An excellent way to undermine Western economies is to render their power generation unreliable and expensive. That objective of Green thinking is progressively being achieved by Government policy but without popular voter mandate throughout the Western world.
These straightforward calculations are intended to answer the simple question:
“roughly how much would it cost to generate the same amount of power as is produced by the present fleet of UK Weather Dependent Renewables, using conventional generation technologies, (Nuclear or Gas-firing) ? and how do those figures compare ?”.
Accordingly the post quantifies the scale of the fiscal waste and the burdens on utility bills attributable to the use of UK Weather Dependent Renewables as in 2019. It combines the comparative costs of generation technologies, published by the US Energy Information Administration in 2020 with information on the Nameplate rating of installed UK Weather Dependent Renewable installations and their actual productive power output as of 2019.
According to these calculations, the approximate long-term UK cost commitment to these Renewables is ~250 £billion. This amounts to about twice the annual, cost of the NHS or about 11% of annual UK GDP. As can be seen later, these estimates show that using Weather Dependent Renewables in the UK costs 10 – 12 times as much as using Natural Gas for electricity generation and about 2 – 3 times as much as Nuclear power.
The impact of the poor productivity of Weather Dependent Renewables is shown in these two pie charts:
The benefit of these expenditures on Weather Dependent Renewables is the replacement of about 23% of UK power output capacity by “nominally” CO2 neutral technologies. Electrical power generation results in about 1/4 of the total CO2 emissions output from Europe.
In 2019 the UK emitted ~387 million tonnes of CO2, ~1.1% of the Global CO2 emissions. Accordingly at ~23% of ~25% of 387 million tonnes, the current Renewable expenditures are being made to avert a possible maximum of ~22 million tonnes of CO2 emissions averted in the UK. This value assumes that Weather Dependent Renewables are CO2 and energy neutral and ignores all the CO2 and energy costs of Renewables manufacture, installation, etc.
It thus estimates the absolute maximum of CO2 emissions averted emissions from UK Weather Dependent Renewables are as follows:
- of the 2019 UK CO2 emissions 387 million tonnes ~5.6%
- of the 2019 European CO2 emissions 3,330 million tonnes ~0.6%
- of the 2019 Global CO2 emissions 34,164 million tonnes ~0.06 %
- of the 2019 CO2 emissions growth from developing world 504 million tonnes ~4.3%
So the question should be asked “does the capital commitment of ~55 £billion and the probable future expenditures of ~1/4 £trillion to install ~54% of the UK Generation capacity but unreliably replacing ~23% of UK power output and to avert ~5.6% of UK CO2 emissions make good economic sense?”
If the objectives of using Weather Dependent Renewables were not confused with the myth of “saving the planet” from the output of the diminishing UK / EU(28) proportion of CO2 emissions, their actual cost, their 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.
The whole annual EU(28) CO2 emissions output will eventually be far surpassed just by the annual growth of CO2 emissions across China and the Developing world.
UK Cost comparisons
In 2019 UK Weather Dependent Renewables generated the equivalent of a total of some ~7.3 Gigawatts of consistent power from a fleet with an installed Name Plate value of ~35 Gigawatts, thus achieving an overall productivity factor for Weather Dependent Renewables of ~20.9%. The graphic below shows the effect of combining the capital and long-term costs of the various generation technologies with their productivity factors as achieved in the UK in 2019. The model of comparative costs uses data from the US Energy Information Administration, (EIA), updated 2020 and translated to GB Pounds.
Productivity / Capacity percentage is the performance measure for generation technologies, it consists of the actual Power output / Name Plate power rating.
The most useful comparison is to assess the costs in £Billion/Gigawatt of power produced accounting for Productivity, the comparison as shown in the two introductory graphics condensed below.
All traditional dispatchable power generation technologies are all capable of Productivity of up to 90%, only having to be curtailed by routine maintenance or curtailed in favour of Renewables by the “Renewables Obligation”, whereas Weather Dependent Renewables when in combination over the year only return ~21% of their Name Plate rating. The resulting comparative costs of Weather Dependent Renewables are shown below.
According to these estimates overall the 2019 UK installed Weather Dependent Renewables fleet cost ~62£billion in overnight capital costs or ~8.5£billion/Gigawatt generated with a future commitment of some ~260£billion or ~35£billion/Gigawatt produced long-term. Conventional power generation, (Nuclear and Gas-firing) is more than competitive with Renewable costs with capital costs of ~5.5£billion/Gigawatt for Nuclear or less than 1£billion/Gigawatt for Gas-firing, as above.
Because of the comparative costs and productivity factors Offshore wind is certainly the most expensive to install at ~33£Billion to date and likely further ongoing costs of ~150£billion or ~52£billion/Gigawatt produced.
Current Solar PV cost ~13£billion to install and a further future costs of about 54£billion or ~42£billion/Gigawatt produced. UK on grid solar installations virtually ceased in 2019.
The installed UK Weather Dependent Renewables fleet of ~35Gigawatts, were it fully 100% productive, 24/7, would have often matched or exceeded UK demand, however the limited average Renewables productivity factor of ~20% means that the Renewables fleet only managed to unreliably generate about a fifth of that UK requirement, and that output was often uncoordinated with demand.
This post shows clearly the likely cost differentials and overspend over effective traditional Electricity generation technologies, (Gas-firing and Nuclear), that Weather Dependent Renewables are bound to incur.
These calculations clearly contradict the popular assertion that Weather Dependent Renewables are now price competitive with conventional power generation, Gas-firing and even Nuclear power. Those assertions ignore:
- all government subsidies and other fiscal support
- the productivity of Renewables when compared to traditional generation technologies.
The Costs of “Green Virtue Signalling”
The real costs of supporting political “Green Virtue Signalling” and the Government’s acceptance of the urgency of the “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming” hypothesis is exposed here.
It must be realised that these substantial excess costs can only ever contribute to a CO2 emissions reduction of less than a quarter of the UK’s 1.1% of 2018 Global CO2 emissions resulting from electricity generation. In other words the temperature effect of these self-harming expenditures by the UK on Global temperature would eventually be undetectable.
These estimates are generous assessments of the true value of the power produced by Weather Dependent Renewables, as they count the full output productivity of Weather Dependent Renewable generation technologies. They do not account for the timing and thus of the usefulness of the power those Renewables may produce at any one moment in the year. In addition these data do not account for the difficulty in coping with the wide variability and intermittency of the power output by Weather Dependent Renewables within a Nation’s supply Grid, which is tasked to provide dependable and consistent power for that Nation.
This post gives indicative, (back of the envelope, expressed in £billions), estimates of the net capital and net 60 year long-term excess costs of Weather Dependent Renewables as compared to the use of Gas-firing and Nuclear for electricity generation in the UK. The calculations are reasonable estimates and should be in the right ball park and not over exaggerated.
They are in line with the sort of “back of the envelope” calculations that could have been carried out by the late Professor Sir David Mackay. These net calculations are free of the market distortions arising from the political support interventions that have had to have been made to support Renewables. They are based on the 2020 cost figures produced by the US Energy Information Association, (EIA) and Data from the Renewable Energy Foundation in the UK. They do account for a recent reduction in the costs of Solar PV panels for power generation.
The introductory table above shows that the indicative overnight capital costs of the current UK Renewable fleet is ~62£billion and the anticipated further long-term costs would be ~260£billion, were those currently installed Renewables to be maintained for the 60 year long-term, a similar service life to Nuclear power Generation.
They give an idea of the present scale of the bare costs for “Green virtue signalling”, responding to the Green agenda in the UK. The equivalent costs using Gas-firing to provide the same level of consistent power generation would be ~7£billion in capital costs and a further ~21£billion long-term.
At 0.34 Gigatonnes in 2018, the UK produced ~1.1% of the Global CO2 emissions and power generation could only have accounted for less than one quarter of those CO2 emissions, transport and space heating, etc. accounting for the remaining CO2 emissions.
About 7% of the UK electricity generation comes from burning Biomass largely imported from the USA and involving clear felling of mostly virgin forest. This process of importing of felled woodland Biomass for electricity generation, although considered to be “Carbon Neutral”, results in more than 3 times the CO2 emissions than the use of Natural Gas or almost twice the CO2 emissions that would arise from the use of the coal that the Drax plant is located on.
So making costly and self-harming modifications UK electrical generation technologies can only have a marginal and minor impact on a small proportion of current UK and Global CO2 emissions. That impact is even less, (not quantified here), if one looks into the CO2 emission and energy requirements of Renewable technologies and from their use of fossil fuels essential for their manufacture, installation and on to their eventual demolition.
Whenever announcements are made about Weather Dependent Renewable Energy installations, they are reported as the full Name Plate rating, (in other words the maximum potential power output the installation can produce under ideal Weather conditions), and often disingenuously as the number of homes that could be supplied at their full level of power output.
The question of Productivity or Load Factors is never fully explained, so such announcements are deliberately deceptive, as the average Weather Dependant Renewable productivity only amounts to ~22% of the full Name Plate rating of the Renewables fleet. So such promotional Renewable Energy announcements thus illogically assume that the wind blows all the time at productive speeds and that the sun shines overhead 24 hours/day and the seasons never change from a clear breezy day in summer.
Comparative Generation Costings
The table above gave a capital valuation of the current 2020 UK Weather Dependent Renewables fleet at ~62£billion with probable ongoing costs of ~260£billion. This is approximately twice the cost of providing the same power output with Nuclear power stations and more than 11 times the cost of using Gas-firing for equivalent power generation.
The excess capital expenditures of Renewables range from ~21£billion to ~55£billion. The long-term excess expenditures range from 160£billion to 236£billion depending on the substituted Nuclear or Gas-fired technology respectively.
These significant excess costs represent the wastage imposed on the UK population both via direct taxation supporting subsidies to Weather Dependent Renewables and added to UK utility bills by the Government mandates imposing Renewables on the UK electricity generation. That wastage amounts to a very regressive tax burden imposed on the poorest in UK society. It is leading to ever increasing “Energy Poverty”.
The following three tables show how differing existing Renewable technologies contribute to the Government mandated excess costs.
Onshore Wind power is the most competitive achieving close to cost parity with Nuclear power in capital spend but only being about 1.3 times as expensive long-term. Onshore wind power is only about 5 – 6 times more costly than Gas-firing.
Offshore wind power is the least cost-effective being ~2.6 – 4.4 times more costly than Nuclear but in the region of 13 – 18 times more costly than Gas-firing.
Solar PV is more cost effective than Offshore being 2-3 times more costly than Nuclear to install and 12 – 14 times more costly than Gas-firing.
They together are responsible for more than 75% of the excess costs of the UK Renewables fleet even though they are responsible for only ~55% of the Renewable power output produced. Together wastage in the capital cost from Offshore wind and Solar power amounts to some 42£billion with a long-term anticipated cost of ~200billion.
If the objectives of using Weather Dependent Renewables were not confused with possibly “saving the planet” from the output of the UK’s small level of CO2 emissions, (for electricity generation, <25% of 1.1%, the UK 2018 portion of Man-made Global CO2 emissions), 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.
The annual UK CO2 emissions output is well surpassed just by the annual growth of CO2 emissions in China and the Developing world.
It is essential to ask the question what is the actual value of these government mandated excess expenditures to the improvement of the environment and for the possibility of perhaps preventing undetectable temperature increases by the end of the century, 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 CO2 emissions as a means to control a “Warming” climate seems even less relevant when the long-term global temperature trend has been downwards for last 3 millennia, as the coming end of our current warm and benign Holocene interglacial epoch approaches.
The context in Spring 2020
In spite of all the noisy Climate Propaganda of the past 30 years, in Spring 2020 the world is faced with a different but very real economic emergency from the reactions to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.
That Emergency, with the world facing the immediate death of many citizens as well as global economic breakdown, should put the futile, self-harming and costly Government mandated attempts to control future climate into stark perspective. This real Emergency clearly shows how irrelevant concerns over probably inconsequential “Climate Change” in a distant future truly are.
A Comparative Costing Model for Electricity Generation Technologies
The comparative costings are derived from US EIA data as updated in 2020.
The values used in this model ignore the “EIA Technological optimism factor” above, which would adversely affect the comparative costs of Offshore wind, (by about 9£billion/Gigawatt: long-term) and to a much less extent Nuclear power.
These costs are summarised and translated into £billion/GW in the table below:
The US EIA table above gives values for the overnight capital costs of each technology as well as variable costs, (including fuel), and estimated fixed maintenance costs. The above table condenses those total costs of each technology when maintained in operation for 60 years. It is expressed as £billion/Gigawatt installed. These values do not account for the productivity of each technology.
These base data avoid the distorting effects of Government fiscal and subsidy policies supporting Renewable Energy, whereby it might be claimed that Renewables approximate to cost parity. It is thus hoped that these results give a valid comparative analysis of the true cost effectiveness of Weather Dependent Renewables.
Recent 2020 EIA updates fully account for any cost reductions or underbids for Renewable technology, particularly those for Solar panels. The costs of the panels themselves may be reducing but this only affects about 1/4 of the installation costs, these are mainly made up of the other ancillary costs of a Solar installation, those costs remain largely immutable. There have been aggressive underbids for Offshore Wind which are not accounted for here.
The service life allocated for Renewables used above may well be generous, particularly for Offshore Wind and Solar Photovoltaics. The production capability of all Renewable technologies have been shown to progressively deteriorate significantly over their service life.
The table above assumes that the purchasing power of £1 is equivalent to ~US$1.20.
The ancillary Cost and CO2 emissions implications of Weather Dependent Renewables
The assembled comparative figures from the US EIA above are underestimates of the true costs of mandating Weather Dependent Renewables. The results shown above only account for the cost comparisons for capital and running costs for the electrical power generated by the installations themselves.
In addition the costs projected here ignore all the ancillary costs inevitably associated with Wind power and Solar Renewables resulting from:
- Their unreliability in terms of both power intermittency and power variability.
- The non-dispatchablity of Renewables: the wind will not blow, the clouds will not clear away and the world will not stop rotating to order, whenever power is needed:
Weather Dependent Renewables do not run 24/7: they can not achieve 90% productivity.
- The poor timing of power generation by Renewables, it is often unlikely to be coordinated with demand: for example Solar energy. This situation has been seen recently in California when Solar power falls off in the evening, the time of peak demand, leading to rolling blackouts at times of peak demand. Even in Southern countries Winter Solar output is only ~1/9th of that in the Summer, the period of lower power demand.
- The long transmission lines from remote, dispersed generators, incurs both power losses in transmission and increased maintenance costs.
- Requirement for the sterilisation of large land areas, especially when compared with conventional electricity generation, (Gas-firing or Nuclear).
- Much additional engineering infrastructure is needed for access.
- The continuing costs of back-up generation, which is essential but is only used on occasions but which has to be wastefully running in spinning reserve but emitting CO2 nonetheless.
It should be noted that if there has to be sufficient back-up capacity using mainly fossil fuels to support the grid when wind and solar are not available and it is costly to run continuously but intermittently. If the back-up comes to be needed, then there is very little point in doubling up the generation capacity, available 24/7, with comparatively non-productive Weather Dependent Renewables. They might substitute some CO2 emissions, even though they certainly emit substantial levels of CO2 for their manufacture, installation and maintenance.
It should be noted that the use of Biomass, (nominally considered to be CO2 neutral, for example at Drax Yorkshire, ~7% UK generation), produces ~3 times the CO2 emissions for the same power output as Gas-firing. So the mandating of Biomass and calling it Renewable is a self defeating policy.
- Any consideration of electrical storage using batteries, which would impose very significant additional costs, were long-term, (only a few days), battery storage even economically feasible.
- Unsynchronised generation with lack of inherent inertia to maintain grid frequency.
- Weather Dependent Renewables can not provide inherent inertia in the grid to overcome short term sudden variability.
- Weather Dependent Renewables cannot enable a “Black Start”, when needed.
Importantly in addition these cost analyses do not account for:
- The inevitable environmental damage and wildlife destruction caused by Weather Dependent Renewables.
- The “Carbon footprint” of Weather Dependent Renewable technologies: they may never save as much CO2 during their service life as they are likely to require for their materials sourcing, manufacture, installation, maintenance and eventual demolition. When viewed in the round, all these installation activities are entirely dependent on the use of substantial amounts of fossil fuels both as feedstocks for materials and as fuels.
- The Energy Return on Energy Invested: Weather Dependent Renewables may well produce only a minimal excess of Energy during their service life in excess of what was needed for their original manufacture and installation. They certainly do not provide the regular massive excess power sufficient to support the multiple power needs of a developed society. Having excess power over the economic threshold level enables civilisations to flourish, the more the better. Accordingly Renewables are mostly parasitic on the use of fossil fuels for their existence.
An Appalling Delusion
The late Professor Sir 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”.
Weather Dependent Renewable Energy depends on capturing essentially dilute and very variable sources of power. Weather Dependent Renewables are thus both capital and maintenance expensive and inevitably unreliable. Weather Dependent Renewables are universally more expensive than the conventional alternatives of Nuclear power or Gas-firing.
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.”
and later in the same interview he said that:
“if it is possible to get through the winter with low CO2 Nuclear and possibly with Carbon Capture and Storage there is no point in having any Wind or Solar power 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 1/9th of the power output in winter as in the summer.”
But it seems that having bought into the assumption that Catastrophic Man-made Global Warming is an immediate and existential threat that Government elites when faced with these simple but devastatingly wasteful calculations assume a position of
“wilful ignorance”, and a stance of “don’t confuse me with the facts, we are saving the world“.
There is also an irrational determination in Government that the only solution to reducing CO2 emissions is the use of Weather Dependent Renewables.
This is a fallacy: the only proven solutions to CO2 emissions reduction are
- the use Nuclear energy as in France and / or
- the use of Natural gas as in the USA,
but these real solutions to the potential non problem of Man-made CO2 emissions are somehow always rejected out of hand: they do not accord with the “Green” religion.
Accordingly this costing model has followed through on Professor Mackay’s back of the envelope calculations, in the UK, showing that Weather Dependent Renewables are plainly expensive. The excess overspend instead of using Gas-firing of the current UK generation fleet roughly amount to some 55£billion in capital costs and the long-term costs approach a further 240£billion.
See the recent Michael Moore documentary where the inefficiencies and the commercial and supportive fiscal pressures driving Weather Dependent Renewables are exposed.