This post gives indicative, (back of the envelope), estimates of the net capital and net 60 year long-term excess costs of Weather Dependent Renewables as compared to the use of Nuclear generation and Gas-firing for electricity generation in the USA, using costings as defined by the US Energy Information Administration in 2017. More detailed calculations are provided for the 7 main Renewable Energy protagonist States in the USA.
These net calculations avoid the distortions arising from the political interventions in support of Renewables. These calculations consider the USA Weather Dependent Renewables fleet as installed by the end of 2016.
These estimates are only intended to give an idea of the present scale of the excess costs for Government mandated “Green Virtue Signaling” within the USA. Such excess costs fall both on America taxpayers and American electricity consumers.
The two main forms of Weather Dependent Renewable Energy in the USA are Wind Power, Onshore and on grid Photovoltaic Solar Power, amounting to about 75% of the total. The other “Renewable” energy inputs in the USA include traditional Hydro power ~8% and the remainder are other sources such as biomass, waste and landfill gas amounting to ~17%. So far there is virtually no Offshore wind power in the USA and power input from this technology is ignored.
The introductory table above shows that the indicative overnight capital costs of the current US Renewable fleet is ~210$bn and the anticipated further long-term costs would be ~890$billion, if those currently existing Renewables were to be sustained for a 60 year long-term service life, (equivalent to the service life of a Nuclear power plant).
The equivalent costs using Gas-firing to provide a similar level of continuous power generation, (~30GW of generation), would be ~33$bn in capital costs and a further ~150$bn long-term as opposed to Renewables with capital costs of ~ 200$billion and long-term costs ~890$bnillion. ~30GW of generation actually represents about 6% of USA power generation.
The use Nuclear power would have broadly similar capital costs to the Renewables fleet but in the long-term would be cheaper than installing Renewables by about ~500$billion.
In 2017 the USA represented only ~15% of the global CO2 emissions and power generation in the USA only accounted for about one quarter of those CO2 emissions, transport, industry and space heating accounting for the remainder.
So making costly modifications USA electricity generation technologies can only have a marginal impact on a relatively small proportion of current global CO2 emissions. That impact is even less if one questions the CO2 emission footprints of current Renewable technologies or their Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) from manufacture to demolition.
The ~15% USA proportion of global emissions will continue to diminish further as India, China and all other developing nations continue to use coal as their cheapest fuel for electricity generation to improve the well being of their populations. This would be in contradiction to the spirit of the Paris Climate Accord.
Renewables in the Electrical Generation context of the USA
In 2016 weather Dependent Renewables only contributed the equivalent of about 30GW power: this amounted to about 6% of total USA demand.
This diagram shows that, although their installations already amount to ~30% of USA generators, they only produce less than 9% of the power contributed to the grid.
In addition it should also be noted that as Renewables are intermittent and non-dispatchable the usefulness of the power they contribute is therefore questionable. It cannot be supplied to meet actual demand and so requires alternate reliable back-up power, (fossil fuel or nuclear) for the occasions when Renewable power is not available.
Comparative Cost Model
The US Energy Information Administration, (US EIA), provides detailed cost comparisons in US$, avoiding the distorting effects of Government fiscal and subsidy policies supporting Renewable Energy.
This table of comparative US$ generation 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:
- Nominally Onshore wind is the cheapest Weather Dependent Renewable generator but in 2016 across the USA its capacity factor is ~31%, so it is only effectively operational less than 1/3 of the time. It is unpredictable when Onshore Wind power might provide that power to the grid.
- Solar PV is relatively cheap to install but according to the US EIA has a universal capacity factor of 11.4%, so it is only operational about 1/8th of the time. Those productive intervals of Solar PV are not necessarily 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.
- 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, especially as if it is supplied by locally sourced Fracked gas, obviating the need for the cost of imports and long supply lines. Gas -firing has low CO2 output compared to Coal.
- Advanced nuclear is relatively expensive in capital costs. Over-regulation and popular antagonism has probably increased the current capital costs of this very effective form of non CO2 emitting 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 may be 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.
The appropriate costings used here can be summarised as below:
It is clear from the costing table above that Gas-firing, at ~1€billion / Gigawatt in capital costs and ~4.5€billion / Gigawatt in 60 year long-term running costs, is the cheapest form of effective electricity generation, with a potential up-time of ~90%. Gas-fired stations 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 centers 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 the USA
In 2017 the level of USA Renewable installations reached a total Nameplate rating of ~118 Gigawatts, of which ~39% is Solar generation, providing overall ~30 Gigawatts of electrical output to the grid: resulting in a combined Renewables capacity factor of 25.4%.
That installation rating data is combined with the condensed US EIA data and summarised 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 USA measured capacity values are overall about ~6 times more costly than Gas-firing and ~1-2 times more costly than Nuclear generation.
Combining the US EIA estimated cost figures combined with the scale of the USA Renewables fleet in 2016, the present overnight capital costs of USA Renewables is ~210$billion and that current installed fleet, if maintained, is likely to cost ~890$billion, if sustained, over a full 60 year service life.
These excess cost results give an indication of the scale of cost burden imposed on US electricity consumers by “Green Virtue Signaling”. When combined with the measured capacity figures in 2016, Wind power and Solar PV may well cost close to 30$bn/GW, if maintained for the long-term, as compared with ~4$bn/GW for Gas-firing.
The excess current capital expenditures, made in the name of “Green orthodoxy”, over the use of Gas-firing already expended on US Renewables amounts to ~175$billion with a future further commitment approaching ~740$billion. Weather Dependent Renewables in the USA are roughly 6 times more expensive than using well established Gas-firing technologies for electricity generation, both to install and run long-term.
The excess costs of Renewables over Nuclear generation are lower but still substantial at ~30$bn in capital, costs and ~500$bn in long-term costs. Weather Dependent Renewables in the USA are 1 – 2 times more expensive than using well established Nuclear technologies for electricity generation.
The progress of Renewable installations in the USA and their productive performance since 2008 is shown below.
Renewable Performance of key individual States
Parallel comparative calculations have been carried out for the following major American States adhering to the use of Weather Dependent Renewables:
- Rest of USA
The effective excess costs in these states with the greatest commitments to Renewables can be summarised as below.
It can be seen that the decision to use Solar energy, for example in California and Arizona increases the capital cost differential and leads substantial excess costs in the long-term.
The Weather Dependent Renewables industry has deluded itself, its Green supporters, most Western politicians and the public at large by not admitting to detrimental impact of the massive capacity and thus cost differentials between Weather Dependent Renewables and reliable, 24/7, fossil fuel or nuclear power generation with the capability of virtually continuous output. The costs and performance differentials are set out above in the form of Ready Reckoners.
Even so the production and cost differentials discussed here do not account for the difficulties that arise from the inherent unreliability of using Weather Dependent Renewables as a reliable power source. Nor do they account for the environmental damage that Renewables cause in the landscape and to wildlife.
When assessing the cost comparisons with traditional forms of generation and asserting that Renewables are now competitive with traditional generation technologies, the Renewables industry seems to conveniently forget the capacity / load factor differences with traditional generation mean that overall their Renewables only produce about 1/4 overall of their stated Name Plate values in the USA. In Europe this figure is close to 1/5 overall and of course Solar PV power only operates at about ~11.4% of its Name Plate rating, as reported by the US EIA.
Because of the capacity limitations and with an assessment their true output performance Weather Dependent Renewables are intrinsically much more expensive than consistent and reliable electricity generation technologies: in particular the cheapest form, Gas-fired Generation.
Overall in the USA, when taking into account real reported capacity percentages, Weather Dependent Renewable technologies in Wind and Solar PV in combination are about 6 times more costly in overnight capital costs and terms of long-term running costs than Gas-firing, even when including the cost of fuel. Certainly Onshore wind power is the least costly Renewable technology. But because of its very poor capacity percentages Solar PV in the region of only 11% is certainly the least economic even when the significant reduction of the manufacturing costs of the solar panels themselves is taken into account.
These straightforward calculations show that in comparison to Gas-firing US Renewable installations have cost more than 200$bn in capital costs and are likely to cost a further ~800$bn, as Renewable installations are maintained long-term. When compared to Nuclear installations the USA capital costs are roughly equivalent but the differential in long-term cost is likely to be a further ~500$bn.
Wind power in the USA appears to be highly performant with an overall capacity factor of greater than 30%. This compares very favorably with European experience where onshore wind power is current only achieving a capacity of ~20%.
The least performant states are those in the South with heavy commitments to Solar energy, particularly California and Arizona. It seems that even in these Southern sunny states Solar power is a consistently poor investment. The US EIA data for 2016 universally assesses the USA solar capacity factor at 11.4%.
The USA is a still a high emitter of CO2 / head but has achieved very significant CO2 reductions / head since the turn of the millennium, 2000. This has occurred as a result of the growing use of Fracked natural gas rather than primarily Coal for electricity generation.
The USA CO2 reduction is NOT attributable to the installation of Renewables, which at best are probably only Carbon Dioxide output and Energy input neutral.
The poor comparative cost performance outlined here is compounded by an additional major disadvantage of unpredictable functional performance. These cost analyses do not take account of the intrinsic variability of Weather Dependent Renewables which make their power product much less valuable, much less useful and much more expensive to utilise than dispatchable on-demand power sources such as provided by fossil fuels or nuclear power.
As the installations of Weather Dependent Renewables grows it is now clear that if a reliable electricity supply is to be maintained, the growth of inefficient fossil fuel usage must grow alongside Renewables installation.
So one can only conclude that there is little point at all in installing Weather Dependent Renewables, other than as a massive exercise in costly “Green virtue signaling”.
By Government mandate relatively cheap and efficient economic fossils fuel generation is inevitably supplemented by expensive and unreliable Weather Dependent Renewables. This involves a complete duplication of generation capacity when the costly part of the generation can only contribute to grid for about one fifth / one quarter of the time, and worse still this power production is unrelated and unrelatable to demand.
There are also three other major contraindications of employing Renewables in the Western world:
- This level of excess expenditures by Western economies is made to look nonsensical for CO2 reduction by the actions in the developing world, largely supported by China, which will continue for an indefinite future.
(New York Times, 2017)
“Currently, 1,600 new coal plants in 62 countries are planned or in the process of being constructed across the world, expanding the world’s coal-fired energy capacity by 43% in the coming years .
And there can be no long-term CO2 emissions reduction benefit to installing more and more wind power if the long-term net effect of doing so leads to the requisite construction of more fossil fuel energy plants.”
- When viewed in the round from manufacture, installation and scrappage Weather Dependent Renewables are probably less than Carbon neutral over their lifetime, (they produce more CO2 for their manufacture and installation than they can ever save in the course of their operating lifetime). The following diagram, expressed in tonnes / Terawatt hour generated, shows the comparative resource usage of Renewables as opposed to conventional generation. These results arise both from the low capacity figures for Renewables and from the essentially dilute forms of energy being converted to electrical power. All these resources require substantial inputs from fossil fuels and thus output of CO2 for their manufacture.
- the value for Renewables for Energy Return on Energy Invested is less than 7 and therefore not in the viable range.
The Catch-22 of Energy Storage
The USA now only accounts for about 15% of global CO2 emissions and in order to affect these emissions marginally, the USA as a whole has already committed expenditures that amount to ~200 $billion in capital costs and a likely future committed cost of about 890 $billion.
If these calculations are close to in the right ballpark, this post confirms that the pursuit of Weather Dependent Renewables to provide power for any developed economy, including the USA, is essentially a very expensive and truly ineffective fools errand.
To quote the late Professor David Mackay, the former chief scientific advisor to the UK Department for Energy and Climate change and a Green supporter. He called the use of Renewable Energy:
“an appalling delusion“.
At the time prior to his untimely death, 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.”