Weather Dependent Renewables Productivity: what do the numbers mean?

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 throughout the Western world.

Productivity, (or Capacity factor), is the percentage ratio of actual power output to the nominal Nameplate rating of a power generator.  The above percentages are the 2019 measured productivity percentages of Weather Dependent Renewable technologies in the UK.  Conventional generation technologies are available 24/7 and are thus dispatchable according to demand except for periods of routine maintenance, but their productivity may be impeded by the preferential imposition by policy of Weather Dependent Renewables.


What do the Productivity numbers mean?

Think about electricity generation as an ordinary business.  It provides a product which should be of consistent high quality and which is vital to all the other businesses of the Nation.  But as a business it has to survive when the productivity of a large number of its workers is variable and indeterminate:

  • on average more than half of the labour force only turn up on 1 day in 5:  the day they choose to arrive is unpredictable.
  • quite often, even if they do turn up, they walk out when they feel like it in the middle of the shift.
  • but the unions insist that if they do turn up they have to be employed, laying off the guys that do work full-time and cutting the pay of those full-time guys.
  • and worse than that, almost a quarter of the work force only turn up 1 day in 10.
  • and those ones usually arrive on days when demand is low but they still have to be paid in full. 
  • anyway, those guys always go home by the evening, the time of peak demand, and they don’t like working much at all in the winter when they might be needed.
  • these workers get tired quickly and retire and need replacement a third of the way through a normal working lifetime. 
  • the unions also insist that they are paid about 10  times as much as the ordinary productive workers.  Quite often they are paid not to work at all.
  • and when these guys do arrive, they cause difficulties with quality assurance, severe industrial disruption and they, at a whim, can suddenly close down production altogether.  If they do manage that there is major economic damage across the Nation.
  • when there is a real breakdown, these guys can’t help to reinstate the service.

This is the scale of business problems faced by power supply managers that the political decision to opt for trying to collect dilute and irregularly intermittent energy from the environment and calling it “Renewable”.  These problems can only get worse as the policy makers insist that more and more Weather Dependent Renewables are used in the power industry.

But apart from the personal professional pride and the responsibility as managers to providing a good quality of service, in the end the extra costs don’t really matter, either the Government, (or rather the Taxpayer), picks up the tab or the extra costs are just passed the costs on the customers:  the customers don’t have any real choice because there is a monopoly for the supply of the product.




The CO2 savings impact UK from Weather Dependent Renewables

Wind and Solar power can only ever affect the CO2 emissions from:

  • the unreliable UK Weather Dependent Renewables output, this is at a maximum ~23% of power generation
  • electricity generation is responsible for about a quarter of all UK CO2 emissions, the remainder, some three quarters, arises from space heating, transport and industry
  • UK total 2019 CO2 emissions was ~387,000,000 tonnes or 1.1% of the 34,200,000,000 tonnes 2019 Global CO2 emissions
  • thus UK Weather Dependent Renewables might avoid an absolute maximum of ~22,000,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions,

(ignoring all the CO2 emissions and energy costs essential for the Manufacture, Installation and Maintenance of the Solar and Wind power Renewable technologies).

  • 22 million tonnes of avoided CO2 emissions amounts to ~0.06%, (~6/10,000) of 2019 Global CO2 emissions or ~0.6%, (6/1,000), of European CO2 emissions.
  • It should be noted that the use of Biomass, (nominated by policy to be CO2 neutral, for example at Drax Yorkshire, ~7% UK generation), produces ~3.6 times the CO2 emissions for the same power output as Gas-firing. 

So in the UK mandating Biomass and calling it “Renewable” is a self-defeating policy for actually reducing CO2 emissions at all.  The Biomass burning policy effectively eliminates the CO2 emission reduction potential of all UK Weather Dependent Renewables.


The real comparative costs of Weather Dependent Renewable Generation

It is only when the comparative capital and long-term costs of Weather Dependent Renewables are combined with their true measured productivity, (see first graphic above), that the real cost comparisons of each unit of power (Gigawatt) produced becomes clear.  Those comparative calculations based on power technology costings for full capital costs and for long-term, (60 year), costs based on 2020 data from the US  EIA are set out below.

Screenshot 2020-12-17 at 07.18.01.png

So, the capital costs of installing Gas-fired power is less than 1£billion/Gigawatt and long-term including fuel ~3£billion for 60 years, as opposed ~12£billion for the capital cost of Offshore Wind Power and ~50£billion to maintain the Offshore installations long-term.  The poor productivity of Solar power in the UK means that Solar power will also inevitably cost similar sums for the same amount of power provided. 

Sadly, UK politicians seem to want to pay out these escalating sums.  This political decision, in combination with the unreliability of more than half the power generating technologies, is likely to result in a failure of the UK power supply.  Such a failure will inevitably hugely damage the UK economy.

The outcome of these additional expenditures will be an extremely marginal and probably immeasurable temperature reduction effect by the end of the century, that could result from the UK reduction of Global CO2 emissions by ~22million tonnes per annum, or ~0.06% of the current level of annual CO2 emissions.

But in the UK this policy is enshrined in law to show how virtuous the UK is at tackling a very small and reducing part of what is probably a non-problem.

Global competitors do not think Western Nations are either wise or virtuous.  They will not be following the “lead” that has been established.  They are mocking Western Nations trying to control “Climate Change”.

They will be delighted to take advantage of the huge commercial disadvantage that is being self-imposed by Western nations.  The developing and Eastern worlds are certainly not going to be meekly following the deranged example of the “virtue signalling” West.

The adverse effects of these policies to control climate are already clear in both South Australia and California, where their politicians have already broken their previously reliable power supply systems on grounds of combatting Global Climate Change.  With more and more Renewables the UK and much of Europe is going down the same route.

And this should be set in the context of the inevitable further growth of CO2 emissions throughout the rest of the world.



The estimated excess costs of UK and European Weather Dependent Renewables

An estimated cost of the “Appalling Delusion” to the UK and the EU(28) in 2020 are set out in more detail in the posts referenced here.  These posts gives an idea of the scale of excess costs being imposed by the UK decision to support the use of Weather Dependent Renewable energy:

And the equivalent calculations for the EU(28):

In summary the current 2019 UK excess costs over using Natural Gas for electricity generation can be assessed at ~55£billion and the further long-term expenditures of ~1/4 £trillion

So in the UK the question should be asked:

“does the extra UK cost commitment of ~62£billion to install and a further ~260£billion to support more than half of the UK Electricity Generation capacity, unreliably replacing at most ~23% of UK power output, to possibly avert ~6% of UK CO2 emissions or 0.06%, (~6/10,000ths), of 2019 Global CO2 emissions make good economic sense?”



Supporting costing model data

Comparative capital and long-term costs of Electricity Generation Technologies

The comparative costings are derived from US  EIA data as updated in 2020.Screenshot 2020-03-18 at 17.36.45.png

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:

Screenshot 2020-12-17 at 11.49.31.png

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 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:

  • The essentially dilute nature of the energy sources being harvested.
  • 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 cannot 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:
    • are essential to maintain the quality of civilisation
    • but are only used on occasions
    • has to be wastefully running in spinning reserve, often emitting CO2 nonetheless
    • as the back-up power is used intermittently it may no longer be profitable and thus itself require subsidy to continue in operation.

There has to be sufficient, continuously available back-up capacity using fossil fuels to support the grid when wind and solar are not available.  It is costly and grossly maintenance inefficient to run the essential back-up generation continuously but intermittently.  So, there is very little point in doubling up the generation capacity, available 24/7,  with comparatively non-productive, unreliable Weather Dependent Renewables. 

Renewables might substitute some CO2 emissions.  Though they certainly emit substantial levels of CO2 for their manufacture, installation and maintenance. 

  • 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”, if needed.

In addition, importantly these cost analyses do not account for:

  • Renewables cause inevitable environmental damage and destruction of wildlife.
  • Renewables are dependent on large amounts of rare earth elements and scarce materials, largely sourced from China.
  • Renewables are dependent on fossil fuels both as feedstocks for materials and as fuel for support.
  • the “Carbon footprint” of Weather Dependent Renewable technologies:  they may never save as much CO2 during their service life as they 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.

Screenshot 2020-02-21 at 10.53.48.png

  • 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 needs of a developed society.  Having excess power over the economic threshold level enables civilisations to flourish, the more the better. 




Never forget Professor Sir David Mackay

The late Professor Sir David Mackay, (former chef scientific advisor of the Department of Energy and Climate Change and brilliant Physicist), in a final interview before his untimely death a few days later, in 2016 at the age of 48,  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.”

particularly minute 12 onwards

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.”