This post gives indicative, (back of the envelope), estimates of the net capital and net 60 year long-term costs of Weather Dependent Renewables as compared to the use of Nuclear generation and Gas-firing for electricity generation in the EU28. A Ready Reckoner combines costings as defined by the US Energy Information Administration as updated in 2018 and 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 capital and estimated long-term costs. Such excess costs and inefficiencies fall both on EU taxpayers and EU industrial electricity consumers.
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 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%.
The introductory table above shows that the indicative overnight capital costs of the current EU28 Weather Dependent Renewable fleet is ~600€billion and the anticipated further long-term costs would be ~2.6€trillion, if those Renewables as installed in 2018 were to be sustained for a 60 year long-term service life.
Some 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 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.
In 2017 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 proportion 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.
So making costly modifications EU28 electricity generation technologies can only have a marginal impact on a small 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. These 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.
EurObservER 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 EurObservER data up till 2018 shows a significant diminution 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 demising rapidly.
The corresponding historic capacity factors being achieved by the Weather Dependent Renewables in Europe can be seen below:
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.
Notes on the above table of comparative costs:
- for the sake of these calculation estimates the US $ and the Euro are assumed to have roughly equivalent purchasing power.
- 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 the Offshore turbines contend with the very adverse maritime climate. In Europe Offshore wind has a better capacity factor at ~30%+, even so it can still be only effectively operational less than 1/3 of the time.
- Solar PV is relatively cheap to install but in the European context has a capacity factor of 12% or less, so it is only operational about 1/8th of the time. Those productive intervals of 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.
- Biomass is the only dispatchable, ostensibly Renewable power source. If the Biomass is not sourced from waste materials, it is potentially very destructive of woodland environments and thus local biodiversity. In addition burning wood produces substantially more CO2 for the power generated than any fossil fuel, even Coal. The comparative costs shown here do not account for the costs and 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 may well now have 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 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 the cost of imports.
- 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 non CO2 emitting electricity generation.
- 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 used inefficiently to load-follow intermittent Renewables arising from any local Renewables Obligation is ignored.
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. Gas-firing 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 the 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 power back-up to maintain the Grid for the times when wind or solar power is reduced or non-existent.
- the rapid degradation of Renewables power production as they age.
Weather Dependent Renewables in EU28
In 2017 the level of EU28 Renewable installations reached a total Nameplate rating of ~269 Gigawatts providing ~47 Gigawatts of electrical output to the grid: resulting in a combined Renewables capacity factor of 17.5%. 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 ~3 times more costly than Nuclear generation.
Combining the US EIA estimated cost figures combined with the 2017 scale of the EU28 Renewables fleet, the present overnight capital costs of EU Renewables is ~500€billion and that current installed fleet, if maintained, is likely to cost ~2,350€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 2017, 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 ~500€billion with a future further commitment approaching ~2150€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 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.
Rest of EU21
The following graphs show the extent of overspend costs attributable to each of the countries considered in place of Gas-firing or Nuclear Energy.
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 twice over to meet the maximal UK demand of about 45GW. That investment in 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 cost performant Renewable sector 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.
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 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 UK Renewables as follows:
- Onshore Wind 17.2%
- Offshore Wind 36.7%
- Solar PV 11.3%
And in combination the capacity factor amounted to only 19.5%, or ~1/5th of their Nameplate rating.
Crucially traditional forms of electricity generation are both non-intermittent and dispatchable to meet demand whenever needed: they thus provide a much more valuable service and maintain the performance of the gird and thus service quality for electricity consumers.
So, when viewed from the needs for the engineering viability of a nation’s electrical supply, without “Green” influenced, Government interference, Weather Dependent Renewable generation should 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 useful electrical output achieved by Weather Dependent Renewables is inevitably substantially less (about 1/6th) 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 anti-cyclonic weather patterns in winter can on occasions reduce wind speeds widely across the country to unproductive levels. 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 consumer. 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.
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 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.
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.
Weather Dependent Renewable Energy depends on capturing essentially dilute and very variable sources of power. So at the same time Weather Dependent Renewables are both capital and maintenance expensive and inevitably unreliable.
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 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.”
If the objectives of using Weather Dependent Renewables were not confused with possibly “saving the planet” from the output of the UK’s small amount (~1%) of Man-made CO2 produced in the UK, 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 potential of perhaps saving minuscule temperature increases a 100 years in the future.