This post is concerned with the two main forms of Weather Dependent Renewable Energy in the EU:
- Wind Power, (Onshore and Offshore)
- On grid Photovoltaic Solar Power.
In the EU these technologies amount to the bulk of all installed Weather Dependent Renewable Electricity generation.
This post uses the reported measures of installations and output in an up-to-date time series data of EU Renewable installations. It thus provides reasonably correct comparisons of the efficacy of Weather Dependent Renewables as has been reported annually by the Renewables promoting EurObserver’ER organisation, funded by the European Union.
The capacity percentage, or load factor, of any power generating installation is calculated as the actual electrical output achieved annually divided by the nominal maximum Nameplate output. Here these are both assessed in Gigawatts, derived from the output Gigawatthour figures provided by EurObserv’ER.
(To give an idea of scale, a large conventional fossil fueled power station has a full capacity factor of about 90% and is rated at about 1 GW. The maximum demand in the UK is in the region of 45GW). At 90% capacity a 1GW traditional power plant will produce ~8,000 GWhr / year.
When announcements are made about Weather Dependent Renewable Energy installations, they are reported as the full Name Plate size and often disingenuously as the number of homes that could be supplied at their full level of power output. So such announcements are always over optimistic: the question of Capacity Percentages / Load Factors are not fully explained.
So Renewable Energy announcements usually assume erroneously that the wind blows all the time at a reasonable speed and that the sun shines overhead 24 hours /day.
But because Weather Dependent Renewable Energy output is crucially dependent on the vagaries of the weather, (for wind), and the weather in combination with the season and the time of day, (for solar), the useful electrical output achieved by Weather Dependent Renewables is inevitably substantially less that the maximal Name Plate capacity of the installation. Accordingly in 2017 Weather Dependent Renewable Energy in the EU was only contributing less than one fifth of its nominal name plate capacity to the grid. The capacity factor of Solar PV in most of Europe is never much above 10% and Onshore Wind power rarely exceeds 25%.
Inevitably the power produced by Weather Dependent Renewables is un-coordinated with the timing of the actual demand for electricity. Peak electricity demand usually occurs on winter evenings when Solar power is non-existent and when weather patterns can radically reduce wind speeds across the whole of Europe: anticyclonic conditions can often occur widely particularly in Winter. Add to that, that there can be no functional coordination between the timing to the Weather Dependent Renewable electrticity production and the National demand for electricity.
Traditional methods of electricity generation using Fossil Fuels particularly or Nuclear Power are not subject to the vagaries of the weather and produce electricity continuously whenever needed to match demand. So crucially traditional forms of electricity generation are reliable, non-intermittent and dispatchable to meet demand: thus those sources thus provide a much more valuable service to the grid and electricity consumers.
However with the intervention of the mandatory acceptance of Renewable power if and when available, reliable power sources can become underutilised and thus forced to be unprofitable.
In effect Government mandates ensure that the generating capacity has to be installed twice to cover for the occasions when Weather Dependent Renewables are unavailable.
When viewed from the needs for the engineering viability of a nation’s electrical supply grid, without that Government intervention, Weather Dependent Renewable Energy generation would never have been considered as part of the electrical generating mix.
Without the Government mandates and financial subsidies to support Green thinking, the Weather Dependent Renewable Energy industry is not a viable business. The Renewable Energy industry could not exist without its Government mandated subsidies, consumption mandates and preferential feed-in tariffs. There is growing evidence that as the support for Renewables from Government diminishes so the suppliers and subsidy recipients go out of business.
Thus Government action and decisions have mandated that there will be the substantial extra costs for electricity generation and the probability of supply disruption. These are serious burdens on both domestic and industrial electricity consumers and power suppliers. As the part played by Weather Dependent Renewable Energy grows, so those cost burdens and the risks to reliability will continually increase.
So in summary, Weather Dependent Renewable Energy is both very expensive and at the same time wholly unreliable.
A time series data set for Weather Dependent Renewable Energy in Europe (28)
EurObserver’ER publish their Renewable Energy Barometers for each type of Renewable generation annually, for example, see:
Collating the data from these “barometers” a time series data set of the cumulative installations has been assembled for each year 2008 – 2017. The most recent example of the data collated for six different countries in the single year 2017 is shown below.
EurObserver’ER is an organisation promoting Renewable energy and its results may be optimistic.
The EurObserver’ER data also has a data deficiency. Although the data set notes separately the installed amounts of Onshore and Offshore wind power, the data does not distinguish between their output produced. Accordingly an estimate of that output has been made optimistically assuming that all Offshore wind power has similar historic capacity performance measured in the UK. The UK Renewable Energy Foundation produce separate local UK information and this data has been employed to make this assessment. This may well amount to an overestimate particularly in 2015, when the UK achieved remarkably high and unrepeated Offshore capacity results. See:
Performance of Weather Dependent Renewables in EU(28)
The graph below shows the overall progress of the installation of Weather Dependent Renewables throughout Europe, EU(28) . By the end of 2016 the nominal face plate installations amounted to some 275 Gigawatts.
The overall performance throughout Europe up until the end of 2017 is shown below:
Overall the capacity factor for the whole EU(28) Renewables fleet was consistently ~18%.
Over the period from 2008 the EU(28) average capacity percentages/load factors achieved are:
Onshore Wind 21.2%
Offshore Wind 28.4% in the UK
Solar PV 11.1%
Overall average capacity 18.0%
These measured capacity percentages for the period since 2008 are considerable lower than the optimistic UK government capacity percentages / load factors reported in their recent publication: See.
Modelling Costs and Performance
Given the Weather Dependent Renewable installation data provided by EurObserv’ER combined with Overnight Capital Cost information from the US EIA, and assuming that the purchasing power of the US$ and the Euro are roughly equivalent, it is possible to assemble a trivial cost model for Renewable generation technologies. Note that all measures in these models use billion Euros / trillion Euros and Gigawatts.
This modelling is not intended to be precise but it does give an indication of the scale of costs and the comparison of financial performance of the Renewables involved. The variables are believed to be conservative especially with regard to the service life of Offshore Wind installations. Note that the 60 year service time span is used here for comparative purposes as it about the service life of a Nuclear power installation.
The above assumptions indicate in bold the resulting values used.
Combining these values with the actual EU(28) installations gives the following results.
The capital cost of the 2017 level of Weather Dependent Renewable installations is ~0.88 trillion€ and the long-term costs over 60 years in Europe will be ~4.2 trillion€.
This will produce an equivalent power output of ~53GW. That same electrical output could be provided with full reliability by a capital investment of ~54billion€ in Gas-fired generation with 60 year running costs of ~570billion€.
Or alternatively the 0.88 trillion€ overnight capital cost investment in Weather Dependent Renewables is about the investment required to fully re-equip the whole ~800+GW fleet of European generation with Gas-fired installations. The costs / GW generated and supplied to the grid, accounting for the actual capacity effectiveness of each generation type and the likely 60 year long term cost / GW are shown below. These can best be compared with the use of Gas-firing for electrical generation of the same power output, as is shown below for the whole EU(28).
Solar PV at ~34€bn/GW produced and ~164bn€/GW long term is clearly the most costly to install. Overall Weather Dependents Renewables average 16€bn/GW to install, and ~78€bn to run for the 60 year period.
A limited number of EU Countries are considered here. In total they amount to about 80% of the European fleet of Weather Dependent Renewables. The scale of their installations and the commitment to Weather Dependent Renewables measured as GW / million of population is sumarised below.
Graphic profiles have been prepared from the cumulative time-series data sets which compare the progress and the local policy decisons in each of the six countries condsidered.
Germany is a world the leader in the installation of Weather Dependent Renewables with about 36% of the total EU(28) fleet in 2016. Germany has roughly equal installations of Onshore Wind power and Solar PV. As Germany is a Northerly country with relatively cloudy weather conditions it is a poor candidate for Solar PV power. In spite of its more recent installation of Offshore Wind power the performance of Solar PV is reflected by its poor overall Weather Dependent Renewable capacity percentage of only 16.9% by 2017.
In spite of the fact that Germany has the highest European penetration of Weather Dependent Renewables at 1.12GW/million people, Germany’s efforts at “Die Energiewende” are failing because Germany’s CO2 emissions are now rising inspite of all the expenditures on Renewables and the German Electrical Grid is no longer fully reliable.
The table below summarises the data for Germany in 2017.
A recent study estimates that the German Renewable Energy cost up until 2025 will be about 520bn€:
accordingly it would seem that the above 60 year cost estimate of 1,540bn€ is if anything an underestimate. Nonetheless it would seem to validate the costs modelled here as being in the right ballpark and thus useful for comparative purposes.
It appears that changes in the subsidy structure and a reduction of feed-in tariffs by a quarter have reduced installation of German Solar PV from ~7.5 GW in 2012 to about 0.6GW in 2017. This change in the subsidy support environment has resulted in most of the large German Solar PV providers going out of busines and a loss of jobs of ~70% by 2017. See:
It would also seem that a similar situation is rapidly arising for the massive German committment to Wind power as its subsidy committments expire and the older turbines reach the end of their subsidy support and are no longer profitable. See:
Spain has about 10% of the EU(28) Renewables fleet. Spain was an early adopter of Weather Dependent Renewables but its installations stabilised in about 2012 and have shown little growth since.
Some reports attribute the difficulties of the Spanish economy to its early insistence on taking on Renewables with their consequential financial costs for support and subsidies. Even in its Southerly position its Solar PV installations stabilised by 2012. This has resulted eventually in a good overall capacity performance of about ~23%.
The penetration of Renewables in Spain is quite high but still at about half the level of Germany at 0.6GW/million population.
As a Southerly nation Italy has taken a different approach to Spain and emphasised the use of Solar PV power with massive installations in the period 2010 – 2013. Italy from 2010 onwards rushed to install Solar PV and now has twice the Solar PV power when compared to its Wind generation. This rush to install Solar PV seems to have moderated since 2014. The installation of Solar PV has resulted, as with Germany, in a relatively low capacity factor of ~17% overall.
At 0.5GW/million population the penetration of Renewables in Italy is high but still at less than half the level of Germany.
The UK, now at about 11% of the EU(28) Renewable fleet. It has taken a mixed approach with all three forms of Weather Dependent Renewables. The UK has pioneered the extensive use of Offshore Wind Energy. But since 2013 it has also substantially grown its committment to Solar PV installations, which now match its installation of Onshore Wind power.
The UK, like Germany, has adverse weather for Solar PV and Northerly situation. It is one of the least favourable European contexts for Solar power. Nonetheless there was been excessive commitment to Solar PV power, trebling the scale of installations in the period 2013 – 2015. Specifically this has been due to the irrational influence of Ed Davey as the then Secretary of State for Energy with his subsidy backing and very active promotion for Solar PV.
Lawrence Solomon: Are solar and wind finally cheaper than fossil fuels? Not a chance
It seems that the unwarranted increase in Solar power has effectively wiped out the capacity advantages of the UK’s use of Offshore Wind power.
Solar installations now match the scale of Onshore wind power in the UK. But the capacity / load factors for UK Solar energy is only about 10%. And Solar energy can never contribute at all at peak load times on winter evenings.
The massive commitments to Solar energy were made against strenuous internal advice from DECC. This was clearly stated by the late Prof David Mackay in a final interview before his untimely death in 2016. Even though Prof Mackay was a believer in man-made CO2 causing warming, his eventual view was that to try to power a developed country such as the UK with Weather Dependent Renewable energy was:
“an appalling delusion”
As he also said at the time:
“There’s so much delusion, it’s so dangerous for humanity that people allow themselves to have such delusions, that they are willing not to 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.”
At 0.45GW/million population the penetration of Renewables in the UK is less than half the level of Germany.
Logically it is incredible that France has decided to try to avoid CO2 emissions by the installation of Renewables at all. France has the lowest CO2 emissions in the developed world because of its long standing use of Nuclear energy for electricity generation. So far it has no comittment to Offshore generation and ~8% of the European fleet has been a relativley slow to take on Renewables. With the new Macron government this situation may be about to change.
At 0.29GW/million population the penetration of Renewables in the France is less than third the level of Germany.
Even though Denmark only has ~2.4% of the European Renewables fleet, it is included here as it was one if the real pioneers particularly in installing wind based Weather Dependent Renewables, developing a manufacturing industry around its experience. At a capacity level overall of ~ 25% its industry is one of the best performers. However it has stabilised its Offshore wind installations since 2013. Since 2012 it has also installed some Solar PV generation, progressively that will degrade its overall Renewable performance in this Northerly cloudy country.
Denmark has a very high penetration of Weather Dependent Renewables at a similar level to Germany at 1.07GW/million people.
The comparative cost effectiveness in terms of bn€/GW, of the different forms of Weather Dependent Renewables when taking full account of their capacity differentials is shown below.
The detailed calculations for each of the subject countries have been completed and are dependent on the mix of Renewables decided upon by different national administrations. But in summary they each perform in comparison to Gas-firing as shown in the diagram below.
The Renewables industry has deluded itself and its politcal supporters by not admitting to the massive capacity differentials between Weather Dependent Renewables performance and reliable fossil fuel or nuclear power generation.
Because of the capacity limitations and with an assessment their true output performance Weather Dependent Renewables are intricsically much more expensive than consistent and reliable electricty generation technologies: in particular the cheapest form, Gas-fired Generation.
Overall in the EU, when taking into account real reported capacity percentages, Weather Dependent Renewable technologies in Wind and Solar PV in combination are about 16 times more costly in overnight capital costs and about 7 times more costly in terms of running costs, even when including the cost of fuel. Certainly Onshore wind power is the least costly Renewable technology. But because of its very poor capacity percentages Solar PV in the region of only 10% is certainly the least economic even when the significant reduction of the manufacturing costs of panels is taken into account.
These analyses do not take account of the intrinsic variability of Weather Dependent Renewables which make their power product much less valuable, useful and much more expensive to utilise than dispatchable on-demand power sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear power producers.
So their poor comparative cost performance outlined here is compounded by an additional major disadvantage of unpredictable functional performance.
As the installations of Weather Dependent Renewables grows it is now clear that the growth of fossil fuel usage must grow alongside, if the reliable supply of electricity is to be maintained.
So one can only conclude that there is little point, save as a massive exercise in “virtue signalling”, in installing Renewables at all, because relatively cheap and efficient economic fossils fuel generation is inevitably supplemented by expensive and unreliable Renewables which involve a complete duplication of generation capacity when the costly part of the generation can only contribute to grid for about one fifth of the time, and worse still this power production is unrelated to demand.
(New York Times, 2017)
“Currently, 1,600 new coal plants in 62 countries are planned or in the process of being constructed across the world, expanding the world’s coal-fired energy capacity by 43% in the coming years .
There can be no long-term CO2 emissions reduction benefit to installing more and more wind power if the long-term net effect of doing so leads to the requisite construction of more fossil fuel energy plants.”
The approximate scale of the costs of this misguided “virtue signalling” is clear earlier in this post.
Also when viewed in the round from manufacture, installation and scrappage Weather Dependent Renewables are probably less than Carbon neutral over their lifetime, (they produce more CO2 for their manufacture and installation than they can ever save in the course of their operating lifetime).
Their Energy Return on Energy Invested is less than 7 and therefore hardly in the viable range.
The Catch-22 of Energy Storage
The EU(28) only account for about 10% of global CO2 emissions and in order to affect these emissions marginally, the EU as a whole has already committed expenditures that amount to ~0.88trillion€ in capital costs and a likely future committed cost of about 4.2trillion€, this amounts to about a quarter of European annual GDP.
If these calculations are close to being in the right ballpark, this post confirms that the pursuit of Weather Dependent Renewables to provide power for a developed economy is essentially a very expensive and truly ineffective fools errand.
To quote Professor David Mackay “an appalling delusion