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Cancel the push for renewables

June 24, 2010

Knowing what it costs to generate electricity will help to understand why alternatives such as wind and solar are bad bets for the United States. Spain and Germany have both recently come to the realization that these alternatives, wind and solar, are economically devastating.

Here is a short table that shows the cost of base load power plants.

TABLE I
Method Fuel & Operating Costs Costs incl. Depreciation Construction Costs
Traditional Coal $0.02 /kWh $0.04 /kWh $2,000 /KW
Ultra Supercritical Coal $0.02 /kWh $0.06 /kWh $2,500 /KW
Natural Gas Combined Cycle NA $0.06 /kWh $1,200/KW
Nuclear $0.02 /kWh $0.09 /kWh $4,000 /KW
Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle NA NA $5,000 /KW

 

Ultra-supercritical are coal fired power plants that operate at very high temperatures and pressures.

Table II show the pollutants associated with these types of generation, listed from best to worst.

TABLE II
Method Comments
Nuclear Spent fuel must be stored or reprocessed.
Natural Gas Combined Cycle Produces lowest emissions of NOx & SOx. Has no emissions of Hg.
Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle Can capture >90% of NOx, SOx and Hg.
Ultra Supercritical Coal Has a thermal efficiency of over 40%. Emissions of NOx, SOx and Hg reduced 85% to 90% when compared with traditional coal.
Traditional Coal Existing fleet has a thermal efficiency of 34%. Emissions of NOx, SOx, are largely captured from the flu gas. Hg capture has been difficult.

 

Nuclear has the lowest emissions of pollutants and also doesn’t emit CO2. Nuclear is the most expensive in terms of construction costs, but is very competitive in terms of fuel and operating costs. Its costs for generating electricity are higher than the costs for natural gas and ultra-supercritical coal.

Natural gas combined cycle has low emissions and produces electricity at low cost.

Ultra-supercritical and supercritical coal have low emissions and produce electricity at low cost. They have vastly better thermal efficiencies than traditional coal.

Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) has construction costs twice as great as ultra-supercritical coal and will probably produce electricity at a very high cost, perhaps two to three times higher than ultra-supercritical coal.

Note that IGCC plants are those proposed for capturing CO2 so that the CO2 can be sequestered. They convert the coal into gasses that can be burned in a gas turbine.

Table III shows construction costs for various alternative generation methods adjusted to reflect their capacity factors.

TABLE III
Alternative Capacity Factor Construction Costs
Wind, land based 30% $6,600 / KW
Wind, off shore 39% $6,200 to $12,800 / KW
Solar, PV 16% – 25% $24,000 to $37,000
Solar, concentrating 22% – 30% $12,000 to $16,000 / KW
Ultra-supercritical coal 80% $3,100 / KW

 

Capacity factor measures the amount of electricity actually produced over the period of a year, compared with what could theoretically have been produced based on the nameplate rating of the unit. The costs in Table III for wind and solar do not include the cost of building dedicated transmission lines.

A 1 MW unit with a capacity factor of 30% delivers one third the electricity that a 1 MW unit with a capacity factor of 90% would produce. It will take three of the units having a capacity factor of 30% to replace one unit with a capacity factor of 90%.

When the construction costs of alternatives such as wind are compared with the ultra-supercritical and nuclear power plants, it’s clear that electricity from wind and solar will  be much more expensive even though they have zero fuel costs.

Wind and solar are intermittent and can’t be relied on to generate electricity when needed. They won’t generate electricity when the wind stops blowing or the sun doesn’t shine.Very high costs plus being unreliable are good reasons for cancelling the push to renewables.

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