This post estimates scale of the fiscal waste both in immediate capital costs and in the longer term resulting from the policy decision to install Weather-Dependent “Renewable” power generation in Europe.
The primary policies to combat:
- Climate Change
- Global Warming
- Net Zero
- ESG (Environment Social and Governance)
in the West has been to install, heavily subsidise from added costs on utility bills and give massive preferential legal support to Weather-Dependent “Renewable” Wind and Solar for power generation, nominally expecting these technologies to reduce National emissions of Man-made CO2.
At the same time Government policies have ensured antagonism and under-investment in conventional fossil fuel extraction and power generation technologies, resulting in their languishing business-wise in spite of their being absolutely essential to do the heavy lifting in the operation of the power Grid.
A simple calculation here combines the comparative costs of Weather-Dependent generation with their measured productivity / capacity percentages showing the costs differences of contributing the same amount of power to the Grid as Gas-firing, Coal-firing or Nuclear generation technologies.
The result shows that all assertions of Wind and Solar power generation being cheap and reaching cost parity for the equivalent level of power production with conventional fossil fuels or nuclear power are patently false.
Weather-Dependent power generation Wind and Solar technologies are unreliably intermittent. They do not provide any significant excess of energy production compared to the Energy costs they incur to be installed and to operate. They are parasitic in Energy terms on conventional power generation. They are thus wasteful of resources and not viable for the support the power needs of any Nation.
Generation Productivity / Capacity Percentage
The recorded productivity history of European wide “Renewable” Power generation since 2011 is shown below.
The unreliability the Weather-Dependent productive performance was well exemplified during the European Wind Drought of 2021.
The 2021 European Wind Drought and Weather-Dependent power generation
For the last 10 years, as “Renewable”, Weather-Dependent, Wind and Solar installations have become established in Europe. Over the past decade they have achieved the average overall productivity percentages below.
Very little further performance improvement can be expected from these mature Wind and Solar technologies: their performance is now limited by immutable laws of physics, (the Betz limit for Wind power and the Shockley–Queisser limit for solar power).
Note that Conventional power generators are rated at ~90%: that is the full potential achievable, allowing just for maintenance, when those dispatchable conventional technologies are un-encumbered by the political interventions mandating the imposition of power input from intermittent and unpredictable Weather-Dependent “Renewables”. The comparisons here are based on a limited 40 year service life, conventional generation technologies do have much longer service lives.
The most cost effective, reliable, dispatchable and incidentally the least CO2 emitting means of fossil fuel power generation is Natural Gas.
- CO2 emissions ~1/2 that of burning Coal or Lignite
- CO2 emissions almost ~1/4 of the use of imported Biomass.
Over the past 20 years, the cost-effective use of Fracked Natural Gas for power generation, replacing Coal in the USA, has reduced USA CO2 emissions/head by about one third. In the USA the price of Natural gas remains advantageously low, when compared to the currently unstable Global market price for Natural Gas.
In the 1990’s the UK’s “Dash for Gas policy” for power generation contributed significantly to the UK’s reduction of CO2 emissions, achieving a reduction of about 40%. In France the long-term commitment to Nuclear power has lowered CO2 emissions/head in France: France now achieves CO2 emissions/head ~15% below the worldwide global average.
Note that, these values show the CO2 emissions effect of the Covid 19 epidemic in 2020. Those lower CO2 emissions values in Western Nations will recover somewhat in subsequent years.
Power generation costings compared
The US Energy Information Administration, EIA provides regular comparative costings for various power generation technologies: their table was updated in February 2022.
Extracting data from this table and combining the cost data with the likely service life that Weather-Dependent generators can achieve the cost / Gigawatt installed in the summary table below.
Except for Offshore Wind power generation, the comparative basic capital and long-term costs are roughly comparable between fossil fuels and Weather-Dependent generators. Nonetheless, Gas-firing is proven to be particularly cost effective, both in the capital cost of generation installations and for the 40 year longer-term. Note that the US EIA variable fuel costs for Gas-firing are set by the earlier USA gas market prices, not the current four fold increase that has inflated the Global market price.
The comparative costs above show the costs of installing and running the generation technologies: the picture changes radically when their measured productivity is taken into account.
This trivial calculation then shows the comparative costs of actually delivering a Gigawatt unit of energy to the Grid.
It is only when their actual productivity contributing power to the grid that a true cost comparison of the power supplied to the Grid can be made: these are summarised below.
Estimating the excess costs over Gas-firing of Weather-Dependent power generation in Europe
As of the end of 2021 the EU and the UK together had installed ~385 Gigawatts of Weather-Dependent power generation: these installations generated at the rate of ~70 Gigawatts in total: a combined productivity / capacity figure of ~18%.
The estimated capital costs for the 2021 EU+UK Weather-Dependent installations amount to ~670 $billion. The estimated long-term costs amount to ~1915 $billion over 40 years. However Gas-firing to generate the same level of power output would cost ~93 €billion and ~368 $billion respectively. Thus the excess costs over the use of Gas-firing amounts to ~673 $billion in capital expenditure and ~1915 $billion in long-term cost over 40 year or ~50 $billion per annum over the period.
Thus these estimates show the use of Weather-Dependent generation causes unnecessary excess capital expenditures of ~3% of annual European GDP and long-term ~10% of annual European GDP.
The distribution of excess costs between the three Weather-Dependent generation technologies is shown below:
Estimating the scale of the fiscal damage in Europe
The excess cost implications of displacing Gas-firing, (at four times USA prices) with Weather-Dependent generation for power generation for the current 385 Gigawatt of installed European Weather-Dependent power generation is estimated as follows:
Any assertion that Weather-Dependent “Renewables” are reaching cost parity with conventional power generation is patently false.
As European Gas prices increase the excess over expenditures on Weather-Dependent “Renewables” will reduce but they will still remain substantial.
These figures show the gross scale of the fiscal damage (1,666 $billion) at USA Fracked Gas prices that has been achieved to date by the Climate Change Activist movements by managing to ban fracking to access indigenous European supplies of Natural gas, which could well have been used economically for power generation and incidentally CO2 emissions reduction, as has been well exemplified in the USA.
The long-term overspend is still very substantial (1,666 $billion) even when the running costs including fuel costs are quadrupled as below
Parallel calculations can show the excess comparative costs of using Nuclear power rather than Gas-firing. The costs of installing Nuclear power are higher and thus the excess costs are smaller but nonetheless significant.
In addition Weather-Dependent generators compare poorly with conventional generators by other measures, such as the EROI Energy Return on Energy Invested.
Comparing Performance and Costs of power generation technologies: 2020
These comparative values roughly indicate the fiscal damage of the irrational political obsession with nominally reducing CO2 emissions, (EU(27) at 10.6% and the UK at 1% of Global CO2 emissions in 2021). Pursuing these policies has increased both the costs and the unreliability of power generation across the Nations of Europe. The continuing political intention to double down and pursue the massive expansion of Weather-Dependent power installations throughout Europe can only lead to increasing the gross fiscal waste shown above and the loss of reliable power generation arising from any such a decision.
Other Cost implications and penalties of Weather-Dependent power generation
In addition to the rudimentary comparative costs outlined above, there are very significant ancillary costs, not accounted for in the calculations above, that are inevitably also associated with Wind power and Solar PV generators result from:
- their unreliability in terms of both power intermittency and power variability.
- the non-dispatchability 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 by Man-kind.
Weather-Dependent generators do not run 24/7: they do not achieve 90% productivity.
- the poor timing of power generation by “Renewables”: it is often not well coordinated with demand for power: for example, Solar energy, falls off in the evening, the times of peak demand. Winter Solar output is virtually absent even in Southern European countries, ~1/7th of the output than in the summer, often the periods of lower power demand.
- but in ideal Weather conditions an over-large installed “Renewables” base results in significant power over-production, which then has to be set aside and therefore wasted.
- the continuing costs of back-up generation, which is essential to maintain continuous power supplies, but which may only be used on occasions and has to be wastefully running in spinning reserve and emitting some CO2 nonetheless.
It should always be noted that if there is sufficient back-up using fossil fuels running 24/7 to support the grid whenever wind and solar power are not available, then there is very little point in doubling up the generation capacity, with comparatively non-productive but variable and much more costly Weather-Dependent generators. Weather-Dependent generators may substitute some CO2 emissions but they certainly still require substantial CO2 emissions for their manufacture, installation and maintenance.
- the long transmission lines from remote, dispersed generators, incurs both power losses in transmission, further infrastructure and increased maintenance costs.
- requirement for the sterilisation of large land areas, especially when compared with conventional electricity generation, (Gas-firing and Nuclear): less than ~1sqkm / Gigawatt.
- much destructive additional engineering infrastructure is needed for access.
- any consideration of electrical storage using batteries at scale, which would impose very significant additional costs, were long-term, (only a few days), battery storage even feasible economically. This makes any idea of long-term seasonal power storage impractical.
- unsynchronised generation with lack of inherent inertia essential to maintain grid frequency.
- Weather-Dependent generators cannot provide the predictable power necessary for a “black start” recovery from a major grid outage.
Importantly in addition these cost analyses do not account for:
- the Energy Return on Energy Invested: Weather-Dependent generators may well produce only a minimal excess of Energy during their service life as had to be committed 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. Accordingly, they are parasitic on the use of fossil fuels for their existence.
- when viewed in the round, all these “Renewable” installations are entirely dependent on the use of substantial amounts of fossil fuels both as feedstocks for the materials and as fuels for manufacturing.
- the “Carbon footprint” of Weather-Dependent generation technologies: they may never save as much CO2 during their service life as they are likely to require for their materials sourcing, manufacture, installation, maintenance and eventual demolition.
- the technologies used in Weather-Dependent generators are also highly dependent on large amounts of scarce, diffusely distributed materials giving rise to very extensive mining demands.
- the inevitable environmental damage and wildlife destruction caused by Weather-Dependent generators: such destruction is always made in the name of saving the environment.
None of these imposed supplementary costs and environmental implications are assessed and included in the rudimentary Cost comparisons above.
The appalling delusion
As Professor David Mackay FRS, (eminent Cambridge UK physicist and former chief scientific officer at the UK Department of Energy), said in an interview, (minute 11 onwards), just before his untimely death in 2016, that the promotion of
The “Renewable Energy” obsession was driven by an “appalling delusion”.
That delusion has been perpetrated by people setting policy, who have no understanding of the mathematics, engineering and practicalities of Energy technologies.
Understanding that future “Climate Change” from burning fossil fuels is a non-problem and not reacting to that non-problem in an economically destructive manner can only be the very best news both for Man-kind, for the Western world and for the Biosphere.