By 2050, the CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget calls for 635 TWh/year of despatchable electricity from Wind And Solar Power Plants (WASPPs).
That would cost £31.83 billion each and every year, FOREVER!
Conversely, 635 TWh/year of despatchable electricity from ‘Home Made’ advanced Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) would cost just £8.41 billion per year.
The message from powerful WASPP lobbyists like renewableUK and National Grid, with daily support from the media, convince most politicians and the general public alike that WASPPs are the cheapest way to generate electricity.
This is obfuscation in its purest form.
Politicians will be able to see how enormous subsidies are the only way for commercial investors to show a profit. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~//~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Decarbonising the electricity sector means only low-carbon electricity and green hydrogen (GH2), manufactured from low-carbon electricity, can get the UK to net-zero. Where electricity cannot be used directly, or through batteries (which are more electrically-efficient than GH2), GH2 will decarbonise the rest: the heating, transport and industrial sectors.
But first, electricity generation has to be decarbonised. In 2019, figures from the BEIS show, from a total 323.7 TWh of generation, Coal and Gas generated 133.4 TWh.
Coal and natural gas (NG) have to go! Biomass for the environmental abomination that it is, should go also! And, maybe by 2100, in a UK powered solely by low-carbon electricity and GH2, there will be no need either for environmentally-impacting, conventional and pumped hydroelectricity.
The Intermittency Problem carves away at the low carbon credentials of WASPPs because, as detractors point out, NG power plants are needed for when the Sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow. But at present, proponents invariably counter this with — NG power plants are there anyway, to make up the capacity of electricity generation needed.
But there’s no doubting, when it’s night time and wind generation collapses, gas take the strain, generating 68X more despatchable electricity than wind and solar combined. Note also: As can be seen, ‘shuttered’ coal power plants had to be brought back on line to cope.
Of necessity to meet net-zero, NG will have to disappears, meaning the backup power plants for WASPPs will have to be GH2-powered. That GH2 has to be manufactured by WASPPs when generation exceeds demand, stored in huge volumes in salt caverns and, when demand exceeds WASPP generation, the backup plants are fired up. By 2050, the cost of that GH2 fuel is predicted to be down to the cost of today’s grey-hydrogen.
This ‘process’ is known as power-to-gas-to-power (P2G2P) and it carries a burden of extremely low efficiency: “…Ten megawatt-hours of generated power in the beginning makes about three megawatt-hours of usable power by the time it is reconverted back to electricity for consumption…”. The installed capacity of WASPPs has to be so much greater to make up for that ‘missing’ 70%.
So the stage is set to put some cost figures on the capital investment needed to decarbonise electricity generation by 2050 using WASPPs+ GH2. And not forgetting to add the cost of the GH2 fuel
In December 2050, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published:
The Sixth Carbon Budget: The UK’s Path to Net Zero.
Page 60 introduces: The Balanced Pathway to Net Zero for the UK. Page 67 states by 2050, electricity demand may see a doubling or even trebling of the 323.7 TWh present day figure. And, The installed capacity of offshore wind will rise to between 65 GW and 125 GW. Page 68 settles at the average figure:
Offshore Wind by 2050: 95 GW.
Right now, Seagreen offshore wind farm is in the throws of construction. Its 1.075 GW of installed capacity utilises 10MW wind turbine generators (WTGs). To meet the 95 GW target, 88 South Kyle-sized offshore windfarms would have to be installed at the rate of 3 per year. With an overnight capital cost (OCC) of £3.0 billion each, the total OCC is £264 billion which, spread over the 25 years lifespan of WTGs, equates to:
£10.56 billion per year.
Page 134 introduces Part 4: Electricity generation.
Page 135 gets right to the point with Solar generation. Installing 3 GW per year for the 30 years to 2050, totals 90 GW of installed solar capacity. It states this will be capable of generating 85 TWh per year in 2050 and this works back to a capacity factor (CF) of ~11%, which is the typical, low performance figure for solar in temperate zones.
Cleve Hill Solar Park, with 0.35 GW of installed capacity, is due to start construction right now. 90 GW of installed capacity would require 257 Cleve Hill-sized solar parks, with an OCC of £115.65 billion. With the hoped-for economic lifespan of utility scale solar at 30 years, that equates to:
£3.85 billion per year.
Digging out the installed capacity of onshore wind requires a few simple calculations and estimations. Under the Balanced Pathway (Page 134) variable renewables reach……….80% by 2050. Page 136: Figure 3.4c — 2050: Total generation scales at ~790 TWh, taking the 80% variable renewables [WASPP’s] figure to ~635 TWh.
Page 135 states unambiguously that the 95 GW, average figure for offshore wind: “…is the backbone of the system, providing 265 TWh of generation in 2035 and 430 TWh in 2050…”
635 TWh, less 85 TWh for solar and less 430 TWh for offshore wind:
Leaves 120 TWh for onshore wind. To establish the installed capacity, an estimation of the CF for onshore wind is necessary and this can be reasonably estimated from the capacity factor the report uses for offshore wind.
Currently, renewableUK has offshore wind’s CF at ~39% and onshore wind at ~27%. 95 GW of offshore wind generates 430 TWh, giving a capacity factor of ~52% (current value +35%) So adding 35% to the current onshore wind CF, gives a 2050 CF of ~37%.
Applying a 37% CF to generate 120 TWh gives an installed onshore wind capacity of 37 GW.
Onshore Wind is, by far, the most cost-effective of WASPP technologies. The latest onshore wind farm, currently under construction is South Kyle Wind Farm:
37 GW of installed capacity would require the installed capacity of 154 South Kyle-sized onshore wind farms, with an OCC of £49.28 billion. With the hoped-for lifespan of WTGs at 25 years, that equates to £1.97 billion per year.
To generate 635 TWh per year of low-carbon, intermittent electricity from WASPP technologies requires a capital investment of £16.38 billion per year.
But, intermittent electricity is useless to advanced, industrialised nations, and to any nation or region in actual fact. And, this is where the P2G2P technology comes into play, as does the cost of GH2 fuel.
To guarantee the lights stay on, the installed capacity of gas turbine plant needs to be 70% greater than the average electrical power supplied over a year. 72.5 GW is the average power needed to generate 635 TWh per year. The installed capacity of gas turbines, with a capacity factor of 60%, would need to be 121 GW but, to meet peak demand, that figure needs to be increased by 70% to 206 GW.
NG-powered Pembroke Power Station, with a capital cost of £200 million has 2 GW of installed capacity. 103 such power stations, with lifespans of averaging 25 years, would be needed, requiring a capital investment of £20.6 billion. That’s £0.82 billion per year.
But the ‘day-job’ for these Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGTs) is to load-follow the peaks and troughs of spiky generation from WASPPs. Their level of load-following generation involves approximately 20% of total annual generation:
20% of 635 TWh of annual generation is 127 TWh. When NG disappears from energy generation, an additional infrastructure is needed to get GH2 to the CCGTs.
At times when WASPP generation exceeds demand, the otherwise-curtailed electricity is used by electrolyser plants to manufacture GH2. This is compressed and distributed (piped or transported) for storage in salt caverns until times when WASPP generation is lower than demand. It is then used to power CCGTs to meet the higher level of demand.
So, 127 TWh of usable power needs 423 TWh of additional WASPP generation. 635 TWh per year from WASPPs costs £16.38 billion per year; pro rata, the extra 423 TWh would require an extra £10.91 billion per year. Then add on the £0.73 billion per year for gas turbine backup plant and the ‘part cost’ so far totals £28.02 billion per year.
Instead of the complexity of estimating the cost of the additional P2G2P infrastructure, it is equally valid to consider paying for the cost of the GH2 fuel needed to eliminate the intermittency problem of WASPP generation.
The cost of fuel to power the gas turbine backup and generate 127 TWh of ‘useable [electricity] power’ hinges around the energy content of GH2. 1 kg of hydrogen contains 33.33 kWh. The quantity of GH2 to generate 102 TWh per year, is 3,810,400,000 kg/year.
“…with the IEA putting the current price of grey H2 production at $1.00–$1.80/kg…”: Taking a ‘long view’ of average exchange rates, this works out at a nominal £1.00/kg (+). A fuel cost figure for WASPPs of £3.81 billion per year.
The final total of capital investment required, plus fuel cost, for a100% WASPP fully decarbonised, 24/7/365, despatchable electricity supply is £31.83 billion per year.
Starting the ‘whole system’ build in 2020, by 2050, the 20 to 30 years lifespan of the technologies involved means decommissioning of plants and build of replacement plants will start before 2050 and will be ongoing thereafter. That’s £31.83 billion per year, forever
Across 635 TWh of annual generation, that annual cost figure equates to £50.13/MWh. But the long-term Wholesale Electricity price is around £50.00/MWh. So where will the subsidies come from to provide those eager investors with a profit???
Down at the money-source level, £31.83 billion spread across the 27.8 million UK households will, one way or another, ‘insinuate’ £1,145 each year into the energy bills of every UK household..
Of course, nuclear power plants (NPPs) generate low carbon electricity without the need for NG backup plants. But the daily media mantra informs everyone that nuclear is far too expensive and takes too long to build.
So, brain-overloaded and energy-inept politicians along with 99.95% of the general public (who are totally disinterested/uninterested/indifferent to sources of energy) digest the media headlines as the ‘gospel truth’.
All the while, burgeoning developments in advanced NPPs, like Rolls-Royce’s 440 MW Small Modular Reactor (SMR), are off-the-radar, or being wilfully ignored, by opponents of nuclear power with their varying agendas.
The Rolls-Royce SMR has a 4 years build programme and, financed by commercial investment, the first one will be operational in 2030. By the 5th one, the overnight capital cost (OCC) will be £1.8 billion. Compared to ‘Big Nuclear’, this equates to £13 billion for the 3,200 MW of Hinkley Point C (HPC). That is some 40% lower than HPC’s current £22.5 billion estimate.
So what capital investment and fuel cost for 635 TWh each year of low-carbon, 24/7/365, despatchable electricity from a Rolls-Royce SMR infrastructure?
635 TWh per year would be generated by 182 R-R SMRs which, with a capital investment of £1.8 billion each, would require a total capital investment of £327.6 billion. Spread over the 60 years design life, that equates to £5.46 billion per year.
In respect of the fuel cost per unit of electricity generated, little variation is likely to be experienced between ‘Big Nuclear’ power plants and SMRs. Figures of $6.50/MWh for Singe-Units and $6.06/MWh for Multi-Units results in an average cost of £4.65/MWh. Calculating for 635 TWh of generation per year, the total cost is £2.95 billion per year.
The final total of capital investment required, plus fuel cost, for a100% SMR fully decarbonised, 24/7/365, despatchable electricity supply is £8.41 billion per year.
Starting in 2030, installing at a rate of 9 or 10 units each year, by 2050 all 182 NPPs would be operational at a cost, including fuel, of £25.23 billion per year, which is 20% below the perpetual WASPP alternative. But then there would be a 40 years investment hiatus before further investment is needed; hence £8.41 billion per year equivalence.
Across 635 TWh of annual generation, that annual cost figure equates to £13.24/MWh. With the long-term Wholesale Electricity price around £50.00/MWh, earnings and therefore profits would definitely be substantial.
Down at the money-source level, £8.41 billion spread across the 27.8 million UK households will, one way or another, ‘insinuate’ £303 each year into the energy bills of every household — 74% less than the £1,145 figure for the WASPP alternative. And that would mean way, way lower energy bills than the otherwise subsidy-loaded bills that might land on our shoulders if the CCC’s recommendations are followed.
Thought for the Day: All of those green jobs, so beloved by the purveyors of ‘Green New Deals’, contribute substantially to the high capital costs of all of the WASPP technologies.
But electricity is the Master Resource! Without electricity we don’t get potable water; we don’t get the variety of foods; we don’t get sewage treatment; we don’t get our lifestyle choices.
The more we pay for the electricity to run our washing machines, freezers and TVs, the more our way of life is degraded. We have less in our pockets to pay for goods and services of our choice. Lower electricity bills means job creation in goods and services providers — long term jobs for the many, instead of ephemeral green jobs. Green jobs destroy real jobs!
But worst of all, high electricity bills kill (04 October 2019):
“…Watchdog Ofgem announces 16,500 winter deaths were linked to cold homes…”