Comparing the performance of Power generation technologies

Introduction

The Industrial Revolution and the exploitation of fossil fuels has provided and can still provide an ample supply of abundant energy for Mankind.  Fossil fuels have advanced the quality of life and the prosperity particularly of the Western world over the past 2 centuries.  There remains a very large proportion of the Global population who are yet to see similar benefits and advances in their wellbeing.

Nonetheless, in spite of the rapid growth in the Global population there has still been a progressive advance of the well-being of Man-kind with the reduction of poverty levels and climate related losses worldwide.

Green Thinking is now a major obstruction to the availability of abundant energy worldwide.  Western Nations try to demonstrate their “Virtue” by demonising Carbon Dioxide CO2, the essential Gas upon which all life depends, tackling their idea of a Climate emergency by promoting the concept of    Net Zero“.

Green Thinking: a contradiction in terms and the induced self-destruction of the West

Considerations in this post

This post considers the following power generation technologies:

  • Onshore Wind
  • Offshore Wind
  • Solar PV on grid
  • Biomass
  • Gas-fired CCGT
  • Advanced Nuclear
  • Coal / Lignite
  • Hydro + Pumped.

This post provides illustrated comparisons between these power generation technologies from the following points of view:

  • Energy Return on Energy Investment, ERoEI
  • Cost effectiveness comparisons between generation technologies:  $bn / GW
  • Excess expenditures on Weather-Dependent Renewables in Europe:  $bn / GW
  • Mass of installations required for a comparable power output: tonnes / GW
  • Weight of non fuel CO2 emissions embedded in various generation technologies:  tonnes / GW
  • Land Usage for comparable power output:  sqkm / GW

This posts collates, summarises and illustrates the performance characteristics of the different power generation technologies in a unified format.

Performance comparisons between power generation technologies

Productivity and capacity percentages

There are continual assertions that Weather-Dependent power generation technologies have become cheap and cost effective.  But such assertions take no account of:

  • the low productivity and unreliability of Weather-Dependent “Renewable” generators intended to collect power from very dilute and intermittent sources of Energy
  • thus the resulting true cost of an actual unit of power supplied to the Grid.

The long-term recorded Weather-Dependent “Renewables” productivity over the last decade in Europe is show below.

Screenshot 2022-11-25 at 09.19.13.png

Conventional Generation is shown here at to its full potential 90% achievable when not encumbered by any political interference to promote, subsidise and support Weather-Dependent “Renewables”.

In the Germany and UK the promotion of Weather-Dependent “Renewables” has been particularly aggressive.  Thus there has in effect been a wasteful duplication of conventional power generation with clearly ineffective and unreliable Weather-Dependent “Renewables”.  On occasions “Renewables” may produce their full power potential but overall they only produce at ~1/5 of the potential and often they may produce very little power at all.  

Would anyone sane buy a car costing 5 – 10 times the normal price that only works one day in five, when you never know which day that might be ?  And then insist that its technology is used to power the whole economy.

Energy Return on Energy Invested ERoEI

The abundance of available energy is the source of Man-kind’s advancement in wellbeing for the last 200 years, the greater the excess the better.  Any power generation technology must return more energy to the system than it takes for its implementation and then a great deal more to be truly viable.

ERoEI for Beginners

ERoEI is the ratio of the Energy output over Energy expanded to create and maintain the generation technology.  The diagram below shows the levels of excess energy required to support civilisation.  It is generally accepted that any ERoEI ratio for a particular power generation technology less than 7 is an insufficient excess to maintain the minimum wellbeing of Mankind.  The greater the ERoEI ratio value above the economic threshold of 7 the better for the provision of abundant useful Energy for the benefit of Man-kind.

Screenshot 2021-08-25 at 08.43.04.png

Screenshot 2021-12-22 at 11.57.54.pngThese results assume that energy storage is provided by Pumped Storage, the least costly form of Energy storage at scale.  However the availability of Pumped Storage is severely limited by local geomorphology.   Any other form of battery storage can only ever be very short term and limited by its excessive costs. 

Conventional generators have no need for costly energy storage:  their back-up energy storage, (battery),  is in their stockpiles of fuel on site or immediately available.

Screenshot 2022-11-05 at 19.47.56.png

Note:  1 kilogram of Coal contains ~40 times more energy than 1 kilogram of a Tesla powerwall battery, which costs ~330 times more/kilogram.  In other words Coal is 13,000 more cost effective for energy storage than the most advanced batteries.

In effect these ERoEI results indicate that, even if cost effective storage were available, neither Weather-Dependent generators nor imported Biomass can ever produce sufficient consistent and useful excess power to support civilisation.

Thus, all Weather-Dependent “Renewables” generation and Biomass are parasitic on other sources of power for their manufacture, installation and maintenance.  As they are increasingly imposed upon a functioning power grid they increase the likelihood of Grid failure.

(https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2020/06/Constable-Brink-of-Darkness.pdf)

https://www.thegwpf.com/britain-saved-by-coal-at-huge-cost/

Without accounting for storage to cover the unreliability and intermittency of Wind power both Onshore and Offshore may exceed the economic threshold, (ERoEI ~7), on occasions but because of their unreliability an non-dispatchabilty they are still ineffective when compared with Conventional 24/7 generation technologies.

The 2021 European Wind Drought and Weather-Dependent power generation

Weight of materials for power generation installations per unit of power output

Screenshot 2021-12-22 at 11.58.26.pngThe weight of the material involved in the installation of generation technologies gives an indication of the necessary scale of engineering enterprise they require.  The bulk of the materials involved are mainly concrete and steel but with significant and growing requirement for rarer and more costly elements.

https://www.iea.org/reports/the-role-of-critical-minerals-in-clean-energy-transitions

  • Onshore Wind:  requires massive concrete foundations that combined with its moderate productivity results in relatively high materials requirement.
  • Offshore Wind:  has higher productivity and is not dependent on massive concrete emplacements.  However the engineering requirements of installation and maintenance at sea are onerous and costly.
  • Solar PV on grid:  the low productivity of Solar energy in Europe and the widespread land use of the installations gathering this dilute, diurnally intermittent and distributed power source results in high material usage, particularly for its support structures.
  • Biomass:  burning Biomass requires similar installation to conventional Coal-fired power.  But in addition, it requires installations for timber processing, drying, pelletisation and shipment.  This leads to more extended installations both locally and overseas wherever the wood products are harvested.
  • Gas-fired CCGT:  the engineering resources necessary to use Natural Gas as a power source are minor in comparison with other generation technologies.
  • Advanced Nuclear:  involves more engineering works than classic Coal generation but not as much as Onshore Wind.
  • Coal / Lignite:  generation installations are similar to Biomass but the ancillary support infrastructure for local fuel sourcing are significantly lower.
  • Hydro + Pumped:  involves massive civil engineering works for its dams.

CO2 emissions embedded in generation technologies per unit of power output

Screenshot 2021-12-22 at 11.58.47.png

  • Onshore Wind:  the embedded CO2 involved is accounted for by their the heavy but essential concrete foundations.
  • Offshore Wind:  does not require massive foundation but much more steel is involved.
  • Solar PV on grid:  the high CO2 emissions arise both from its low productivity, (~11%+ in EU), its diurnal and seasonal intermittency and the excessive CO2 emissions from the large scale Silicon chip manufacture.
  • Biomass:  burning Biomass requires similar installation to conventional Coal-fired power.  But with additional installation for timber processing, drying , pelletisation and shipment.  This requires more extended installations both locally and overseas wherever the wood product is harvested.
  • Gas-fired CCGT:  the embedded CO2 emissions for Natural Gas power generation are minor in comparison even with other conventional generation technologies.
  • Advanced Nuclear:  involves larger quantities of engineering materials than conventional generation.
  • Coal / Lignite:  installation of Coal-fired power is comparatively modest but not as compact as Gas-firing.
  • Hydro + Pumped:  involves massive civil engineering works with large quantities of mainly concrete for dams.

For reference this diagram shows the comparative CO2 emissions for power generation technologies.Screenshot 2022-11-14 at 10.21.15.pngCoal-firing results in about twice the CO2 emissions of Gas-firing:  the substitution  of Coal-firing with Fracked Natural Gas  has lead to the major CO2 emissions reductions seem in the USA since 2000.  Imported Biomass produces ~3.6 times the CO2 emissions of Gas-firing and is particularly self-defeating.  In the UK and Germany this misguided use of imported Biomass has entirely negated any and all CO2 emissions savings that may have been achieved by the use of all the other installed Weather-Dependent “Renewables”.

The contradictory Green policies to limit CO2 emissions

Land Use requirements for Power generation

Screenshot 2022-11-15 at 11.55.23.png

All conventional power generators and Biomass have modest land use requirements, a few square km / GW at the point of generation.

  • Onshore Wind:  wind turbines have spacing requirements so that their wind shadows do not conflict and reduce their mutual efficiency.  Wind power also has local limitations as to the closeness of habitation.  Wind power also requires land area for access, installation and continuing maintenance. Wind power when it seeks optimum siting on ridge lies is visually intrusive and damaging to birdlife.  The spacing requirement for Onshore wind can allow for other agricultural uses.
  • Offshore wind:  has similar spacing requirements for efficiency and does cover very large areas at sea.  Only the size of Onshore support installations are considered here.
  • Solar PV:  entirely negates any ancillary land use as its land coverage total.  As Solar power is dilute and intermittent it would require exclusive use of very large areas, often productive agricultural land.  ~20 km x ~20km would be needed to produce the equivalent contribution of 1GW.
  • Overseas Biomass:  destroys extensive forest resources and has installations at source for processing harvested timber drying, pelletisation and transport terminals.  The generation plant is essentially the same as for Coal firing.
  • Hydro power:  the lake area necessary to support a 1Gigawatt generator is about 230 sqkm.  But that lake area is available for water storage and recreation.

https://www.nei.org/news/2022/nuclear-brings-more-electricity-with-less-land

Cost comparisons of Generation technologies

The 2022 US  EIA table below is used to give indications of comparative power generation costs.Scan 2.jpeg

US $ are used through these analyses for comparative purposes.  The comparison of US  EIA overnight for the capital costs for different generation technologies is shown below.

The interpretation of the US  EIA data results in the following abbreviated table:

Screenshot 2022-11-20 at 12.28.55.png

Screenshot 2022-11-15 at 08.02.00.pngIn terms of capital costs alone Onshore Wind power and Solar PV power appear to be  closely comparable to Gas-firing.  The capital costs of Offshore Wind power, imported Biomass.  Nuclear power is particularly costly in capital terms.

The comparative costs for contributing  the equivalent of 1Gigawatt in capital and in the 40 year long-term at USA fuel prices for are shown below. 

Screenshot 2022-11-15 at 08.03.30.pngThe long-term costs estimated here also account for the limited service life that is achieved with Weather-Dependent “Renewables”.  At 18 – 25 years as opposed the 60 years plus for Nuclear power it is much shorter than achieved by other Conventional Coal-fired or Gas-fired generators.  To give conservative comparisons with Weather-Dependent “Renewables” 40 year service lives are used in this costing model.

To assess the true comparative cost of  delivering a GW unit of power to the grid the actual productivity of of the generation technology has to be taken into  account.  The productivity record of Weather-Dependent “Renewables” in Europe for the last decade is is taken as the yardstick.

Screenshot 2022-11-24 at 11.13.12.png

Screenshot 2022-11-15 at 07.28.46.pngScreenshot 2022-11-15 at 17.42.12.pngRecently European fuel, (Natural Gas), prices have become substantially inflated.  A revised cost comparison with Gas-firing which is still significantly cost effective is shown below.

Screenshot 2022-11-24 at 11.24.21.pngAn estimate of the scale of the excess costs over using Gas-firing in stead of Weather-Dependent “Renewables” incurred across Europe is shown below.  This summarises the adverse fiscal achievement of the Green movements across Europe which have managed to block Fracking for indigenously available Natural Gas.

Screenshot 2022-12-28 at 16.36.37

Cost comparisons with effective means of CO2 emissions reduction

The two main means of actually reducing CO2 emissions from Power generation are replacing Coal-firing by Gas-firing and by the use of Nuclear power.

The use of Gas-firing to provide the same level of power to the Grid is generally much cheaper the any Weather-Dependent generation or Biomass.  In capital cost terms Solar power is only marginally dearer for the equivalent Nameplate capacity, whereas Onshore wind power is only about twice the cost to install.

It is only when their actual productivity contributing power to the grid that true cost comparisons of the power supplied to the Grid can be made: these are summarised below.  Taking into account productivity the installation of:

  • Onshore Wind power is ~4 – 6 times the cost of Gas-firing
  • Offshore Wind power is ~15 – 10 times the cost of Gas-firing.
  • Solar power is about ~10 – 6 times the cost of Gas-firing

But even when the variable and fuel costs are increased 4 fold the long-term costs of weather-Dependent “Renewables” still exceed the running costs of the Weather-Dependent “Renewables” fleet.

Screenshot 2022-12-07 at 09.47.28.png

Any assertion that “Renewables” are reaching cost parity with conventional power generation is patently false.

These comparative values show how the irrational political obsession with nominally reducing CO2 emissions, (UK at ~1% – Europe ~10% of Global CO2 emissions), increases both the costs and reliability of power generation for the Nation.

An installed European fleet of ~400GW Weather-Dependent “Renewables” had a capital cost of ~600 $billion.  Had a 600 $billion investment been made in Conventional power generation those installations would have been sufficient to replace the whole of the generation capability of Europe with reliable 24/7 Conventional power.  Instead the obsession with Green thinking at a productivity percentage of only ~20% has actually only contributed the equivalent of ~70 GW (~17%) of power input to the European Grid.

Even at the current inflated prices for Natural Gas in Europe this still imposed excess costs on power generation of about 1.6 $ trillion in the 40 year long-term.  This a reasonable measure of the adverse fiscal success of the campaigns to ban Fracking for Natural Gas in Europe.

Realistically this result should be considered to be the outcome of the continuing Cold War against Western capitalism.

Conclusions

These points can be summarised as follows:

  • In terms of Energy Returned on Energy Invested (ERoEI) terms, Solar PV power and Biomass do not generate any excess power to support society.  As such they can only ever be a parasitic drain on the energy resources of any Nation opting by policy to use them.
  • On occasions Wind power both Onshore and Offshore might generate some minor amount of excess power for society in ERoEI terms.  But as they are non-dispatchable, variable, unreliable and intermittent, they require full duplication by other power generation technologies to provide consistent service, for whenever they are unavailable.
  • Over the decade 2011- 2021, the combined productivity of Weather-Dependent Renewables across Europe EU(27)+UK achieved just ~19%.
  • Gas-firing, Nuclear power and a diminishing amount of Coal / Lignite generation with an attainable productivity of ~90% provides the essential power to maintain European society whenever Weather-Dependent Renewable energy failed.
  • measured in terms of their sheer mass:
    • Onshore Wind and Biomass require almost 20 times the scale of engineering installations than Gas-fired CCGT installations.
    • Onshore Wind power and Solar PV power results in Engineering installations about twice the size required by Nuclear power facilities.
    • Biomass requires about twice the size engineering installation as conventional Coal-firing.
  • measured in terms of the non-fuel CO2 embedded in the technologies for their manufacture:
    • Wind power has ~10 times the embedded CO2 of Gas-fired CCGT installations.
    • Solar power requires ~25 times the embedded CO2 of Gas-fired CCGT installations, the bulk of this is associated with overseas chip fabrication
    • Biomass requires about twice the embedded CO2 of Coal / Lignite.

It is to be hoped that the development of Small Modular Reactors, (SMR), using current fission technologies will in due course mean that Nuclear power can become much cheaper to install and more widely employed.  Fission power as an power source will become increasingly important, as Fossil fuels eventually become progressively depleted.

However, Fossil Fuel resources, if not maligned and negated by Climate Change alarmism, would be able to provide effective power and power for the developing and Western worlds for several generations with Coal use at ever increasing levels.

Fission power as an Energy source will become increasingly important, as Fossil fuels become progressively depleted in due course.  Thereafter, Fusion power with nil concern for Nuclear waste might finally become viable.

As conventional generation installations become underused by Green policy, they have become unprofitable and thus either require subsidy support to maintain their operation and sustain Grid viability or are subject to closure.  Such closures seem to be a short-sighted but intended consequence of the Energy policies of Western Governments.

As such those policies are rendering the power supplies in Western nations more and more vulnerable.  That process of making power generation ever more unreliable, poses a real and existential danger to Western societies.  The immediate damage from the danger of loss of power supplies for Western societies is far in excess of any possible risk from putative but irrelevant Man-made Global Warming far in the future.

https://edmhdotme.wordpress.com/minor-greenhouse-gasses-co2-ch4-n2o/