The real cost of renewables

Whatever the current ROC scale is for wind (and it is by no means clear as to how its actually derived) the new CFD system which was widely criticised as 'setting prices too low for wind' and being 'far too high for nuclear') by the renewables lobby, is quite clear as to what the strike prices are that are being negotiated.

which shows that the price (from which a notional £40 must be subtracted to represent the 'fair market price' of electricity) that will be guaranteed to nuclear solar and wind power are as follows.

Nuclear has been widely publicised as £89.5 for Hinkley and Sizewell C or £92 for Hinkley alone.

However for intermittent renewables like wind wave tide and solar, this does not reflect the added cost to the consumer of rendering them non-intermittent (dispatchable) - that is the additional costs of keeping standby and other plant operational when its operating margins are eaten into by bursts of renewable power that force it off the grid. You can add at least £20/MWh to the consumers bill for every MWh of renewable electricity generated for that alone.

Furthermore it does not include the costs of uprating substantial parts of the grid to carry large levels of renewable energy from where it is (occasionally) generated to where it is needed. Grid that will normally not be used to anything like its full capacity, due to the massively variable nature of the intermittent source itself.

It is not far fetched looking at Germany's trillion Euro investment to do that thing - still years late and costing their consumers a massive amount in payments to wind farms that are producing nothing, because they are not even connected to the grid - as well as the Scottish situation here, where Stuart Young writes:

This money was paid out to operators whose (presumed) ability to supply electricity was limited by the grid (not yet) in place to transmit it. Money for nothing, indeed.

It is hard (deliberately hard one suspects) to put an exact figure on the added cost of necessary grid upgrades to take peak renewable flows, but it can hardly be less than a further £20/MWh.

Anyone who attempts to discover these facts and figures is immediately struck by how hard it is to get any information at all, other then the bland and limited statements of DECC itself, or the glowing eulogies heaped on renewables by its lobbyists. The FIT and ROC systems were (deliberately ?) opaque one suspects to mask the true cost of renewables - the CFD system is somewhat better in that at least the headline subsidies paid to renewables are there side by side, but they too do not clearly delineate the impact of renewable intermittency. Intermittency is not some airy notional feature of wind, wave, solar and tidal. It is intrinsic to their nature and cannot be 'engineered' away - it can only be compensated for, by adding more storage or conventional generation and more attendant grid transmission at a cost that is outside the remit of the CFD mechanism altogether.

So, if we add that notional £40/MWh as the additional cost of co-generating kit held on standby and the cost of extending the grid to handle renewable surges, to the CFD prices for wind and solar, then the true cost of renewable energy to the retail power companies (who have to pay the backup operators and the grid to contract for capacity and deliver it when the renewable source is not there) looks more like this.

With nuclear coming in (because the grid is already built, and because the power stations operate at full capacity all the time apart from summer refuelling etc) at £92.50/MWh To which you may if you like perhaps 10% transmission costs.

Compared with a typical maket price of £40-£50/Mwh for coal and gas.

It is not too far fetched to encapsulate that in a statement for the popular press that 'wind attracts at least £100/MWh subsidy'.

There has been a lot of criticism levelled at the government for negotiating a strike price for nuclear in excess of £90. But when the true costs are laid out and the holistic analysis completed, it is clear that renewables are costing us at least 2-3 times what fossil is, and at least 50% more than nuclear power would, And due to the inevitable inefficiencies they act to increase in fossil plant - gas mostly - used to compensate for their intrinsic deficiences, their potential for emissions reductions is severely reduced over the headline gains claimed by their powerful lobbies.

That is, in a nutshell, you can drive the cost benefit equation two ways.

If you regard carbon emissions as a hidden socialised and externalised cost, then the most cost effective way of generating power is nuclear, and as much of it as possible.

If you regard carbon emissions as low or zero costs, and many people are beginning to - then the optimal strategy is to use coal for generation, as it is somewhat cheaper, in abundant supply worldwide, and easier to stockpile than gas.

Notably absent from either scenario are any renewable sources of the intermittent kind whatsoever.

We can therefore conclude that the motivations for (intermittent) renewables, and the enormous attempts made to obfuscate their real cost impact on the consumer, result not from either a desire to provide low cost energy, nor indeed to achieve any significant de-carbonisation of the energy supplies.

No, they represent a political solution to a political problem alone: Namely the need to be seen to be 'doing something' about climate change, and the commercial desire to cash in on the political solution.

Which is why the government targets are not couched in terms of emissions reductions at all, but in terms of renewable obligations. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the lobbies knew from the outset that renewables would not result in significant emissions reductions at all. And deliberately bent the policy away from those, towards adoption of their specific technologies.

Itzman: 17/11/2013