuating reduced or non-existent.
- the rapid degradation of the power production from Renewables as they age.
Indicative costs of Weather Dependent Renewables in EU28
In 2018 the level of EU28 Renewable installations reached a total Nameplate rating of ~290 Gigawatts providing ~54 Gigawatts of electrical output to the grid: resulting in a combined Renewables capacity factor of ~19%. That installation rating data is combined with the condensed US EIA data and summarised below.
The effect of the adverse capacity factors for Weather Dependent Renewables in the context of overall electricity generation in the EU28 is shown below.
The table above shows the combined excess capital and long-term costs over the use of Gas-firing and Nuclear generation. Overall it shows that both in capital and long-term costs Weather Dependent Renewables at EU28 measured capacity values are overall about ~11 times more costly than Gas-firing and ~2.5 times more costly than Nuclear generation.
Combining the US EIA estimated cost figures combined with the 2018 scale of the EU28 Renewables fleet, the present overnight capital costs of EU Renewables is ~600€billion and that current installed fleet, if maintained, is likely to cost ~2,600€billion, if sustained, over a 60 year service life.
These excess cost results give an indication of the scale of cost burden imposed on EU28 electricity consumers by “Green Virtue Signalling”. When combined with the measured capacity figures in 2018, Wind power and Solar PV may well cost close to 77€bn/GW, if maintained for the long-term, as compared with ~4€bn/GW for Gas-firing.
The excess current capital expenditures, made in the name of “Green orthodoxy”, over the use of Gas-firing already expended on EU28 Renewables amounts to ~550€billion with a future further commitment approaching ~2330€billion. Weather Dependent Renewables in the EU28 are 10 – 11 times more expensive than using well established Gas-firing technologies for electricity generation.
The excess costs of Renewables over Nuclear generation are lower but still substantial at ~230€bn in capital, costs and ~1650€bn in long-term costs. Weather Dependent Renewables in the EU28 are 2 – 3 times more expensive than using well established Nuclear technologies for electricity generation.
Renewable Performance of individual EU28 Countries
Parallel comparative calculations have been carried out for the following major European countries adhering to the use of Weather Dependent Renewables as installed at the end of 2018:
- United Kingdom
- Rest of EU21.
Note that the values shown are only the direct costs and do not account for the reduced generation capability / capacity of Weather Dependent Renewables, which give a considerably more adverse cost picture than shown below. The mix of Weather Dependent Renewables installed by each county causes variations in the performance of their Renewables fleet.
The following graphs show the comparative extent of overspend costs attributable to Renewables in each of the countries considered in place of Gas-firing or Nuclear Energy.
SpainRest of EU21
By way of example, it can be seen that the excess capital expenditure on Renewables in the UK at ~90€bn would be sufficient to re-equip the whole UK Generation fleet with Gas-fired Generation twice over to meet the maximal UK demand of about 45GW. That Gas-fired generation would be available with a capacity factor of ~90%.
Because of its past significant commitment to Solar energy and its current move to develop Offshore wind power the UK has the worst overall Renewable sector performance in Europe. The UK expenditure performance on Renewables is even worse that of Germany even though Germany has a much greater commitment to Renewable installations.
A recent paper
This paper shows that the UK policy change to promote Gas-firing over coal burning in the 1990s, the “Dash for Gas” was co-incidentally also a truly effective mechanism to reduce CO2 emissions and as well as being a very cost effective means of electricity generation. The continuation of that use of Gas-firing policy would have maintained lower CO2 emissions in the UK, even though dependent on Gas-firing.
In comparison with the EU28 as a whole, the costs of UK Renewables are about 25% higher both because of the heavy commitments in the UK to costly Offshore wind power and also because the rapidly developed but ineffective Solar installations committed over the past few years.
The average capacity factors achieved in the main European protagonists of Renewables are shown below.
But whenever announcements are made about Weather Dependent Renewable Energy installations, they are reported at the full Name Plate rating, (in other words the maximum potential power output the installation might produce under ideal Weather conditions), and also often disingenuously as the number of homes that could be supplied at their full level of power output.
The question of Capacity / Load Factors are never fully explained, so such announcements are always intentionally deceptive. Renewable Energy announcements falsely assume that the wind blows all the time at productive speeds and that the sun shines overhead 24 hours /day.
But it should be noted that 2018 was a reasonable year for Renewable productivity resulting in actual capacity factors of EU(28) Renewables as follows:
- WDR overall 18.7%
- Solar PV 12.5%
- Offshore Wind 35.5%
- Onshore Wind 21.1%
And in combination the capacity factor amounted to only ~19%, or ~1/5th of their Nameplate rating.
The following chart summarises the cost ratio comparison in capital and long-term costs between Weather Dependent Renewables and conventional generation.
The chart above shows that overall Weather Dependent Renewables are overall about 10 times more costly when compared with Gas-fired generation, whereas they are only about 2.5 times overall more costly than using nuclear power. However this cost model also shows how extraordinarily costly Offshore Wind and Photovoltaics are when compared with both Nuclear or Gas-fired generation.
In addition crucially conventional generation technologies have built in real inertia enabling them to maintain the essential grid frequency. On the other hand non-synchronous Weather Dependent Renewable generation is both intermittent and non-dispatchable to meet demand whenever needed: it has no dependable inertia so it cannot inherently maintain grid frequency. Thus although they are subsidised by electricity users, (as mandated by Government), to a significant extent, they provide a much less valuable service quality for the maintenance of the reliable Grid performance.
Neither Weather Dependent Renewable generators nor overseas connectors are capable of restarting the grid after a black start failure. Such a failure is increasingly likely in the UK as conventional generation is shuttered in preference to generation by Weather Dependent Renewables. (The black start for South Australia took more than 2 days, even with access to power from neighbouring Victoria).
In fact, when viewed from the needs for the engineering viability of a nation’s electrical supply, without “Green” influenced, Government interference, Weather Dependent Renewable generation would never have been considered as a functional part of the electricity generating mix.
Without the Government mandates and financial subsidies the Weather Dependent Renewable Energy industry is not a viable business and at the same time Renewables impose significant extra costs on the other elements of the generation Grid and thus the clients the electrical Grid.
The achieved power output of Weather Dependent Renewables is crucially dependent on the vagaries of the weather, (for wind), and the weather in combination with the season and the time of day, (for solar). The overall useable electrical output achieved by Weather Dependent Renewables is inevitably substantially less, (about 1/5th), than the maximal Name Plate rating of the installation.
Inevitably the power production from Weather Dependent Renewables is un-coordinated with the timing of the actual demand for electricity. In the UK, peak electricity demand occurs on winter evenings when Solar power is non-existent and when winter anti-cyclonic weather patterns can on occasions reduce wind speeds to unproductive levels widely across the country. So there can be no functional coordination between the timing to the Weather Dependent Renewable Energy production and the Nation’s demand for electricity.
Although mandated by Government in order to pursue “Green thinking” the extra costs of Renewables are in fact serious burdens on the generation industry and thus on both domestic and industrial electricity consumers. This post has made reasonable estimates of the extent of those additional costs imposed by Weather Dependent Renewables to date. As Weather Dependent Renewable Energy installations grow, so those cost burdens will inevitably escalate.
As Weather Dependent Renewable Energy depends on capturing essentially dilute and very variable sources of intermittent power, Weather Dependent Renewables are thus both capital and maintenance expensive and inherently unreliable.
Weather Dependent Renewables are universally more expensive than the conventional alternatives of Gas-firing or Nuclear power. ~2-3 times for Nuclear power and in the UK the worst case ~14 times more expensive than Gas-firing.
The Countries such as the UK and Germany that make major commitments to Solar PV and Offshore Wind end up with the most expensive installations. Those countries like Spain that commit most to Onshore Wind power have the most economic Renewable installations. Nonetheless even the most economic Spanish installations are about 7 times the cost of Gas-firing.
The late Prof David Mackay, (former chef scientific advisor of the 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 such as the UK with Weather Dependent Renewable energy was:
“an appalling delusion”.
At the time he also said:
“There’s so much delusion, it’s so dangerous for humanity that people allow themselves to have such delusions, that they are not willing 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.”
If the objectives of using Weather Dependent Renewables were not confused with possibly “saving the planet” from a quarter of the output of the UK’s small amount (~1%) and/or the EU’s (~10%) of Man-made CO2, their actual cost in-effectiveness and their inherent unreliability, Weather Dependent Renewables would have always been ruled them out of any engineering consideration as means of National scale electricity generation.
It is essential to ask the question what is the actual value of these government mandated excess costs to the improvement of the environment and for the possibility of perhaps saving undetectable temperature increases a 100 years in the future, especially in a context where the developing world will be increasing its CO2 emissions to attain it’s further enhancement of living standards over the coming decades.
Reducing a minor part of Man-made CO2 emissions as a means to control a “warming” climate seems even less relevant as the long-term temperature trend has been downwards for last 3 millennia, since 1000BC, towards the coming end of the current Holocene interglacial epoch.