Summary: 2018 using Renewable Energy Foundation data
In 2018 UK Weather dependent renewables generated some 7.7 Gigawatts of power from an installed fleet of ~34 Gigawatts achieving a satisfactory overall capacity factor for Renewables of ~23%. The installed fleet cost ~84£billion in capital costs with average costs of ~11£billion/Gigawatt produced in capital costs and ~42£billion/Gigawatt produced long-term. Because of the comparative capacity factors Offshore wind and Solar PV were roughly equivalent in capital costs at ~15£billion / Gigawatt produced and ~60£billion / Gigawatt produced over the long-term. The direct comparison in the UK situation with similar measures for traditional generation technologies, Gas-firing and Nuclear, can be seen to be substantially lower above.
This post gives indicative cost estimates of the current 2018 UK fleet of Weather Dependent Renewables, assuming no further growth, as both capital and probable long-term expenditures.
It shows clearly the likely cost differentials and overspend over effective traditional Electricity generation technologies, (Gas-firing and Nuclear) that Renewables incur and will incur to support political “Green Virtue Signalling” and the Government mandated “Anthropogenic Global Warming” hypothesis. These investments might contribute to the reduction of about a quarter of the UK’s 1.1% of 2018 Global CO2 emissions.
These calculations clearly contradict the popular assertion that Weather Dependent Renewables are now price competitive with conventional power generation, Gas-firing and even Nuclear power. They only compare the comparative costs of their power generating capability, leaving aside other unquantified ancillary costs of their use in operation.
This post quantifies the scale of the fiscal waste and the burdens on utility bills attributable to the use of UK Weather Dependent Renewables.
This post gives indicative, (back of the envelope, expressed in £billion), estimates of the net capital and net 60 year long-term costs of Weather Dependent Renewables as compared to the use of Gas-firing for electricity generation in the UK. These net calculations should avoid the market distortions arising from the political interventions that have been made to support Renewables.
The introductory table above shows that the indicative overnight capital costs of the current UK Renewable fleet is ~84 £billion and the anticipated further long-term costs would be ~350 £billion, were those existing Renewables to be maintained for the 60 year long-term.
They give an idea of the present scale of the bare costs for “Green virtue signalling” in the UK. The equivalent costs using Gas-firing to provide a similar level of consistent power generation would be ~7 £billion in capital costs and a further ~31 £billion long-term respectively.
In the UK the three main forms of UK Weather Dependent Renewable Energy are Wind Power, (Onshore and Offshore), and on grid Photovoltaic Solar Power, about 75% of the Renewables total. The other “Renewable” energy inputs include traditional Hydro power ~8% and the remainder are other sources such as biomass, waste and landfill gas amounting to ~17%.
In 2018 the UK represented only 1.1% of the global CO2 emissions and power generation only amounted for less than one quarter of those CO2 emissions, transport and space heating accounting for the remainder.
So making costly and self-harming modifications UK electrical generation technologies can only have a marginal and minor impact on a very small proportion of current UK and global CO2 emissions. That impact is even less if one looks into the CO2 emission and energy requirements of Renewable technologies from their use of fossil essential for their manufacture to demolition.
Whenever announcements are made about Weather Dependent Renewable Energy installations, they are reported as the full Name Plate rating, (in other words the maximum potential power output the installation can produce under ideal Weather conditions), and also disingenuously as the number of homes that could be supplied at their full level of power output.
The question of Capacity / Load Factors is never fully explained, so such announcements are deliberately deceptive. Such promotional Renewable Energy announcements thus falsely assume that the wind blows all the time, (24/7), at productive speeds and that the sun shines overhead 24 hours/day and the seasons never change from summer. In fact the 2018 the combined capacity factor of UK Renewables amounted to ~1/5th, ~22% of their installed Nameplate rating.
Comparative Cost Model for Electricity Generation Technologies
The table above provides comparative costing for differing generation technologies. It is derived from the most recent, 2017, US EIA data in US$ on comparative costs of generation technologies.
The US EIA table quotes the overnight capital costs of each technology and the above table condenses the total costs of the technology when maintained in operation for 60 years expressed as £billion / Gigawatt. These base data avoid the distorting effects of Government fiscal and subsidy policies supporting Renewable Energy. It is hoped therefore that these results give a valid comparative analysis of the true cost effectiveness of Weather Dependent Renewables. These EIA updates fully account for any recent cost reductions of Renewable technology costs, particularly those for Solar panels.
The table above assumes that the purchasing power of £1 is equivalent to US$1.20. 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.
Note that in addition that these comparative figures are underestimates of the true costs of using Weather Dependent Renewables. The results above only account for the cost comparisons for the actual electrical power generated accounting for the capacity of each generating technology.
The costs projected here ignore the ancillary costs inevitably associated with Wind power and Solar Renewables resulting from:
- unreliability in terms of both intermittency and variability
- poor timing of generation, unlikely to be coordinated with demand
- long transmission lines with costly power losses and increased maintenance
- additional infrastructure necessary for access
- the costs of largely redundant back up generation only used on occasions but wastefully running in spinning reserve nonetheless
- unsynchronised generation with lack of inherent inertia.
- inability to recover from a “black start”, when essential after failure.
These net cost calculations should avoid the distortions arising from the political interventions in support of Renewables.
In addition these cost analyses do not account for:
- The “Carbon footprint” of Renewable technologies, they may never save as much CO2 during their service life as they are likely to require for their manufacture, installation and eventual demolition. When viewed in the round, all these activities are entirely dependent on the use of substantial amounts of fossil fuels.
- The Energy Return on Energy Invested, Renewables may well not produce as much Energy during their service life as was needed for their original manufacture and installation. They certainly do not provide the regular excess power sufficient to support the multiple needs of a developed society.
The Renewable Energy Foundation time series data for the UK 2002 – 2018
The Renewable Energy Foundation reports on Weather Dependent Renewables and Green energy in the UK.
It has provided comprehensive time series data on Renewable Installations in the UK since 2002. This includes the Nameplate rating of installations and the annual Gigawatt Hour electrical output over the year for each generation technology. This post uses those data and provides graphic representations of the Renewable Energy Foundation information, with time series presentations showing the progress of UK Weather Dependent Renewables.
According the Renewable Energy Foundation data, 2018 was a reasonable year for UK Weather Dependent Renewables productivity.
Productivity expressed as a percentage capacity factor, (actual power produced / nameplate value), is crucial to evaluating the true comparative value of power produced. The progress since 2002 of installation of Weather Dependent Renewables in the UK is shown below.The capacity figures that have been achieved in the UK are shown below.
Overall, on average the UK Renewables performance has exceeded 22%, providing a better than average performance for the year 2018. Onshore Wind power, now substantially curtailed in the UK, has achieved capacities around ~25%. Offshore Wind power has been more variable but achieved a capacity figure of ~35% in 2018.
But of course the “trip” of an Offshore wind farm on a breezy summer afternoon contributed to the major UK power outage of 9/8/2019. An outage like that will be all the more severe and probably longer lasting one still foggy winter evening soon. Weather Dependent Renewables can not provide inherent inertia in the grid to overcome short term sudden variability and to enable a “Black Start”, if needed.
The productivity of Solar Power in the UK is consistently at the ~10% capacity level.
The two graphs below show the progress of Renewable installations in the UK since 2002 noting:
- the gross over commitment to Solar PV Power 2013-2016, (yielding only ~10% capacity)
- the remarkable cut back in Renewable installations that occurred in 2018
- the very large future cost commitments made in 2010 and 2017 particularly for Offshore Wind power. In 2017 this alone amounted a future cost of some 50£billion.
Comparative Generation Costings
The table below gives a capital valuation of the current 2018 UK Weather Dependent Renewables fleet at ~84£billion with probable ongoing costs of ~325£billion. This is approximately twice the cost of providing the same power output with Nuclear power and more than 11 times the cost of using Gas-firing for equivalent generation.
The excess capital expenditures of Renewables range from ~41£billion to ~77£billion. The long-term excess expenditures range from 230£billion to 300£billion depending on the substituted technology.
These significant excess costs represent the wastage imposed on the UK population both via direct taxation and added to utility bills by the Government mandates imposing Renewables on the UK electricity generation. That wastage amounts to a very regressive tax burden imposed on the poorer in UK society.
The following three tables show how differing existing Renewable technologies contribute to the Government mandated excess costs. Onshore Wind power is the most competitive achieving parity with Nuclear power in capital cost but being about twice as expensive long -term. Onshore wind power is only about 6 times more costly than Gas-firing.
Offshore wind power and Solar PV power are similarly cost-ineffective being 2.5 – 5 times more costly than Nuclear but about 16 times more costly than Gas-firing. They together are responsible for more than 75% of the excess costs of the UK Renewables fleet even though they are responsible for only ~55% of the Renewable power output produced. Together wastage in the capital cost from Offshore wind and Solar power amounts to some 60£billion with a long-term anticipated cost of ~230billion.
Weather Dependent Renewable Energy depends on capturing essentially dilute and very variable sources of power. At the same time Weather Dependent Renewables are both capital and maintenance expensive and inevitably unreliable.
Weather Dependent Renewables are universally more expensive than the conventional alternatives of Gas-firing or Nuclear power. ~2-5 times for Nuclear power and in the UK ~16 times more expensive than Gas-firing.
The late Prof David Mackay (former chef scientific advisor of the Department of Energy and Climate Change) in a final interview before his untimely death in 2016 said that the concept of powering a developed country such as the UK with Weather Dependent Renewable energy was:
“an appalling delusion”.
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.”
This costing model has followed through on Professor Mackay’s back of the envelope calculations. in the UK, showing that Weather Dependent Renewables, (Offshore wind and Solar Power), are approximately ~16 times more expensive in both capital and lifetime costs when compared to the use of Gas-fired Generation technologies. At the same time Onshore wind power is only ~6 times more costly than Gas-firing.
The excess overspend instead of using Gas-firing of the current UK generation fleet amount to some 77£billion in capital costs and the long-term costs approach a further 300£billion.
If the objectives of using Weather Dependent Renewables were not confused with possibly “saving the planet” from the output of the UK’s small amount, (~25% of 1.1%, much less than the annual growth in China and the Developing world), of Man-made CO2 produced by the UK for electricity generation, their actual costs, in-effectiveness and their inherent unreliability, Weather Dependent Renewables would have always been ruled them out of any engineering consideration as means of National scale electricity generation.
It is essential to ask the question what is the actual value of these government mandated excess costs to the improvement of the environment and for the possibility of perhaps saving undetectable temperature increases a 100 years in the future, especially in a context where the developing world will be increasing its CO2 emissions to attain it’s further enhancement of living standards over the coming decades.
Reducing the UK’s minor part of Man-made CO2 emissions as a means to control a “warming” climate seems even less relevant as the long-term temperature trend has been downwards for last 3 millennia, since 1000BC, towards the coming end of the current Holocene interglacial epoch.