This article is concerned with the two main forms of weather dependent Renewable Energy, Wind Power, (Onshore and Offshore) and Photovoltaic solar power. In the UK this amounts to ~75% of all Renewable Energy as installed. The other Renewable Energy inputs are traditional Hydro power ~8% and the remainder are other sources such as biomass, waste and landfill gas amounting to ~17%: they are not considered here.
Summary estimates of 60 lifetime costs of weather dependent Renewables in Europe are set out below.
This article sets out a plausible model to assess the costs commitments made to introduce weather dependent Renewable Energy in Europe. The numbers that result are very significant indeed . The populace of Europe were never consulted as to whether they wished to commit such vast sums to the Green cause of controlling CO2 as a greenhouse gas in a futile attempt to limit further temperature rise due to greenhouse warming.
- The installation of the weather dependent Renewables fleet in Europe, as of 2015, has already lead to a 60 year lifetime financial commitment amounting to roughly €3.4trillion: this approximates to the annual GDP of Germany.
- Electricity generation by using gas-fired installations is significantly cheaper than weather dependent Renewables in terms of both initial installation Capital cost and later Operation and Maintenance costs, even when accounting for the current costs of fuel.
- The € 0.72 trillion capital costs already spent on weather dependent Renewables in Europe to date would have been sufficient to re-equip the 1,000 Gigawatt European electricity generating fleet with Gas-fired power stations in large part: producing electricity for the grid consistently, as and when needed at ~90% capacity.
- The European weather dependent Renewable fleet with a nominal nameplate output of ~236 Gigawatts only contributes ~ 42Gigawatts to the European Grid, a capacity percentage at about 19% overall.
- 60 year life-time costs of Onshore wind power are about 5 times more expensive than Gas-fired generation.
- 60 year life-time costs of Offshore wind power and Solar power are about 20 times more expensive than Gas-fired generation.
- during the 60 year life-time Gas-fired generators have a full-time productive capacity of about ~90%, whereas the combined capacity figures for weather dependent Renewable Energy of only about 19% is achieved across all European weather dependent Renewable installations.
- if full fossil fuel back-up has to be provided to maintain the viability of the electricity network, the entire need for the weather dependent Renewables in the first place is obviated.
These notes make estimates of:
- a presentation of the current state of installations and 2015 performance of weather dependent Renewables in Europe (28)
- the likely capital expenditure over 60 years
- the running costs including fuel costs, if applicable, over that 60 year time period
- the likely combined expenditures for 60 years overall
- the ratios of weather dependent Renewable financial performances compared to Gas-fired electricity generation.
This article is intended only to give indicative guesstimates and orders of magnitude of the differentials in financial performance of weather dependent Renewables and shows whatever data inputs are assumed that they are generally bound to be very significantly more costly than fossil fuel based generation. Comparative ratios are provided to show the effectiveness of comparatively low carbon Gas-fired generation.
In addition these guesstimates point out that the cost of providing the essential equivalent fossil fuel backup generation, because of the inherent intermittency and variability of weather dependent renewables, is minor in comparison.
But of course if full fossil fuel back-up has to be provided, the entire need for the weather dependent Renewables in the first place is obviated.
The current state of weather dependent Renewables in Europe (28)
The EurOberv’ER organisation publishes reports on Renewable energy through out Europe annually. This report and its illustrations collate that installation and performance data as the basis for an assessment of the original investment costs and the likely forward 60 year commitment arising for the current level of installations across Europe.
The following graphic shows the extent of weather dependent renewables as installed in European countries by 2015, particularly the scale of German installation with a large proportion of installed solar energy. The UK has made a larger commitment to offshore wind power than elsewhere. It contrasts the Italian commitment to Solar power compared with Spain with a larger proportion committed to on shore wind power.
France has about a fifth of the renewable installation of Germany but because of its long term commitment to Nuclear power for electricity generation it does in fact have much lower CO2 emissions / head than any other developed country. France has now reduced its CO2 emissions to below the global average. Any Renewable Energy efforts in France would therefore seem to be redundant, when the country is already achieving so much in terms of CO2 reduction anyway.
For convenience a limited subset of the seven European nations most heavily committed to weather dependent Renewables is used in these illustrations. The remaining 21 Nations only account for the remaining ~20% of all European installed Renewables.
The actual generative performance of the limited subset of weather dependent renewables is shown below. Unfortunately the EurObser’ER data does not distinguish between the output performance of onshore and offshore wind power.
The capacity performance of the types of weather dependent Renewables can be seen below. Comparatively Solar energy is about a half as performant as wind power and is highly dependent on the latitude of a particular country. Clearly increasing Offshore wind power improves the Renewable capacity results of a particular country.
The contrast between the achieved combined capacity performance of weather dependent Renewables and conventional power generation can be seen below.
This article follows on from and should be read in association with:
A model estimating life-time costs for Renewable Energy in Europe
This article assesses the costs of weather-dependent Renewables over a 60 year life-time and compares them with Gas Fired Electricity generation. It accounts for:
- for capital costs based of comparative overnight capital costs from the US EIA
AEO2015 Table 8.2. Cost and performance characteristics of new central station electricity generating technologies
- running costs including calculated as an annual percentage of initial capital costs
- an overall combination both.
A 60 year life-time is used as being the approximate in service life for the alternate generation technologies Nuclear and Coal-fired power generation. The following table sets out modelling parameters used to achieve the following sets of results. These parameter values may be generous to Renewable Energy performance. They can be adjusted and the spread sheet can be made available to analyse other parameter values.
- The lifetime capital costs assume that the Renewable installations will be replaced whenever they become obsolete over the full 60 year lifetime.
- The likely cost of Operation and Maintenance are calculated as percentages of the original capital installation costs, thus the higher percentage O + M costs used for Gas-fired generation.
- The capacity factors for Onshore and Offshore wind generation are based on the 10 years of capacity information measured from UK data from the Renewable Energy Foundation.
- The overall Solar capacity factor in Europe was measured in 2015 from the EurObserER data, (~12.1%). As might be anticipated, this EurObserER capacity level is rather higher than the level for Solar PV capacity (reported by RenewablesUK) for the last 10 years for the northerly UK, (~8.6%).
- Gas-fired capacity data at ~87% is taken from US EIA data tables.
- The US$ is used by the US EIA data on comparative costs, (overnight capital costs). It is simply assumed that the Euro and the US $ provide roughly equivalent value on their respective continents.
- The scale of expenditures involved are inevitably large and expressed here in € billion, €’000,000,000. By way of comparison the capital cost of 1 Gigawatt of Gas-fired power installation is about 1€ bn, €1,000,000,000 to install.
It should be noted that in the 2015 cumulative Operation and Maintenance costs for Gas-fired electricity generation fuel amounted to ~75% of the variable costs at 2014 prices as presented by US EIA.
However recently Natural Gas prices have halved. This is as a result of the fracking revolution in the USA.
As fracking is increasingly being employed worldwide, except in Europe, where a “Green Philosophy” survives to block this useful and large scale energy source, it seems that international gas prices, whether imported or not, are likely to remain reasonably low for the foreseeable future. Large scale gas exports from the USA into Europe have now begun.
Estimating Renewable costs / Gigawatt
In summary this results in 60 year life-time cost when using 2015 fuel prices (higher than at present) as are shown below.
60 year life-time expenditures on European Renewables: € billion
When these 60 year lifetime costs are combined with the current commitments already made for weather dependent Renewables in Europe by 2015, (EurObserER data), the estimated scale of the 60 term investment commitment across Europe can be appreciated.
The following graphic shows the estimated 60 year life-time future expenditures in Europe (28), as if installations were made simultaneously and continually renewed to maintain the same commitment to Renewables as is already recorded in 2015. The following graphics show the country by country distribution of initial installations capital costs and distribution of expenditures over the 60 year lifetime expressed by the model estimates.
In total Europe (28) as of 2015 according to this simple model had already made a 60 year commitment to weather dependent Renewable Energy technology amounting to approximately 3.4 trillion €uros: €3,400,000,000,000,000.
Some ~36% of that European Renewable investment has been made by Germany. However as Germany has opted for the extensive use Solar PV, the overall performance of Renewable investment in Germany in 2015 is, at ~17% capacity, the least performant of any European country. This poor performance in Germany in spite of its very heavy investment in Renewables is hardly surprising it being one of the most consistently cloudy nations in Europe.
National commitments to weather dependent Renewables
The following charts present various measures of the commitment to weather dependent Renewables by nation.
Comparisons with Gas-fired generation
The following graphic show the comparisons with Gas-fired power generation for the alternate generating technologies. Firstly the scale of the forward financial commitment can be seen amounting to some €3.4trillion. This provides about ~4% of the electricity used in Europe. But it provides that power in an unpredictable, intermittent and undispatchable manner.
The question should be asked how was such a vast commitment came to be made in support of an unproven theory that might affect the global environment and should consideration have been given to alternate useful ways to spend such a vast sum to make Europe’s essential electricity generating system increasingly unreliable.
Whereas ~€0.3trillion would have provided the an equivalent amount of Gas-fired power in a useful and dispatchable manner to satisfy demand.
However when looking at the likely costs per gigawatt installation over the 60 year period one can see that with the current Renewables configuration in Europe the overall each Gigawatt generated costs about 10 times the equivalent costs using Gas-fired power.
Onshore wind power is likely only to be about 5 times more expensive, whereas both Offshore wind power and Solar energy installations are likely to result in overall costs per gigawatt generated of some 20 times more expensive.
In 2014 the costs of natural gas fuel comprised about 75% of Gas-fired generation, the picture changes somewhat if current prices for Natural gas are taken into account, by assessing the Operation and maintenance percentage at 10%.
Alternate assumptions can be made in this simple model. Nonetheless whatever reasonable values are chosen, the indications always remain with comparable outcomes. Weather dependent Renewables always remain substantially more costly, as a means of electricity generation, rather than Gas-fired generation by orders of magnitude.
All these comparative values between Renewables and Gas-fired generation, whilst accounting for their overall generating capacity, still entirely ignore the vagaries of intermittency and non-dispatchablility that are inevitably associated with weather dependent Renewable technologies.
The Renewable Energy industry could not exist without the Government mandated subsidies and preferential tariffs. Therefore the Renewables industry is not a viable business.
Without its Government mandate weather dependent Renewable Energy would never be a chosen as a rational part of the generating mix, when viewed from the needs for the engineering viability of a nation’s electrical supply grid.
The failure of weather dependent Renewables in Germany is now understood. Far from being a beacon of Renewables excellence, “die Energiwende” in Germany now being seen as a massive and very costly policy failure. This failure is hugely damaging to Germany’s industrial prowess and now is seen to not even manage to reduce Germany’s CO2 emissions output.
However Germany is reacting to the problem in a positive manner by rapidly building a new fleet of coal and lignite fired power stations, without, Carbon Capture and Storage, CCS, whereas the UK in response to EU directives closed almost all of it coal fired capacity without replacement capable of backing up Renewables when the weather they depend on fails them.
- By 2015 the countries of the European Union had made a current and future financial commitment of some €3.4trillion to weather dependent Renewable Energy technologies. That future financial commitment will increase as further Renewable installations are made in future.
- 3.4 trillion Euros is more than the annual GDP of Germany and about 50% greater than the annual GDP of both France and the United Kingdom
- More than 1/3 of the financial commitment to weather dependent Renewables in Europe so far has been made in Germany.
- The € 0.7 trillion initial capital costs already spent on Renewables in Europe for about 4.5% of its generating needs would have been sufficient to largely re-equip the entire ~1,000 Gigawatt European electricity generating fleet with Gas-fired power stations producing continuous power effectively at ~90% capacity.
- Electricity generation by using gas-fired installations is significantly cheaper than weather dependent Renewables in terms of both installation capital cost and Operation and Maintenance costs, even when accounting for the cost of fuel.
- The European Renewables fleet with a nominal nameplate output of ~236 Gigawatts only contributes ~42 Gigawatts to the European Grid, a capacity percentage at about 19% in 2015, but these power supplies are intermittent and non-dispatchable
- 60 year life-time costs of Onshore wind power range is about 6 times more expensive than Gas-fired generation.
- 60 year life-time costs of Offshore wind power is about 20 times more expensive than Gas-fired generation
- 60 year life-time costs of Solar power is about 20 times more expensive than Gas-fired generation.
- during the 60 year life-time Gas-fired generation has a productive capacity of 85% – 90% is achieved whereas the combined capacity figures for Renewable Energy of only about 19% is achieved across all European weather dependent Renewable installations.
- Gas-fired electricity generation significantly reduces CO2 emissions, when compared with other fossil fuels such as all forms of Coal and Lignite: this is in spite of the fact it does burn a “fossil fuel”.
- This effect is already seen in the USA where significant CO2 emissions reductions are being achieved by the transition from Coal to Natural gas for electricity generation. This effect arises from the fact that coal contains a 6-10 times higher proportion of carbon atoms as natural gas and thus those fossil fuels produce proportionally much more CO2 when oxidised for equivalent thermal outputs.
- CO2 emissions from Germany are now increasing, so the vast investment in Renewable technologies to control man-made CO2 emissions is manifestly failing.
- Some part of the €3.4 trillion financial commitment made in support of Renewables could have been usefully invested for further research into low CO2 alternates such as:
- small scale reproducible standardised Nuclear generation technologies
- the establishment of Thorium based reactor technology
- fusion power.
- The use of current weather dependent Renewable technologies should be examined critically from “cradle to grave” to assess the effectiveness of the technology in actually reducing man-made CO2 emissions at all. It is likely that actual CO2 reduction arising from the use of weather dependent Renewables is very marginal when basic materials cement and steel, manufacturing, installation processes, grid connection and demolition are fully accounted for.
- At the same time all other non-European nations are continuing to emit very large and growing amounts of CO2 such that now Europe as a whole only accounts for ~10% of worldwide CO2 emissions with:
- Germany ~2.1%
- UK ~1.3%
- France ~0.9%
- This is emphasised by the fact that in 2014 Chinese CO2 emissions (at 8.24 tonnes/head) have now exceeded the overall European CO2 emissions level average by ~12%
- France in particular with CO2 emissions (at 4.96 tonnes/head) by employing Nuclear power for electricity generation, has an overall CO2 emissions output 40% lower than China.
- The French CO2 emissions level (at 4.96 tonnes/head) is in fact now lower than the global average, (at 5.09 tonnes/head). That global average includes India and the whole of the rest of the underdeveloped world.
If as many assert, that
- man-made CO2 is not pollutant,
- is not the cause of catastrophic and dangerous Global Warming / Climate Change
- is a positive benefit to plant life and thus the whole biosphere.
then the investment commitment of some €3.4 trillion already committed to weather dependent Renewables in Europe is entirely wasted.
This waste has arisen from the adherence to an erroneous Green philosophy, as determined by the European Union and subsequently supported to various extents by the governments of other European countries, and most particularly in the UK with the 2008 Climate Change Act.
As a hobby, I began some exploration of Anthropogenic Global warming / Climate Change starting with the Professor David MacKay’s book Sustainable energy without the hot air. This book, using as he says, “numbers not adjectives”, debunks all the common assertions about the efficacy of weather dependent Renewable energy.
Although Professor Mackay was concerned that CO2 is contributing significantly to “Global Warming / Climate Change”, he had at long last produced a great deal of quantified common sense on the subject of the efficacy of Renewable energy.
Very sadly Professor Mackay died prematurely in April 2016. In spite of the fact that he was a green supporter and agreed with de-carbonisation of Western economies he was at the same time devoutly rational, preferring mathematics to Green religious conjecture.
Accordingly, one of his most recent quotes was that the attempt to try to power the UK economy with weather dependent Renewable Energy was as he said “an appalling delusion”.
And as he has always said it only takes some trivial “back of the envelope” calculations to prove it. This and my other notes do some of those trivial “back of the envelope” calculations and thus disprove many points of Green dogma.
I would hope that these notes follow Professor Mackay’s lead in as much they attempt to quantify, illustrate and thus question many of the aspects of the Green thinking and the assertions of the possibility of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming / Climate Change just with some simple maths.