Posts Tagged ‘Electricity generation’

Europe is paying the price for its infatuation with renewable energy

July 30, 2013

Electricity and the price of its generation is now one of the most fundamental parameters which steers the economy and industry and ultimately the level of unemployment in any country. It ought not to be subject to the misguided whims and fancies of “feel-good” environmentalism, but for the last 2 decades much of Europe has been travelling down a cul-de-sac chasing a mirage. Instead of just focusing on generating electricity at the lowest possible cost while keeping the air and water sufficiently clean, politicians have been lured down the renewable energy path in a fantasy of saving the world from the imaginary dragon of carbon dioxide emissions. Instead of just using wind and solar energy in the special niches they are suited to, they have been subsidised and promoted as basic generation which is a role they cannot fulfill.

The US with its much lower electricity prices now has a significant competitive advantage over Europe and will come out of the  recession much faster as it creates jobs.

As David Garman and Samuel Thernstrom write in the Wall Street Journal:

Europe has bet big on wind and solar energy, and many environmental advocates would like America to follow. Wind and solar have a role in the U.S. energy economy, but we would be wise to see the cautionary tale in the European experience and adjust our plans accordingly.

Wind and solar generate 3.5% of America’s electricity today, but Denmark gets 30% of its electricity from wind and hopes to produce 50% by 2020. Germany, Europe’s largest national economy, produces roughly 12% of its electricity from wind and solar today, and it wants renewable energy to account for 35% of electricity generation by 2020.

Clean energy powered by renewable resources is understandably attractive. But the honeymoon with renewables is ending for some Europeans as the practical challenges of the relationship become clear.

The first challenge is cost. Germany has reportedly invested more than $250 billion in renewable energy deployment, and its households pay the highest power costs in Europe—except for the Danish. On average, Germans and Danes pay roughly 300% more for residential electricity than Americans do.

But it is not just price that is at issue. The reliability of electricity supply is not helped by the inherent instabilities of having too much dependence on intermittent and unforeseeable sources.

Another challenge of Europe’s growing dependence on renewable energy is far more serious: the potential loss of reliable electrical supply. It’s one thing to ask consumers to pay more for cleaner energy; it’s another to force them to endure blackouts. …..

……. Grid operators generally rely on coal and nuclear plants to meet baseload demand while modifying gas and hydroelectric power output to meet shifting demand. But electricity from wind and solar is variable and intermittent. Nature determines when and how much power will be generated from available capacity, so it is not necessarily “dispatchable” when needed.

When intermittent renewables are small players in the grid, they can be easily absorbed. But as they reach European levels of penetration, the strain begins to show. There are increasing reports of management challenges resulting from wind and solar across the European grid, including frequency fluctuations, voltage support issues, and inadvertent power flows. Anxious operators are concerned about potential blackouts.

In an April 17, 2012, letter to EU Commissioner for Energy Gunter Oettinger, for example, Daniel Dobbeni, the European Network of Transmission System Operators president, said grid operators are “deeply concerned about the difference in speed between the connection of very large capacities of renewable energy resources and the realization in due time of the grid investments needed to support the massive increase of power flows these new resources bring.” He also expressed great concern “about the potential destabilizing effect of outdated connection conditions for distributed generation that are not being retrofitted anywhere fast enough.”

The article continues with a warning to the US about unhealthy subsidies.

There is also an important lesson in the European experience with energy subsidies: Focus incentives so they reward the right behavior. Lavish subsidies for wind and solar have changed Europe’s generation mix, but the costs have been high because the subsidy structure prioritized mass deployment rather than efficiency, reliability and innovation. Even in the U.S., the wind-production tax credit has occasionally produced “negative pricing”—that is, turbine operators pay grid operators to take their power even though it isn’t needed, just so the wind generators can collect tax credits.

In Europe, coal now offers both lower prices for electricity consumers and higher profits for utilities

September 22, 2012

 

The costs of coal fired power generation in Europe have been artificially inflated for some time now by the imposition of various forms of carbon taxes. These taxes and penalties – which are quite arbitrary – serve political and electoral goals and generally pander to the alarmist view of climate change. The electricity consumer has taken the hit.

Bloomberg reports:

Coal Era Beckons for Europe as Carbon Giveaway Finishes

European utilities are poised to add more coal-fired power capacity than natural gas in the next four years, boosting emissions just as the era of free carbon permits ends.

Power producers from EON AG to RWE AG (RWE) will open six times more coal-burning plants than gas-fed units by 2015, UBS AG said in a Sept. 5 research note. Profits at coal-fired power stations may more than double by then, according to a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. report published on Sept. 13.

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Reality Check: add renewables subtract nuclear = more coal (and more gas)

August 20, 2012

Reality of course is that coal, gas, hydro and nuclear are the cheapest sources of electricity generation and will be with us for some time to come. And there is no need – for the sake of idiotic scenarios of nuclear holocaust and nonsense theories about AGW – to move away from them.

Bloomberg:

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government says RWE AG (RWE)s new power plant that can supply 3.4 million homes aids her plan to exit nuclear energy and switch to cleaner forms of generation. It’s fired with coal.

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Benefits of shale gas are real and measurable

January 18, 2012

The advent of shale gas has moved the peak of “peak-gas” into the future by some 250 years. This together with the fact that gas-fired power plant have the shortest construction times and the lowest investment costs of any form of power generation  provides the possibility to hold down electricity generation costs. The increase in generation costs in recent times has been the natural consequence of the subsidy regimes for wind and solar power plants and the opportunistic rush to renewable power. Huge fortunes have been made by “green” developers as the subsidies have been milked – but consumers have only seen rising electricity prices.

Bloomberg  reports:

A shale-driven glut of natural gas has cut electricity prices for the U.S. power industry by 50 percent and reduced investment in costlier sources of energy. With abundant new supplies of gas making it the cheapest option for new power generation, the largest U.S. wind-energy producer, NextEra Energy Inc. (NEE), has shelved plans for new U.S. wind projects next year and Exelon Corp. (EXC) called off plans to expand two nuclear plants. Michigan utility CMS Energy Corp. (CMS) canceled a $2 billion coal plant after deciding it wasn’t financially viable in a time of “low natural-gas prices linked to expanded shale-gas supplies,” according to a company statement.

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Subsidies for electricity production in the US show that renewables are far from commercialisation

November 23, 2011

Data for 2010 is now available from the US Energy Information Administration.  Solar and Wind power are still a long way from being commercial with just direct subsidies being equivalent to 7.8 and 5.6 cents/kWh respectively. Indirect subsidies and increased costs for alternate capacity are not included.

My view of subsidies in power generation is that they are usually counter productive and provide windfalls for developers and constructors but rarely lead to benefits for the consumers of electricity.

Factors Affecting Electricity Prices:

The average retail price of electricity in the United States in 2010 was 9.88 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The average prices by type of utility customer were:

  • Residential: 11.6¢ per kWh
  • Transportation: 11.0¢ per kWh
  • Commercial: 10.3¢ per kWh
  • Industrial: 6.8¢ per kWh

(more…)

Now Holland cannot afford to subsidise off-shore wind power

November 17, 2011

Most subsidies for the introduction of  uneconomic technologies are in an effort to make them commercially viable. But after 30+ years in the power generation industry I have yet to see a case where this has happened. Instead, subsidies have nearly always been counter-productive. In virtually every case I have seen, subsidies have always been used first to maintain margins rather than to reduce costs. If costs are not reduced then the “indirect” costs for every taxpayer which a subsidy represents eventually end up becoming direct costs for the consumer when the subsidies end.

This is happening to an increasing extent with solar and wind power as subsidies are reduced or withdrawn in the current financial crisis. The costs have then to be borne directly by the consumers and it is not surprising that virtually all countries which have introduced wind power to any extent have seen electricity prices to the consumer increase.

Now it is the turn of the Dutch government to reduce subsidies and pass on the costs directly to consumers.

Reuters reports:

Dutch fall out of love with windmills

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Renewable Energy follies: Subsidies discourage maintenance

July 6, 2011

A key problem with subsidising “renewable energy” is that the economics become so distorted that developers/owners focus first on maximising the extraction of subsidies and not on the long-term operation of the plant or the production of power. As soon as payback is achieved the focus is on generating revenues while minimising  expenditure on operation and maintenance (O & M). Inevitably such plants are abandoned as soon as the O & M costs approach the level of revenues. Whereas conventional power plants (coal, gas, hydro and nuclear) have a design life of 30 – 40 years and often carry out maintenance to extend this lifetime, subsidised “renewable energy” plants have a lifetime of less than 10 years and often even less.

For example grants for construction and high tariffs were used for many years to encourage sugar producers in India and Brazil and other countries to build power plants burning bagasse (the waste matter left after crushing sugar-cane to extract juice). But the consequence was that sugar producers could generate more revenue by producing power rather than sugar – especially when the sugar price was low. Sugar producers built power plants which were larger than they needed themselves and based solely on the level of grant that could be extracted. Access to the grid was guaranteed. But again many of these plants were abandoned as soon as the O & M costs became too onerous. Effectively the developers had recovered all the investment (which was mainly grant money anyway) and more from the allowed 16 – 20% rate of return (which in practice was more like about 30-50% ) of the supposed investment. As plants were “cashed out” and abandoned, the grid just had to absorb the disturbances – which were not negligible.

The subsidies in Europe for wind and solar power are encouraging the same behaviour. In Germany the almost profligate subsidy regime has encouraged the implementation of less than serious power projects by less than serious developers. The game has been the extraction of subsidies not of generating power. In Germany wind turbine and photo-voltaic solar cell plants popped up everywhere. Farmers and shop-keepers and schools all have became power generators. Grid stability has been weakened to cope with the plethora of small plants cutting in and out of the grid. The obscenely high feed-in tariffs in Spain have encouraged solar plants to burn more gas than permitted and pass off the power generated as being “renewable power” at the high tariff. But as the subsidy regime weakens and tariffs reduce and grants are scaled down, the likelihood of these plants being abandoned is increasing. Certainly there is no incentive to spend any money on maintenance.

P. Gosselin at NoTricksZone has this about a pv solar plant (2.7 MW) after less than 2 years:

Weed-Covered, Neglected Solar Park: 20 Acres, $11 Million, Only One And Half Years Old! 

solar plant weeds

Over the next few years we shall see many more solar and wind power plants in Europe where money will not be spent on maintenance unless it is absolutely necessary for the generation of short-term (subsidised and inflated) revenues. Long-term maintenance will just not happen. And when the O & M costs become too onerous the plants will simply be abandoned. No doubt bankruptcies will be arranged when the plants are cashed-out such that there is no recourse to the developers/owners for any remaining liabilities.

Subsidies just don’t work for their intended purpose in power generation – but they are short-term gold mines for some developers.

The Age of Fossil Fuel may be just beginning

June 3, 2011

A little bit over the top from Michael Lind in Salon but still fundamentally not wrong:

Are we living at the beginning of the Age of Fossil Fuels, not its final decades? The very thought goes against everything that politicians and the educated public have been taught to believe in the past generation. According to the conventional wisdom, the U.S. and other industrial nations must undertake a rapid and expensive transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy for three reasons: The imminent depletion of fossil fuels, national security and the danger of global warming.

What if the conventional wisdom about the energy future of America and the world has been completely wrong?

As everyone who follows news about energy knows by now, in the last decade the technique of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” long used in the oil industry, has evolved to permit energy companies to access reserves of previously-unrecoverable “shale gas” or unconventional natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these advances mean there is at least six times as much recoverable natural gas today as there was a decade ago.

Natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide than coal, can be used in both electricity generation and as a fuel for automobiles.

……

Two arguments for switching to renewable energy — the depletion of fossil fuels and national security — are no longer plausible. What about the claim that a rapid transition to wind and solar energy is necessary, to avert catastrophic global warming?

The scenarios with the most catastrophic outcomes of global warming are low probability outcomes — a fact that explains why the world’s governments in practice treat reducing CO2 emissions as a low priority, despite paying lip service to it. But even if the worst outcomes were likely, the rational response would not be a conversion to wind and solar power but a massive build-out of nuclear power. Nuclear energy already provides around 13-14 percent of the world’s electricity and nearly 3 percent of global final energy consumption, while wind, solar and geothermal power combined account for less than one percent of global final energy consumption. ….

In the meantime, it appears that the prophets of an age of renewable energy following Peak Oil got things backwards. We may be living in the era of Peak Renewables, which will be followed by a very long Age of Fossil Fuels that has only just begun.

Read complete article

 

Power generation from shale gas is here to stay

May 31, 2011

The capital cost of building different types of power plants is a reality that cannot be wished away:

November 2010 Capital costs for power plants

Gas fired combined cycle plant use the least capital of all power generation plants. With shale gas set to become even cheaper than natural gas and with gas fired plants having capacity factors well above 90% compared to the 25% of wind power or the 30% of solar plants, it is a no-brainer to conclude that wherever shale gas is available it is going to be used for power generation.

Where it is not available coal fired plants and nuclear plants will continue to be used.

Intermittent renewable power plants are going to need subsidies for a long time to come to get anywhere near the cost of electricity from gas. At best they could be useful to augment production of electricity but being intermittent cannot really contribute to reliable capacity.

Wind Power capacity compromised in Texas: Rolling blackouts as Mexico supplies some back up

February 4, 2011

That wind power generating capacity is intermittent capacity and cannot be relied upon is obvious but sometimes escapes notice in the enthusiasm for “renewable energy”. That wind power must be backed up by other more reliable generating capacity for the periods when winds are too low or too high or when the weather is too cold is also often glossed over. That wind power must be used when the wind does blow irrespective of level of demand  and thereby displace more stable power (thus rendering it more expensive) is an inevitable consequence.

The following report comes as no surprise.

METEOROLOGICAL MUSINGS reports:

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said 7,000 megawatts of generating capacity tripped ["tripped" means failed]Tuesday night, leaving the state without enough juice. That’s enough capacity to power about 1.4 million homes. By rotating outages, ERCOT said it prevented total blackouts.
“We have the double whammy of extremely high demand, given the lowest temperatures in 15 years, combined with generation that’s been compromised and is producing less than expected or needed,” said Oncor spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar. Oncor operates power lines in North Texas and facilitated the blackouts for ERCOT.
The article didn’t give a clue as to what generating capability failed, but I can make a pretty good guess: Wind energy…
For a time, Texas was bragging about being the #1 state for “wind power” (it still is) and we were bombarded with TV commercials and newspaper editorial touting the “Pickens Plan” for massive spending on wind energy. Pickens himself was building a huge wind farm in northwest Texas. He has now ceased construction.
Now, because of relying so much on wind power, the state is suffering blackouts.
Mexico is trying to help by shipping power to Texas, but it is not enough.

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