The Weather Dependent Renewables industry has deluded itself, its Green political supporters 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 fossil fuel or nuclear power generation.
This post is concerned with the two main forms of Weather Dependent Renewable Energy in the USA:
- Wind Power Onshore
- On grid Photovoltaic Solar Power.
These technologies amount to the bulk of all installed Weather Dependent Renewable Electricity generation in the USA. So far, Offshore wind generation is insignificant and unreported in the USA.
Using measured USA capacity data, an estimate of the cost differentials in capital and long-term costs is made between traditional Gas-fired power generation and Weather Dependent Renewables which shows the scale of the financial commitments already made to the use of Green energy in the USA.
An estimate of the cost differentials in capital and long-term costs is made between traditional power generation and Weather Dependent Renewables which shows the scale of the financial commitments already made to the use of Green energy in the USA.
It gives a quantified guess of the excess costs of Green “virtue signalling”.
The estimates of current capital costs amount to about 200 $billion of which ~170 $billion are excess costs over Gas-firing. Maintaining just the current 2016 USA Weather Dependent Renewables installations for the coming 60 years is estimated to cost in the region of 600 $billion of which ~500 $billion are excess costs over Gas-firing.
A comparison is made with the development of Weather Dependent Green energy in the USA and Europe.
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 National power source.
In the words of the late Professor David Mackay trying to harness the essentially dilute energy sources of Wind and Solar PV power was “an appalling delusion”.
This post uses the reported measures of the Name Plate values of Weather Dependent Renewable installations and their achieved power output in an annual time series data set since 2000. It thus provides correct comparisons of the efficacy, (Capacity percentages / Load factors) of Weather Dependent Renewables as they are reported annually by the US Energy Information Administraion (EIA).
From 2000 onwards the main installation of Renewables was wind power, it is only after 2010 that significant Solar PV installations were instigated by some States in the USA.
The Capacity percentage or Load factor of any power generating installation is the actual electrical output in Gigawatts (GW) achieved annually and contributed to the grid divided by the nominal maximum Name Plate values. Name Plate values are given in Gigawatts (GW) as installed and their actual power output Gigawatthours/year reported by US EIA is converted to equivalent Gigawatts (GW) for the calculation.
(The conversion is simple: divide the US. EIA reported Gigawatt hours / year by the number of hours in a year, (365*24 = 8,760).
To give an idea of scale, a large conventional fossil fueled power station has a capacity factor of about 90% and is rated at about 1 GW. The maximum demand in the USA is in the region of 500GW). At 90% capacity a 1GW traditional power plant will produce ~8,000 GWhr / year.)
When announcements are made about Weather Dependent Renewable Energy installations, they are reported as the full Name Plate rating and then often disingenuously as the number of homes that could be supplied at their full level of power output. Such announcements are always exaggerated: the question of Capacity Percentages / Load Factors are not fully accounted and explained.
So Weather Dependent Renewable Energy announcements assume erroneously that the wind blows all the time at a reasonable speed and that the sun shines overhead 24 hours/day.
But because Weather Dependent Renewable Energy output is crucially dependent on intermittent and dilute energy sources:
- for wind, the vagaries of the weather
- for solar, the vagaries of the weather in combination with the latitude, the time of day and the season, (for Solar about 9 times less effective in winter than in the summer)
thus the useful electrical output achieved by Weather Dependent Renewables is substantially less that the Name Plate rating of the installation.
Accordingly in 2016 combined Weather Dependent Renewable Energy throughout the USA was only contributing about one quarter of its nominal Name Plate value to the grid. In the USA the capacity factor of Onshore Wind power is high and can often exceed 30% but Solar PV is universally rated by the US EIA at 11.4%.
Inevitably the power produced by Weather Dependent Renewables is un-coordinated with the timing of the actual demand for electricity. Peak electricity demand usually falls on winter evenings when Solar power generation is non-existent, except on summer days when Solar PV could contribute to meet the air-conditioning load. Add to that, there can be no functional coordination between the timing to the Weather Dependent Renewable electricity production and the National demand for electricity. The detrimental effect and the attendant costs of the unreliable timing of Renewable power contribution to the grid is not considered here.
However at Government insistence on the mandatory acceptance of Renewable power if and when available, reliable traditional power generators become inefficient to run, underutilised and thus forced to be unprofitable.
If the electrical grid is not going too to fail, in effect, Green oriented Government mandates effectively ensure that the generating capacity has to be installed twice over, once for the Renewables at low efficiency and at significant extra cost and again for reliable generation to cover for the occasions when Weather Dependent Renewables do not produce power to maintain supply.
When viewed from the engineering viability of a nation’s electrical supply grid, without the demands of Green beliefs to reduce CO2 emissions and resulting Government intervention, Weather Dependent Renewable Energy generation would never be considered as part of the electrical generating mix.
A simple model for comparative costing is used here. It combines published overnight capital costs from the US Energy Information Administration, (US EIA), the installed Name Plate values for Weather Dependent Renewables in the USA and their reported power output to arrive at comparative figures for the realistic costs of the power output achieved. The results are measured in $billion / Gigawatt, ($bn/GW). A comparison can then be made with the costs of Gas-firing, including fuel costs, for the same level of power generation. When the capacity / load factors are taken into account, these are considerably less than the overall costs of Weather Dependent Renewables.
Traditional methods of electricity generation using Fossil Fuels particularly or Nuclear Power are not subject to the vagaries of the weather and can produce electricity continuously. So crucially traditional forms of electricity generation are reliable, non-intermittent and dispatchable to meet demand: those sources thus provide a much more valuable service to the grid and electricity consumers.
Without Government mandates and financial subsidies to support Green thinking, the Weather Dependent Renewable Energy industry is not a viable business. This post tries to quantify the differentials that exist between traditional and Renewable Energy. The US Renewable Energy industry could not have existed without its Government mandated subsidies, consumption mandates and preferential feed-in tariffs. With the Trump administration there is growing evidence that as the support for Renewables from Government diminishes so the Renewable suppliers and subsidy recipients progressively go out of business.
Government action and decisions have mandated that there will be both the substantial extra costs for electricity generation and the probability of supply disruption. These are serious burdens on power suppliers and on both industrial and domestic electricity consumers. When the part played by Weather Dependent Renewable Energy grows, so those cost burdens and the risks to reliability will continually increase.
So in summary, Weather Dependent Renewable Energy is both very expensive for what they produce and at the same time wholly unpredictable and unreliable.
Renewables development in the USA
The overall picture of installation and production of whether Dependent Renewables in the USA is shown below.
The total Renewables output to the grid amounts to a contribution of about 30 GW out of the USA total requirement of ~500 GW or less than 10% of the need. But to achieve this level of contribution to the grid about four times the Name Plate rating of ~120 Gigawatts has to be installed.
Over the period from 2008 the USA (49) average capacity percentages/load factors achieved are:
- Onshore Wind 31.6%
- Solar PV 11.4% as defined universally by t he US EIA
- Overall average capacity 25.4%
The following seven States account for some 60% all Weather Dependent Renewable installations in the USA:
The US Energy Information Administration (US. EIA) have published all types of power generation installation annually since 1990. A reduced time-series data set for Weather Dependent Renewable Energy in USA (49) has been extracted and collated from that larger data set.
Collated information of the time-series cumulative data has been assembled for each year 2000 – 2016 for Weather Dependent Renewables.
The 2016 example of the data set for seven key US states is shown below.
This time-series data gives good capacity data for US Wind power output. But throughout the US EIA data for Solar PV output capacity is calculated at a fixed rate of 11.4% of the installed Name Plate value, so the US EIA Solar output data is estimated not an actually measured value. The different approaches taken by the key individual states is examined here.
California has the largest commitment to Renewables of all the states at about 20% of the USA total. Its penetration is at 0.62 GigaWatt / Million population: as compared to Germany which has 1.21 GW/ million. There has been virtually no growth in Wind power since 2012 but the State has heavily invested in Solar PV since that date. The result is that the combined capacity factor for the State has progressively diminished and is now low at ~15% overall.
Texas has made the second largest US Renewables commitment at ~18% of the total fleet. Its penetration is at 0.79 GigaWatt / Million population. Texas has concentrated on Wind power with very little and only recent installation of Solar PV. As a result it achieves a good overall capacity figure of more than 31%.
At 2.24 GigaWatt /Million population, Iowa has the highest commitment / head to Renewables in the USA. It has no reported installations of Solar PV. Therefore it achieves a high efficiency at a capacity of ~33%.
At 1.73 GigaWatt /Million population, Oklahoma has a high commitment / head to Renewables. It has no installations of Solar PV. Therefore it achieves a high efficiency at a capacity of ~34%.
At 1.55 GigaWatt /Million population, Kansas has a high commitment / head to Renewables. Kansas has no installations of Solar PV. Therefore it achieves a high efficiency at a capacity of ~36%.
At 0.31 GigaWatt /Million population, Illinois has a low commitment / head to Renewables. It has minimal installations of Solar PV. Therefore it achieves a good efficiency at a capacity of ~30%.
Arizona Renewables penetration is at 0.57 GigaWatt / Million population. There has been virtually no growth in Wind power since 2012 but like California the State has heavily invested in Solar PV since that date. The result is that the combined capacity factor for the State has diminished and is now low at ~12% overall.
Overall it is clear that those States preferring Wind power are getting good efficiency with capacity figures in the 30 – 35% range. But those Southerly states embracing Solar PV power particularly California and Arizona, even though they well located, have very poor capacity results only in the region of 12 – 15%. The growing installation of Solar PV since 2013 has diminished the effective overall capacity percentage of USA combined renewables to ~25%.
Modelling Costs and Performance
A simple cost model for Weather Dependent Renewable generation technologies is shown here to compare the cost of power production between Gas-fired generation and Weather Dependent Renewables. It is based on the following:
- Overnight Capital Cost information from the US EIA, as $bn / Gigawatt
- The data on installations and power output from the US. EIA to 2016
- assumptions about the probable service life of different Generation types compared to the 60 year service-life of a Nuclear plant
- estimates of the probable costs of long-term capital replacement according to service-life
- an estimation of operation and maintenance (O+M) costs as indicated in the 2017 tables provided by US EIA, keeping the current installed level Weather Dependent Renewables running for the coming 60 year period.
- fixed O+M costs expressed as $ / KiloWatt / year
- variable O+M costs including fuel for Gas-firing measured in $ / MegaWatt hour
This model is not intended to be precise but can give an indication of the scale of costs and the comparison of financial performance of the Renewables involved. The variables used are believed to be conservative. It should be noted that these figures are just indicative as comparative costings. They do not account for:
- the dispatch-able back up generation capacity essential for whenever Weather Dependent Renewable power is not available
- the extended distribution networks required because Renewables are often located well away from the location of actual demand
- the increased costs imposed to run the grid to account for Renewables intermittency and unpredictability
The above assumptions indicate in bold the resulting values of costs / GW produced.
The above assumptions indicate in bold the resulting values of costs / GW used.
Combining these values with the actual USA (49) installations in 2017 gives the following results.
The model for the USA results in:
- the total reported Weather Dependent Renewables installation of some 118 GW
- a reported power output contributed to the American grid of ~30 GW.
- an estimated overnight capital cost of the 2016 level of Weather Dependent Renewable installations of ~200 $billion
- the long-term additional costs over 60 years of ~600 $billion.
- the equivalent 30 GW or ~6% of actual generation demand of reliable electrical output could be provided with a capital investment of ~33 $billion in Gas-fired generation with future 60 year running costs including fuel of ~90 $billion.
The present excess capital cost of the commitment to “climate saving by CO2 reduction” Renewables in the USA therefore amounts to more than 170 $billion with a likely long-term cost differential of ~500 $billion.
Or alternatively the 200 $billion overnight capital cost investment already made in America for Weather Dependent Renewables would be the investment required to fully re-equip a fleet of some 200 GW of American generation with Gas-fired installations. This would amount to about 1/3 of the total USA electricity generation fleet.
The crucial cost question is the value in terms of $bn/GW generated by Renewables and supplied to the grid, accounting for the actual capacity effectiveness of each generation technology and the likely 60 year long term cost / GW.
Comparisons of Weather Dependent Renewables in the USA and Europe
The diagrams above point out the differences between the USA and Europe as follows:
- overall capacity percentage achieved in Europe is a third lower than in the USA
- the reported performance of Onshore Wind power in the USA is much higher than in Europe regularly achieving more than 30% as opposed to ~20% in Europe. For comparative reference see UK capacity results: see
- the US EIA makes the universal assumption that all Solar PV power has a capacity of 11.4%. That closely matches the levels achieved in Europe as a whole ~12%
- Europe has installed Renewables at a rate of ~0.50 GW/million population whereas the USA is lower at 0.38 GW/million population
- the European installation at 256GW is substantially larger that the USA at 118GW but USA output is not proportionally smaller because of the increased effectiveness of Onshore Wind power. Even the increased use and performance of costly Offshore power in Europe does not compensate for that differential.
Renewable Energy Cost Effectiveness
The comparative cost effectiveness in terms of $bn/GW of the different forms of Weather Dependent Renewables when taking full account of their capacity differentials as shown in comparison to Gas-firing is shown below.
The situation can also be expressed as the excess additional cost according to the costing model as follows.
So a current estimated cost of “virtue signalling” by installing Renewables in the USA to limit CO2 emissions is close to 170 $billion in capital costs and 500 $billion long-term.
The detailed calculations for each of the subject States have are dependent on the mix of Renewables decided upon by different State administrations. The Solar PV committed States particularly California and Arizona are significantly less cost and production efficient in both capital and long-term costs than those that have ignored Solar PV.
It should be noted that in large part the real CO2 reduction in the USA (about -25% since 2000) that has been achieved in recent years has occurred from the transition from coal burning to the use of fracked natural gas for power generation. This transition has effected more CO2 emissions reduction than anywhere else in the world.
The Weather Dependent Renewables industry has deluded itself, its Green politcal supporters 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 fossil fuel or nuclear power generation.
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 National power source.
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 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 1/10 of its Name Plate rating.
Because of the capacity limitations and with an assessment their true output performance Weather Dependent Renewables are intricsically much more expensive than consistent and reliable electricty 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 about 7 times more costly in 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.
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, less useful and much more expensive to utilise than dispatchable on-demand power sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear power producers.
As the installations of Weather Dependent Renewables grows it is now clear that the growth of fossil fuel usage must grow alongside, if a reliable electricity supply is to be maintained.
So one can only conclude that there is little point at all in installing Weather Dependent Renewables, save as a massive exercise in “virtue signalling”.
In the USA according to this version of a cost model, this “virtue signalling” has already cost the American populace more than 170 $billion in additional capital expenditures and that necessary extra cost would exceed 500 $billion over a 60 year period.
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 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 excess expenditure by Western economies is made to look nonsensical for CO2 reduction by the actions of the developing world.
(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)
- their Energy Return on Energy Invested is less than 7 and therefore hardly in the viable range.
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 ~170 $billion in capital costs and a likely future committed cost of about 500 $billion.
If these calculations are close to being in the right ballpark, this post confirms that the pursuit of Weather Dependent Renewables to provide power for any developed economy is essentially a very expensive and truly ineffective fools errand.
To requote Professor David Mackay “an appalling delusion“.