The Renewable Capital Cost Green Trick
(On Linnea Lueken’s article “Right, OilPrice.com, Wind Power is Unprofitable”).
In her excellent and clarifying article in WUWT, Linnea Lueken states: “…renewables advocates frequently cite the claim that wind power (…) is cheaper than fossil fuels, but the reality is different.” Then she continues explaining the cost of backup generation or the need of a thermal generation source forced to operate inefficiently to ensure grid stability, using an increasing fraction of its capacity to keep pace with weather-dependent renewables at all times, and even doing nothing but to burn fuel at rotating reserve without generating electricity, waiting there to wake up (ramp up) when the sun or wind decide to go away.
But there is still more, there is a very well hidden green trick.
Renewables advocates (the same doomsday mantra preachers on man-made climate change) are very smart when using the renewable investment cost premise which —they claim—have dramatically dropped in the last decade, trying to prove with this an alleged reduction in electricity prices. Sorry, but they are right on this, yet only in the premise, because the renewable industry has moved to China due to Western high costs of energy, among other beauties, having caused in this industry a sharp reduction in manufacturing costs. However, they are grossly wrong in the conclusion for the system or grid electricity cost inevitably increases as the renewable penetration expands.
The investment cost (that which its promoters refer to) is the installed capacity investment cost (a.k.a. rated or nameplate capacity) in US$/MW, that is, in dollars per unit of power which is not an electricity cost. The capital cost, in US$/MWh, that is, in dollars per unit of energy is what actually goes in the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) and this cost includes the project lifetime, WACC (weighted average capital cost), investment cost and capacity factor. While the capital cost is proportional to the investment cost, the first is inversely proportional to its capacity factor which, for renewables, can range between 2 to 6 times higher than that of a combined cycle gas turbine power plant (the only efficient thermal generation source for backup purposes by which a grid could eventually ‘see’, although negligibly, a drop in CO2 emissions when increasing the renewable generation fraction), meaning that, at an equal thermal-renewable investment cost, the renewable capital cost will double, triple, or even more than quadruple that of the thermal source (graph below).
As with climate change, this is the cute old magician’s hat rabbit trick that everyone believes in, yet nobody enjoys.
Douglas Pollock is a Chilean Civil Industrial Engineer from the University of Chile. For the last eight years he has dedicated to study the science and economics of Climate Change and for the last three mainly in investigating the impact of renewables penetration in power grids, both in in costs and in CO2 emissions.
He has attended to and spoken at world-class conferences and has been interviewed in the US, Spain, UK, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Chile. In 2019 he was appointed Ambassador for Chile of the CLINTEL Foundation (Climate Intelligence Foundation).
At present, his activities are centered on warning and advising on the fundamentals of climate change and the negative economic consequences of mitigation measures that Western governments are imposing, both in Chile and abroad. In Chile, his efforts are aimed at companies that are being most affected, the government and political figures, including deputies and a presidential candidate.
Nameplate ratings are ridiculous, as most installations run at 28% or so.
Capacity factors. Solar around 20, onshore wind around 30 in the US. But as less advantageous locations get built out, both will drop significantly. Useless becomes more useless.
“But as less advantageous locations get built out”
Is the US running out of dry, sunny and windy land?
Yes Nick. The best locations are used first and what is left is by definition less effective.
The same cohort who thinks we’ll never reach Peak Oil has us running out of W&S sites. Comparatively, since CONUS oil and oil associated gas SEC PDP reserves for 2023 will drop from those recently booked for 2022 – and will continue to into the future – it’s the fossil fuel future that’s dimming. OTOH, renewables still have many more unused siting possibilities, And unlike depleted fossil fuel fields which are/will lie dirty while the former producers fade away, those that exist will continue to be used. With ever improving technology, pretty much into perpetuity.
Like these sites, Bob?
Where is this city site? Or is it WUWT conceptual? Not rhetorical, where?
And congrats on finding some rusty old former wind turbines. FYI, the latter has next to no non-inerts and will either be razed, or more likely, razed and rebuilt with new tech. I.e., since the source is non depletable, not left to fester, a la too many depleted fossil fuel fields.
Given the worldwide availability of photographed oil and gas field moldering trash cans, from the FSU to Venezuela, to the GOM to West Virginia to central California, I’d ponder before whining about renewable asset retirements….
Wind and solar could not exist on the grid, without the presence of CCGT plants, or reservoir hydro plants, such as in Norway and Quebec
However, the variable output, MWh, of wind causes disturbances, which the OTHER generators have to deal with 24/7/365.
Those generators have more CO2/MWh, because they:
1) Have to operate at part load, say 75%, to ramp up 25% and ramp down 25%, for CCGT plants to counteract the variations of wind and solar.
2) Have more frequent start/stops.
3) Have more MW of plant in synchronous mode, i.e., hot standby.
4) Have more wear and tear
5) And wind requires more grid augmentation/expansion, which releases CO2 to implement and operate.
6) And wind requires detailed weather and wind forecasting, which releases CO2 to implement and operate.
* Grid support includes costs for:
1) grid extension/augmentation,
2) storage to deal with DUCK curves,
3) curtailment payments to solar system owners,
4) payments to traditional generators (mostly gas turbines) counteracting solar output variations, etc.
All this cost shifting does not include grid extension/augmentation, and the costs of the up and down ramping of gas turbines connected to the grid to counteract the wind/solar variations, 24/7/365. See table 3
All countries run out of sun once a day
How about the land behind your home?
Remember, it is not just”dry, sunny and windy land” that is needed. Both too much and too little wind can make sites less desirable. Secondly, solar essentially takes farmland out of productive crop generation. Not a good tradeoff.
What is the cost 9of transmission lines between Arizona and Maine? How much is the loss factor? What is the cost of solar power delivered by such a route?
Here is how China does it. I think we can.
At what cost to the poor Nick?
100% of the cost will be born by the poor.
China is issuing building permits for two coal-fired power plants per week. That is how they really do it. But you can read as well as the rest of us.
That is 5x 6GW links. 30GW in total compared with Chinese demand of around 1,000GW on average. And it connects to the coal fired power stations in Xinjiang supplying baseload power at high utilisation rates, not intermittent solar at low utilisation rates.
Nick, the sites that stay sunny at night are hard to find. More seriously, you know the best sites are already built up. The rest are less productive. There may be plenty of spots in Texas where I live to add wind at a lower efficiency but not drastically. However, the wind does not blow all the time. I need electricity all the time. It is a mismatch that has no economically feasible solution with our current technology. When supercapacitors can hold as much energy as a gas tank, we can switch over. Nuclear is the best solution but politically untenable.
Wind at 30% is from the very best locations like Alta at Tehachapi Pass in CA
Thanks Rud, that is something I’ve been pondering for a while. Here in the UK, most of the onshore farms have been built in optimal locations.
I recently estimated, that to replace Drax with turbines, would require 200 times the land occupied by the power station (near me is a wind farm with 9 turbines, on an area almost the same as Drax, I estimate 10 turbines/sq mile). Drax occupies around 1sq mile, at nameplate capacity, that would be 200 sq miles. But at a nominal 25% capacity, that would expand to theoretically 800 sq miles.
But looking at the topography of the locale, it would need to be much larger.
I concluded, that the land required for larger farms, is not a linear relationship to the number of turbines required.
Correct. In a small country like the UK, wind turbines would be visible from practically everywhere, with their constant, nauseating spinning, shadow flicker and strobe lights. All to achieve at best intermittent generation, still backed by spinning reserve.
Don’t take them literally. But they can tell you which of two installation is the bigger one.
This is an unbridled CF without overbuild and resulting curtailment. Any grid that achieves net zero with just wind and solar plus battery storage will achieve capacity factors in single digit.
My household off-grid solar system has averaged 5.8% CF. The number of panels was optimised to minimise the system cost, including the battery, to meet the demand. I could have made it a bit higher by setting panels for maximum output in May sunlight because that is the month when the battery goes to its lowest level.
There has been no reduction in cost of panels or batteries in AUD since I installed that system 12 years ago.
The capacity factors of grid wind and solar in Australia are declining as the penetration increases. Curtailment occurs on a daily basis and the curtailment has to increase because the level of storage is still negligible.
Projecting current CFs into the future with higher penetration is in the same boat as climate phiisics – its nonsense.
Common sense tells you the metric needs to be cost / energy-delivered. I don’t directly pay for production or capital costs – my electricity bill is for a product (energy).
Even common sense, (using a simple billing method), has problems. Consider both a business with a 24 hour demand and the output of a solar farm, as usual, the business is billed monthly for the energy it consumes.
Over the month, the business consumed X units of energy. The solar farm produced multiple times this energy requirement.
On paper, and through multiple public announcements, you would hear that the solar farm powered the business at the unit cost of the solar farm. Regardless of the day rate, what is the cost of a MWHr from a solar farm overnight? Clearly, a monthly average could show a low price but an hourly sum would include multiple instances of infinities that should also be included. Imagine that, 8 secure hours of 3 cents/kWHr and then 12+ hours of near infinity $/kWHr. Currently, those infinities are covered by another business, working inefficiently and being penalised by government mandates, (to favour solar whenever it should be available).
Until the renewable generators provide their own back-up to the grid we will never know the true cost of intermittent power. It will always be a bill paid for by another agent and ultimately the consumer.
It is not hard to work out how many solar panels (or wind turbines) and batteries you need based on historical output, which is now commonly available.
Using low cost of capital (rate for TDs) I can produce reliable solar/battery at 37S with battery to supply the unmanaged daily demand for $500/MWh. It is lower cost than using a diesel generator. And obviously a bit more convenient than burning coal. Although I do use wood burning for heating.
That is based on free labour for the installation and slightly less than optimal panel location.
I did a report based on solar output from a very well located grid solar farm output that sized a solar system and battery to meet the NEM demand in Australia. Average demand of 23GW met with 250GW of panels and 750GWh of batteries. So CF of 9.2%.
The costs could be lower by using some coal generation to reduce the overbuild but the lowest cost is to just use coal.
There is no point where any penetration of intermitents reduce the cost by displacing coal. Primarily because they use more coal to make than they can displace. It is not zero sum. Installing wind turbines and solar panels increases coal consumption but because the coal consumption is being shifted to China it hides the reality. It is criminally stupid.
There’s a huge difference between your off grid and without electricity, your solution is fine for the situation where I was as child. It was uneconomic to connect a single household over several miles to the grid.
So i grew up off grid, that is without electricity.
I think the two things that electricity provides that I’d miss if I had to return to that situation are instant and bright lights, and the (automatic) washing machine. Washing clothes was hard and time consuming. Initial drying with a mangle also took time
Manually producing wood or peat to supplement coal for heat was a warms you twice job.
I do not forego any of the intent on stuff. Modern solar/battery has no problem doing that.
Grid scale weather dependent generation is no different to any individual household going off-grid. The energy source is ubiquitous and the energy extractors have no benefit of scale. The solar panel in a wind farm is the same as the one I have on the roof. They might have tracking but that comes at a cost and then they have to transmit the energy to the household. I would not be bothered with wind turbine because wind droughts can run for days, which adds to the storage requirement but the Betz limit applies no matter the scale.
So my costs are comparable with what the grid can do. All the countries heading for Net Zero will realise this soon enough. I am one of the few people who has actually operated off-grid load for some years using modern technology.
Tracking solar requires much more land to avoid panel shading. Cost of land tends to be limiting in many locations.
You must have lived up your beloved mountain. 😀
Back in the 50s, I used to go with my grandma, to the wash house, it was hard work, and watching the women cranking the mangles was something.
“That is based on free labour for the installation” — Did you do it?
Fire up all fossil fuel and nuclear generators, refit those that need it, replace those that shouldn’t be refit with new fossil fuel or nuclear plants and get rid of those worthless wind and solar plants.
I read an article yesterday about a company that dismantles nuclear power plants buying a recently shut-down nuclear power plant in Michigan, and instead of dismantling the plant, the company wants to put it back in operation! They are seeking approval to do so.
Company Seeks First-Time Restart of Shuttered Nuclear Plant
A company hopes to restore a dead nuclear power plant to life for the first time in the U.S. The Palisades plant in southwestern Michigan closed in May 2022
By Associated Press
April 26, 2023, at 11:05 a.m.
“this cost includes the project lifetime, WACC (weighted average capital cost), investment cost and capacity factor.”
So which ledger entry covers maintenance and repair? In the case of wind turbines we never hear about access, often occurring across private property, labor, probably by highly-paid specialists, and replacement of parts that will involve long stoppages of production. While this is true of all forms of power production we don’t seem to be figuring it in to the price of electricity.
The IEA LCOE calculator (https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/data-tools/levelised-cost-of-electricity-calculator) does have Operations & Maintenance costs. It has multiple entries for each electricity generation technology for the uSA, so it seems to be a bit of a lottery.
O&M for onshore wind appears to be around $9 to $10 per MWh, and utility scale solar PV is around $5.
By comparison, CCGT gas is around the same as solar, nuclear LWR is a bit more than wind and LTO nuclear is around $18/MWh.
and is the damage to the landscape counted? The enviros love to talk about ecosystem values when it comes to locking up land- but when it comes to covering the land with “renewable energy”- they apparently forget about those values.
Who actually performs this trick? Where? Any specifics?
Any evidence that capacity factor is not taken account of in LCOE. You actually said that it was.
You’re right. He never said what the trick actually was. I think he’s trying to say that capital cost of installed nameplate capacity at so much a Mwatt is not to be confused with LCOE per Mwatt-hr, which everyone knows has to incorporate capacity factor. I think reasonably sophisticated people get it that cost per installed megawatt doesn’t tell the whole story because everyone knows the wind doesn’t blow all the time. Here in Ontario we’ve had hardly any wind for the past 4 days even though spring tends to be windy.
He’s really just exposing what was never hidden.
“Here in Ontario we’ve had hardly any wind for the past 4 days even though spring tends to be windy.” — The wind will blow much better in spring once all of Canada de-carbonizes and more renewables are built out..:) –Trust me..
I too was very surprised to read the claim that LCOE estimates are based on faceplate, not estimated future production, and would like to see an example where someone has done that.
You could do an LCOE calculation on this basis, but it would be fraudulent. It would amount to simply falsifying the amount of power produced.
However, LCOE, even done with a correct estimate of production, would be called accounting fraud in any other context.
You take the total amount of power produced, calculate the NPV of all the cash flows for the life of the project, then divide the second by the first to get a Levelised Cost per MW..
This is wrong in two ways, as you can see from the UK example if you look at the detailed study by Chris Bond, here:
or, less clearly, from looking at the charts of UK energy production here:
The first way in which its wrong is the assumption that power generated is all the same, no matter when. So one MW produced on a windy morning when peak demand is 35GW is valued in the formula the same as one produced when peak demand is 45GW. But the problem is that under Net Zero it will be impossible to use all that is produced at low demand times.
This is also why raw capacity factor is a misleading parameter. It matters when its produced, not just how much is produced.
So it may be produced, but its not relevant for cost assessment purposes. This is comparable to a common attempt at accounting fraud which is ‘stuffing the channel’. You give your retailers special deals on payment and on price to persuade them to order and build up their inventory, give them sale or return, and then report this as sales. But of course they are not really sold, and will come back to haunt you,
The second way in which its wrong is that, as the above charts show, there are periods in the UK of a week or ten days when 28GW of faceplate delivers less than 5GW. There are periods of a day when it delivers less than 1GW. So during these periods you have to provide for alternative generation.
Think of it in supermarket terms. A supplier, who claims to be cheaper than the current one, proposes to deliver as much as he likes whenever he likes. So you look carefully and see that he is going to deliver pallet loads of lettuce that you cannot sell all of in the summer, and weeks with none when you will have to buy in from another supplier in the cold weather. Your actual cost per lettuce sold will be far higher. Its a mixture of wastage and makeup of shortfall. Oh, and he explains that he doesn’t deliver. You are to get a trucker to pick up wherever his farms happen to be. The claim of cheapness doesn’t hold up to examination.
As in the trucking example you also have to make sure that all relevant costs of use are included – which means providing for the costs of transmission from the wind site to wherever it usefully enters the grid. As far as I know LCOE calculations never include this.
The only way to do LCOE legitimately is to make the products comparable, that is, include gas backup generation or storage and also transmission capital and maintenance costs.
As far as I know this is never done, but its the only valid way of comparing two generation technologies. There is incidentally a parameter, which one finance house used in the past, ‘LCOS’. The levelised cost of storage. As I recall, they calculated it separately from LCOE, but they did at least have the integrity to calculate it. When the two were added it turned out that renewables cost about double conventional.
The only real comparison is for whole system costs. For renewables that needs to show what happens in years of plenty and years of limited output so we get to see the true volumes of curtailment and the real need for backup or storage. Whole system also encompasses all the extra transmission capacity required for systems with significant volumes of intermittent generation, particularly if it is concentrated away from main areas of demand. The costs have to be averaged over several decades so that there is no cheating on asset lifetimes.
This is what the US EIA says about LCOE(Levelised Cost of Electricity) and LCOS (Levelised Cost of Storage) in its Annual Energy Outlook (March 2022)
“LCOE and LCOS by themselves do not capture all of the factors that contribute to investment decisions making direct comparison of LCOE and LCOS across technologies problematic and misleading as a method to assess competitiveness of various generation alternatives”
Good post. Some simple basics along the same lines:
Back in 2016, I reworked the 2015 EIA ‘official’ claim that onshore wind had reached US LCOE grid parity. Post ‘True Cost of Wind’ over at Judith’s. After correcting several obvious EIA factual errors, the ‘true’ result (based on then 10% penetration on the Texas ERCOT grid): CCGT $58/MWh, onshore wind $146/MWh. Hopeless.
And now the Biden administration is killing whales by pushing offshore wind. None other than the lying EIA estimates offshore wind at 3x onshore wind. Beyond hopeless.
Learnt something new before 7am.
Never come across synchronous condensers before.
Neither have I. Always to discover something new.
I thought synchronous condensers were more for providing reactive power?
As for the inertia of these devices they only have their rotational mass. With a conventional generator there is the rotational mass plus the ability to increase output to keep the frequency within tolerance? In other words rotational mass is a damper but by itself it’s force decays with load, and frequency will drop.
I don’t know how that frequency stability can work without a controllable source of power?
The fantasy depends on China burning an ever increasing volume of coal to make the weather energy extractors.
Local CO2 levels can be reduced but global levels have to go up because it takes more fossil fuels to produce and maintain the extractors and supporting hardware like batteries, additional transmission lines, synchronous condensers, firming generation etc than the extractors can extract in their relatively short life.
Attached shows the future of wind farms. Rusting hulks that cost more to demolish than the contained value after Mother Nature runs its course.
Reminds me of the story, of a farmer, calling the vet, because his cat was feeling sick. The vet advised that he would come round, but in the meantime to give the cat a dose of cod liver oil.
When he arrived, the farmer told him he’d given the cat a bottle of cod liver oil. “My God said the vet, that’s not what I recommended, where is the cat?”.
“In the fields with 27 other cats”.
“Why 27 cats?”
“Well, nine are digging the holes, nine are filling them in, and the other nine are searching for fresh ground”.
Wild assed crazy idea: The Ultimate Pumped Hydro
How: One (or more) humongous ‘pipe’ running all around the globe in a loop= a perfect endless circle.
Fill the pipe with water (or ‘some’ fluid) Water is neat stuff to use because it’s non-compressible
All round it, install reversible motor/turbine pumps (as per used in pumped-storage hydro)
Then, wherever the sun shines brightly (or the wind blows strongly) capture wind & sun and use it to drive the electric turbines at that location to push the water around the loop.
In places where it’s night-time, the turbines will be driven backwards and extract the electrikery.
Considering just the solar, when its daytime sunny the
turbine pumps will be pushing water around the globe to where it’s not sunny where identical turbine pumps, working in reverse, will pull energy out.
Because then, the mantra/meme of “The sun’s always shining (or the wind’s always blowing) somewhere” will come true.
And you get a global grid with truly immense (rotating) inertia – all those asynchronous machines dotted around the globe are pulled into one
Combine it with a DC grid so that you can move immense power over huge distance and allows almost anyone to either feed the machine or subtract from it.
😄😄😄😄😄😄 sorry to say, most of this went straight over my head. Obviously, one needs to work in the industry to understand, all the terminology and concepts.
However, I’d dearly love to see this gentleman put up against the activists, and enjoy, watching him destroy their idealogical rhetoric. It certainly would be worth purchasing several bags of popcorn.👍👍
To keep it simple, the way different technologies are compared by activists is by calculating something called LCOE. Levelised cost of electricity generation.
This basically takes lifetime costs and lifetime generation, and gives a cost per unit, per MW.
The author claims that what is usually done is to take faceplate value and assume that 100% of this is generated through the life of the systems. If he is correct, this would be a silly error, since renewables generally generate only 20-30% of faceplate.
He is however most likely wrong about this, I believe LCOE calculations usually do work with the expected actual generation numbers, not faceplate numbers.
All the same, LCOE is not a valid comparison parameter, since it basically assumes that intermittency doesn’t matter or affect the value of the power produced. Which it most definitely does. And it also leaves out a lot of the real costs of deployment.
Thank you, much appreciated 👍
I think the real problem is that as you increase the share of renewables on the grid you get to the point where when demand is low, but output is high, it can’t all be used. Add more capacity, and in more and more hours there will be surpluses, while the size of surpluses in low demand hours also increase. Of course, you are still left with lots of hours when renewables output is less than demand – perhaps catastrophically so, requiring close to 100% backup.
Trying to use storage to bridge between periods of surplus and periods of shortage gets to be very expensive. A lot of energy is lost in converting electricity to some storable form and then converting it back again, and the storage systems are very expensive: it is cheaper to limit the size of storage and throw away lots of output. But if you throw away 75% of the output the effective cost of the useful 25% portion becomes 4 times (100/25) as great. You may still be faced with the costs of a storage system, and the energy it consumes.
LCOE calculations that assume that 100% of the output of a renewables generator can be used are inherently wrong once you try to use renewables to generate a significant chunk of demand. Instead of a 28% capacity factor, you are really only getting 7% if you have to spill 75% of the output uselessly.
Yes, agreed. Especially this :
“LCOE calculations that assume that 100% of the output of a renewables generator can be used are inherently wrong”.
What I was trying to say, but much more succinctly put!
LCOE doesn’t include the cost of 100% backup, nor does it include the cost of curtailing power when the 2x to 3x nameplate (or more) solar PV/wind install produces at name plate capacity and exceeds demand. Too much power over demand is also expensive; Texas has been curtailing 12 million megawatt-hours a year for the past 6 years at an average cost of $16/MWh = $200 million plus a year. And that’s with basically 100% natural gas backup.
Germany paid 807 million euros for curtailment in 2021 and the UK averaged over 200 million pounds for just wind curtailment since 2020; they’re at 70 million and counting for 2023 so far.
Yes, this is correct. You will sometimes hear the argument that curtailment payments should not be considered because the fuel being free there should be no payments necessary. And if its free, who cares if its wasted?
This is wrong (its a basic accounting error) because curtailment has a cost one way or another. If you overbuild so as to reduce backup costs, you will end up curtailing more often, and this will reduce the capacity utilization factor. This is why curtailment results in payments. The operators are prepared to sell power, its just that the grid is refusing to take it. Obviously this means their utilization factor falls and thus their ROI falls. So they need compensation. Its a real cost, just not a fuel cost.
If you do LCOE right, include all the relevant costs and make sure that all the power generated is generated when its usable and saleable, you’ll end up at least doubling the usual estimates for wind and solar LCOE, as compared to conventional.
It’s called lying with statistics, another variation of Beria’s “show me the man and I’ll show you the crime”. Intelligent people appreciate efforts, such as this post, intended to set the record straight. However, we all know any such effort will be demagogued and ignored by the climate change crowd because they have never cared about the climate. They use climate change to further their ideological goals. Critiquing posts like this is part of the Socratic method for honest, thinking people just remember the climate change crowd is not honest or thinking.
Is this the same truth telling Pollock, of the “Pollock effect” brought to us by Moncton a couple months ago? Sounds the same. In a way I hope it’s not, two scientists saying the same thing would be great, a couple thousand is what we need to end the wind and solar plague.