Ed Hoskins has done an analysis of cost ratios, and no matter what your viewpoint of economics might be, the numbers here don’t lie. Without being propped up by subsidies, solar and wind aren’t even in the race as their competitiveness leaves them at the starting line while cheap natural gas (aided by fracking) runs laps around the race course. He writes:
In summary, the figures show that these three major nations of the Western world have spent about ~$0.5trillion to create Renewable Energy electrical generation capacity nominally amounting to ~5.8% of their total generation. This capacity could be reproduced using conventional natural gas fired electrical generation for ~$31 billion or ~1/16 of the costs expended.
The data by table:
Solar energy is about ~34 times the cost of comparable standard Gas Fired generation, whereas Wind-Power is only ~12 times the comparable cost.
Had conventional Gas Fired technology had been used, the full ~31 GW capacity would have provided non-intermittent electricity production and wholly dispatchable power could be generated as and when needed.
As all Renewable Energy technologies are only viable with the support of costly government subsidies, market intervention and manipulation, can this be a responsible use of public funds ?
The following data sources for the USA, Germany and the UK were reviewed:
United States of America: data available 2000 – 2012
Germany: data available from 1990 to 2013
United Kingdom: data available 2008 – 2013
These data provide installed “nameplate” capacity measured in Megawatts (MW) and energy output measured across the year in total Gigawatt hours, (GWh). Thus they do not provide directly comparable values as Megawatt nameplate capacity and the actual energy outputs achieved. For this comparative exercise the annual Gigawatt hours values were revised back to equivalent Megawatts for, accounting for the 8,760 hours in the year. This measure eliminates the effect of intermittency and non-dispatchability characterising Renewable Energy power sources. It also allows for the calculation of capacity factors accounting for the intermittency of Renewable Energy.
The Energy Information Association provides the capital cost information in US$ for the USA
This note should be read in conjunction with the earlier entry at WUWT,
which shows the growth of Renewable Energy installation the three Nations.
The USA Energy Information Association publishes comprehensive information on the capital costs of alternate electrical generation technologies, in Table 1 of their 2013 report. From that full list these notes consider three technologies:
Large Scale Photovoltaic: this is the most economic of the PV technologies at ~$3.8 billion / GW.
Combined Wind 80-20: merged onshore 80% and offshore 20% wind at ~$3.0 billion / GW.
Natural Gas Advanced Combined Cycle: the costliest technical option at ~$1.0 billion / GW.
“Overnight Capital Cost”, (just as if an power generating installation has been created overnight), is the standard comparative measure for capital costs used in energy industries.
The specific Overnight Capital Costs used include:
- Civil and structural costs
- Mechanical equipment supply and installation
- Electrical and instrumentation and control
- Project indirect costs
- Other owners costs: design studies, legal fees, insurance costs, property taxes and local electrical linkages to the Grid.
- However for this comparison Overnight Capital Costs specifically do not include:
- Provision of Back-up power supply for times when renewable power is unavailable.
- Fuel costs
- Remote access costs
- Extended electrical linkages to the Grid
For these comparisons the EIA data denominated in US$ was used: no consideration is taken of currency variations. These brief results are primarily for comparative purposes and do not purport to give precise actual expenditures by the various governments. They do however clearly indicate the order of magnitude of the sums involved.
There is also a very large discrepancy in maintenance costs shown in the EIA table 1. Compared to a standard Natural Gas plant, maintenance of Photovoltaics cost more than half as much again, Onshore Wind-Power costs about 2.5 times as much and Offshore Wind-Power costs about five times as much.
There are also significant questions about the longevity and engineering robustness of the Solar and Wind-Power Renewable Energy technologies: this is particularly problematical for off-shore wind farms.
A careful analysis might well indicate that in spite of the cost of fuel being essentially free, the development and installation of both Solar and Windpower involves the releases of substantial amounts of CO2 which may hardly be compensated for by the use of these technologies over their installed working life.
However there still remains a further major problem with all these Renewable Energy sources. Their electrical output is intermittent and non dispatchable. Their output cannot respond to electricity demand as and when needed. Energy is contributed to the grid in a haphazard manner dependent on the weather, as can be seen from German electrical supply in the diagram below. Power certainly not necessarily available whenever required.
Solar power inevitably varies according to the time of day, the state of the weather and also of course radically with the seasons. Solar power works most effectively in more Southerly latitudes and it certainly cannot be really effective in Northern Europe.
For example in Germany, its massive commitment to solar energy can briefly provide up to ~20% of country wide demand for a few hours either side of noon on some fine summer days, but at the time of maximum power demand on winter evenings solar energy input is necessarily nil.
Electricity generation from wind turbines is equally fickle, as in the week in July 2014 as clearly shown above, where Wind-Power input across Germany was close to zero for several days. Similarly an established high pressure system, with little wind over the whole of Northern Europe is a common occurrence in winter months, when electricity demand is at its highest.
Conversely, on occasions Renewable Energy output may be in excess of demand and this has to dumped expensively and unproductively. This is especially so, as there is still no solution to electrical energy storage on a sufficiently large industrial scale.
That is the reason that the word “nominally” is used here in relation to the measured outputs from renewable energy sources.
Overall these three major nations that have committed massive investments to Renewable Energy, ~$0.5 trillion or ~2.2% of combined annual GDP. This investment has resulted in a nominal ~31Gigawatts of generating capacity from an installed Nameplate capacity of ~150Gigawatts. This nominal 31GW of Renewable Energy output is ~5.8% of the total installed generating capacity of ~570Gigawatts.
But even that 31GW of Renewable Energy production is not really as useful as one would wish, because of its intermittency and non-dispatchability.