The Excess Costs of Weather Dependent Renewable Power Generation in the USA

By edmhdotme – Re-Blogged From WUWT

These straightforward calculations are intended to answer the simple question:

“roughly how much would it cost to generate the same amount of power as is produced by the 2016 fleet of United States Weather Dependent Renewables, using conventional generation technologies, (Gas-firing or Nuclear) ? and how do those figures compare ?”.

Accordingly, the post quantifies the scale of the fiscal waste and the burdens on utility bills attributable to the use of USA Weather Dependent Renewables as installed at the end of 2016.  It combines the comparative costs of generation technologies, published by the US Energy Information Administration in 2020 with information on the Nameplate rating of installed USA Weather Dependent Renewable installations and their actual productive power output as of 2016.  This data on Renewables performance at end 2016 is accessed from USA  Energy Information Administration, US  EIA.

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Summary

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These straightforward calculations are intended to answer the simple question:

“roughly how much would it cost to generate the same amount of power as is produced by the 2016 fleet of United States Weather Dependent Renewables, using conventional generation technologies, (Gas-firing or Nuclear) ? and how do those figures compare ?”.

Accordingly, the post quantifies the scale of the fiscal waste and the burdens on utility bills attributable to the use of USA Weather Dependent Renewables as installed at the end of 2016.  It combines the comparative costs of generation technologies, published by the US Energy Information Administration in 2020 with information on the Nameplate rating of installed USA Weather Dependent Renewable installations and their actual productive power output as of 2016.  This data on Renewables performance at end 2016 is accessed from USA  Energy Information Administration, US  EIA.

The name plate value of installed Weather Dependent Renewables in the USA amounted to ~118 Gigawatts producing the equivalent of ~30 Gigawatts in 2016.

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According to this costing model, the approximate USA:

  • capital cost commitment to the current USA Renewables installed is ~210 $billion:  of which the excess costs over Gas-firing is ~175$billion and ~30$billion over the costs of Nuclear.
  • long-term cost commitment of the current USA Renewables generation of ~30Gigawatts installed is ~890$billion: of which the excess costs over Gas-firing is ~750$billion and ~490$billion over the costs of Nuclear power.

These estimates show that using Weather Dependent Renewables in the USA costs ~6 times as much as using Natural Gas for electricity generation and about 1.2 – 2 times as much as Nuclear power.

The benefit of these expenditures for Weather Dependent Renewables is the replacement of about 9% of USA power gross output capacity by “nominally” CO2 neutral technologies.  Electrical power generation results in about 1/4 of the total CO2 emissions output from USA.

In 2016 the USA in total emitted ~5,000million tonnes of CO2, ~14.5% of the Global CO2 emissions.  Accordingly at ~9% of ~25% of 5,000 million tonnes, the current Renewable expenditures are being made to avert an absolute maximum of ~112 million tonnes of CO2 emissions averted across the USA.  This maximum value entirely ignores all the CO2 emissions and energy costs of Weather Dependent Renewables manufacture, installation, etc.  Thus the maximum averted CO2 emissions from USA Weather Dependent Renewables are as follows:

  • of the 2016 USA CO2 emissions ~4,950 million tonnes     ~2.2%
  • of the 2019 Global CO2 emissions  ~34,000 million tonnes     ~0.3 %
  • of the 2017 CO2 emissions growth from developing world 446 million tonnes    ~25%.

The impact of the poor productivity of Weather Dependent Renewables is shown in these two pie charts, where 29% of the Weather dependent Renewables are ~29% of installed generation but produce ~9% of the power output produced:

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So, the question should be asked “does the capital commitment of ~200 billion$ and the probable future expenditures of ~890 billion$ to unreliably replace ~9% of USA power output and to avert ~2.2% of USA CO2 emissions make economic good sense ?”

Comparative Costing Model for Electricity Generation Technologies

The comparative costings are derived from US  EIA data released in January 2020.

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The values used in this model ignore the “EIA Technological optimism factor” above, which would adversely affect the comparative costs of Offshore wind, (by about 9$billion/Gigawatt: long-term) and to a much less extent Nuclear power.  These costs are summarised and translated into $billion/Gigawatt in the table below.

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.  A service period of 60 years is used for these comparisons as it should be close the service life of current generation of Nuclear installations.

Hopefully the comparative data above should realistically avoid the distorting effects of any Government fiscal and subsidy policies supporting Weather Dependent Renewable Energy, whereby it might be claimed that Weather Dependent Renewables can reach cost parity with conventional generation technologies.  The promoters of Weather Dependent Renewables always seem to conveniently forget their productivity differentials with conventional dispatchable power generation.

The service life allocated for Renewables used above may well be generous, particularly for Solar Photovoltaics.  The production capability of all Renewable technologies has been shown to progressively deteriorate significantly over their service life.

Recent 2020 EIA updates fully account for any cost reductions or underbids for Renewable technology, particularly those for Solar panels.  The costs of solar panels themselves may be reducing but this price reduction can only affect about 1/4 of the installation costs, these are mainly made up of the other costs of Solar installations, those ancillary costs remain immutable.

It is hoped therefore that these results give a valid comparative analysis of the true cost effectiveness of Weather Dependent Renewables.  It should be noted that unlike microprocessor technologies “Moore’s Law” cannot be applied to Solar Panels.  As the Solar energy they collect is dilute and diffuse, in order to be effective, they have to be of large scale, so the progressive miniaturisation of “Moores Law” is irrelevant to Solar PV technology.

https://www.manhattan-institute.org/green-energy-revolution-near-impossible

Notes:
    • These calculations are based on the USA installed Renewables base as of the end of 2016
    • The cost data used was published by US  EIA in January 2020 and should allow for the recent price reductions particularly for Solar PV generation
    • The US  EIA data makes the assumption that universally Solar PV productivity is 11.4% for its entire 2016 data set.
    • For the time being these calculations ignore all Offshore Wind power which is currently only a minor part of US Weather Dependent Renewable installations

The true costs associated with Weather Dependent Renewables

Only when the costings estimated from the EIA data above are combined with the actual productivity of Weather Dependent Renewables can a true comparative cost be assessed as below.  Thus these figures represent the true comparative cost / Gigawatt of the power produced by Weather Dependent Renewables installations.

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In addition, even these comparative figures are underestimates of the true costs of using Weather Dependent Renewables.  These results above only account for the cost comparisons for capital and running costs of the generation installations themselves and the actual electrical power generated accounting for the assessed productivity capability 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 power intermittency and power variability
  • the non-dispatchablity of Renewables:  the wind will not blow and clouds will not clear away to order whenever needed
  • the poor timing of power generation by Renewables is often unlikely to be coordinated with demand:  for example Solar energy is virtually absent in winter even in the Southern USA, 1/9th of the output than in the summer period of lower demand
  • the long transmission lines from remote, dispersed generators, incurs both power losses in transmission and costly increased maintenance
  • much additional infrastructure is needed for access
  • the costs of back up generation is essential but is only used on occasions but has to be wastefully running in spinning reserve nonetheless
  • any consideration of electrical storage using batteries, which would impose very significant additional costs, were long-term, (only a few days), battery storage even economically feasible
  • unsynchronised generation with lack of inherent inertia to maintain grid frequency
  • Weather Dependent Renewables cannot provide a “black start” recovery from a major grid outage

Importantly in addition these cost analyses do not account for:

  • the inevitable environmental damage and wildlife destruction resulting from Weather Dependent Renewables
  • the “Carbon footprint” of Weather Dependent Renewable 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.  When viewed in the round, all these installation activities are entirely dependent on the use of substantial amounts of fossil fuels both as feedstocks for materials and  as fuels.
  • the Energy Return on Energy Invested:  Weather Dependent Renewables may well produce only a minimal excess of Energy during their service life as was needed 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.

Renewables K.O.-ed by EROI?

Comparative Costings for Renewable Generation technologies in USA

The table above gave a capital valuation of the current 2016 USA Weather Dependent Renewables fleet at ~200 $billion with probable ongoing costs of ~890 $billion.  Overall in USA this Renewables investment accounts for ~29% of the nameplate generation capacity but only provides ~9% of the actual power contribution.  This is approximately twice the cost of providing the same power output with Nuclear power stations and more than 11 times the cost of using Gas-firing for equivalent power generation.

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The three tables above show how the different Renewable technologies contribute to the Government mandated excess costs overall in the USA.

US Wind power is the most cost effective Weather Dependent Renewable technology.  In general it is just 10% cheaper than Nuclear power in capital spend and is only about 1.6 times as expensive in the long-term.  Onshore wind power is only about ~4.5 times more costly in capital and long-term spend than Gas-firing.  Solar PV is the least cost effective US Renewable ~3 – ~6 times more costly than Nuclear to install and 16 times more costly than Gas-firing in the long-term.  However this cost differential does not account for the problem of Weather Dependent irregular intermittency and non-dipatachability.

These significant excess costs represent the wastage imposed on the American population both via direct taxation by supporting subsidies to Weather Dependent Renewables and then also added to utility bills America wide by the Government mandates imposing Renewables on electricity generation.  That wastage amounts to a very regressive tax burden imposed on the poorest in American society.  It is leading to ever increasing US-wide “Energy Poverty”.

Comparative Participation of Individual American States

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The name plate value of  the 2016 USA Weather Dependent Renewable installations reported by EIA  is shown below.  The principle states involved with Weather Dependent Renewables in the USA (49) and their local commitments amounting in total to ~118GW installed are shown graphically below.

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The scale of the commitment to Weather Dependent Renewables by State is shown below:

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The comparative take-up of USA Weather Dependent Renewables by individual States in 2020 as measured by Gigawatts of nameplate capacity per million head of population is shown below.

The comparative productivity performance achieved by these principle US States is shown below.  It is notable how poor the productivity achieved is even for those Southern states with major commitments to solar power

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Cost comparisons to Gas-firing

At ~1.1bn$/ Gigawatt in capital costs and ~3.5bn$/ Gigawatt for the 60-year long-term, the use of natural gas is the most cost effective and efficient means of power generation currently available.  It should be noted that Gas-firing produces ~1/2 the CO2 emissions of Coal-firing and ~1/3 the CO2 emissions of Biomass.

These excess costs calculations indicate of the scale additional costs that burden the economies of individual US States according to the US  EIA 2020 data and recorded Weather Dependent Renewable productivity figures shown above, these total ~175 bn$ in capital costs.

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The long-term excess costs in comparison to the use of Gas-firing amount to ~750 bn$.

Cost comparisons to Nuclear power

At ~7 bn$/ Gigawatt in capital costs and ~16 bn$/ Gigawatt for the 60-year long-term, Nuclear power is an effective and efficient means of consistent power generation with nil CO2 emissions and low land take.  In capital cost terms for Name plate value Onshore wind power can be nominally cost competitive, however that comparison is just for total power output which does account the intermittent and variable performance of Renewable Wind power, which make real difficulties for Grid reliability.

These excess costs calculations indicate of the scale additional costs that burden the economies of individual US States according to the US  EIA 2020 data and recorded Weather Dependent Renewable productivity figures shown above, overall these total net sum of ~30 bn$ in capital costs.  However Solar photovoltaics impose significant capital cost burdens when compared with Nuclear power.

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The long-term excess costs in comparison to the use of Nuclear power amount to ~490 bn$.

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Conclusions

These straightforward calculations show the scale of immediate and long-term costs associated with Weather Dependent Renewables across the USA.  They amount to a capital sum in excess of 210 billion$ and a sum approaching ~900 billion$ were they to be maintained for the long-term.  This sum achieves about ~9% of the USA gross power production.

The capital costs of replacing the full 30GW of American  Renewable generation output with reliable, dispatchable Gas-fired generation would be ~33 billion$ and the whole 600GW USA Generation capability could be replaced by Gas-firing for ~660 billion$.  CO2 emissions from Gas-firing are 1/2 those from coal-firing and about 1/3 of those from the burning of Biomass.

The benefit of these expenditures on Weather Dependent Renewables is the replacement of about 9% of USA power output capacity by “nominally” CO2 neutral technologies.  Electrical power generation results in about 1/4 of the total CO2 emissions output from the USA.

In 2019 the USA emitted ~4,950 million tonnes of CO2, ~14.5% of the Global CO2 emissions.  Accordingly, at ~9% of ~25% of 4,950 million tonnes, the current Renewable expenditures are being made to avert an absolute maximum of ~111 million tonnes of CO2 emissions averted across America.  This maximum value ignores all the CO2 and energy costs of Renewables manufacture, installation, etc.  Therefore, the maximum averted emissions from USA Weather Dependent Renewables are as follows:

  • of the 2016 USA CO2 emissions ~4,950 million tonnes     ~2.2%
  • of the 2019 Global CO2 emissions  ~34,000 million tonnes     ~0.3 %
  • of the 2017 CO2 emissions growth from developing world 446 million tonnes    ~25%

So the question should be asked “does the capital commitment of ~0.2 trillion$ and the probable future expenditures of ~0.9 trillion$ to unreliably replace ~9% of USA power output and to avert ~2.2% of USA CO2 emissions make economic good sense ?”

If the objectives of using Weather Dependent Renewables were not confused with possibly “saving the planet” from the output of the diminishing USA proportion of CO2 emissions, their actual cost, their 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.

The whole annual USA CO2 emissions output will eventually be far surpassed just by the annual growth of CO2 emissions across China and the Developing world.

It is essential to ask the question what is the actual value of these USA government mandated excess expenditures in the Western world to the improvement of the Global environment and for the value of perhaps preventing undetectable temperature increases by the end of the century, 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.

https://www.lomborg.com/press-release-research-reveals-negligible-impact-of-paris-climate-promises

Trying to reduce CO2 emissions, in the Western world alone, as a means to control a “warming” climate seems even less relevant when the long-term global temperature trend has been downwards for last 3 millennia, as the coming end of our current warm and benign Holocene interglacial epoch approaches.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-67281-2

The whole Weather Dependent Renewable commitment in the USA is an exercise is attempting to control Global temperature by the reduction of Man-made CO2 emissions in a major sector of the Western world.  These simple calculations show just how costly effecting even a marginal reduction of Man-made CO2 is bound to be.

However, as opposed to being a dangerous pollutant, by every measure, more atmospheric CO2 is benefitting life on earth by substantially increasing plant growth through fertilisation and increasing drought tolerance.  Any fraction of the minor warming we have experienced since the little ice age that is due to Man-made CO2 has also clearly been a direct benefit to agriculture and human comfort.

For additional tables and graphics detailing State by State excess cost calculations and the growth of Weather Dependent Renewables:  see

The Context in 2020

In spite of all the noisy Climate Propaganda of the past 30 years, in Spring 2020 the world was faced with a different but very real economic emergency arising from the political reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That emergency, with the world facing global economic breakdown as well as the death of many elder citizens, should put the futile, self-harming and costly Government mandated attempts to control future climate into stark perspective.  This real pandemic emergency and the self-harming reactions to it clearly shows how irrelevant concerns over probably inconsequential “Climate Change” in a distant future truly are.

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