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The Whole System Costs of Renewables

Alternative Energy

Dramatic cost reductions mean wind and solar can now compete on price with conventional sources of energy in many parts of the world, including the UK.

This turns the spotlight onto the so-called “whole system costs” of integrating renewables into the electricity system, which include backing up intermittent generation and strengthening grids. In a report published this week, the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) reviews the latest evidence, finding that these costs are “modest” – probably of the order of £10 per megawatt hour (MWh), even if wind and solar double their output from today.

But the UK needs to keep investing and upgrading its electricity grid, regardless of the mix of generating technologies. A more flexible grid would help secure electricity supplies and keep the integration costs of renewables to a minimum, offering savings of up to £8bn per year by 2030.

Carbon Brief explores the debate and the evidence around whole system costs.

Background

The UKERC review updates a similar study from 2006, which found integration costs for wind and solar would be around £5-8 per megawatt hour (MWh). The new review draws on evidence from around 200 reports containing thousands of data points from around the world.

Summing up the changes over the past decade, Dr Rob Gross, UKERC director, told a press briefing in London:

“In 2006, the cost of generating electricity with renewables was expensive, but the costs of providing flexibility were trivial. What we’re saying now is the cost of making electricity with renewables is coming down, but if you want to have a very large amount of renewables in the system, then the costs of providing flexibility will potentially become quite significant.”

Indeed, the latest UK evidence collected for government shows onshore wind and solar are already competitive with gas. By 2025, the evidence shows they will be the cheapest sources of electricity generation in terms of price per MWh. (Note that this comparison includes CO2 pricing).

Wind and solar may be getting cheaper, but critics say these prices exclude costs imposed on the electricity system as a whole. Others say each electricity generating technology offers a range of different services to the grid, that cannot be valued in price per MWh alone.

In Autumn 2014, the government responded by commissioning a series of studies to investigate the whole-system costs of renewables.

The three-phase project was later touted in a Mail on Sunday article, which quoted a “senior energy source” saying: “It may well turn out that certain kinds of renewable energy are not quite as cheap as we thought.”

The first part of this research, carried out by Frontier Economics, was completed many months ago. In July 2016, ministers told parliament it would be published “in due course”. They said the same in, November and December 2016.

Despite efforts to force publication, however, none of the findings have ever emerged, with some renewable supporters suggesting this is because they will show that integration costs are low. Meanwhile, high estimates of system costs are routinely cited by those who oppose climate policy.

Integration costs

There are a variety of ways renewables can impose costs on the system, from the need to back up intermittent supply to strengthening grids. The UKERC review lists six categories of impact. It also emphasises that costs under each heading overlap, so that they cannot simply be added up.

Before we look at each category in turn, it’s worth adding that cost estimates vary widely. Gross tells Carbon Brief: “How much it will cost to integrate renewables into a power system depends entirely on how flexible that system is, and it also depends on geographical factors.”

The report says costs estimates are typically “dramatically lower for flexible systems”. Gross adds:

“One of the most important messages from our report is that there’s no single answer to how much does it cost to integrate renewables…The most important thing that policymakers should be thinking about in the energy domain is how to make systems that are smart and flexible and that can take advantage of the low-cost resource that’s available from renewables, and integrate them into the system in a cost-effective way.”

The first way renewables can add to system costs is by raising reserve requirements. Grid operators already need to hold flexible generators in reserve, in case conventional power stations break down without warning.

Short-term fluctuations in the output of wind and solar can mean more reserve is needed. The UKERC review says this could add up to £5/MWh, if wind and solar supply 30% of electricity demand. Note that this is twice today’s levels: wind and solar covered 14.5% of UK power in 2016.

At 50% penetration, costs could rise to between £15 and £45/MWh, with the top end reflecting a very inflexible electricity system. Gross says the high costs for inflexible grids show “what not to do” when planning future electricity systems.

UK short-term reserves have already expanded to cater for large offshore windfarms. Intriguingly, this means they are now also sufficient to cater for breakdowns at the planned Hinkley C new nuclear plant, showing how difficult it is to pin system costs on individual projects or technologies.

The second category of costs listed by UKERC is maintaining enough capacity to meet peak demand at all times. These are around £4-7/MWh at 30% penetration, it says. They will rise to no more than £15, it adds, even if wind and solar supply half our electricity, yet contribute nothing at all to meeting peak demand.

The third area of costs comes from strengthening electricity transmission networks. The grid already needs a rolling programme of renewal and expansion. As solar and wind expand, the additional cost could be £5-20/MWh and, again, the top end relates to inflexible grids.

Expanding electricity networks – for example, by building interconnectors to other countries – brings benefits to the whole system, UKERC notes. This means it is “misleading” to allocate the full costs to renewables.

A related area of costs is curtailment, where windfarm output is wasted because there is not enough grid capacity to get the power to customers. Curtailment is “generally very low”, UKERC says. Investments in electricity grids can reduce it further, while raising network costs. Again, this shows how system costs can overlap or trade off against each other.

The fifth type of system cost relates to the efficiency of conventional power stations, which can be impaired if they have to turn on and off in response to variable renewable generation instead of operating steadily. UKERC says the majority of studies finds this impact to be “very small”.

Finally, the increase in renewables and reduction in fossil fuel plant changes the resilience of the electricity system by reducing a quality called inertia, which traditionally stems from the spinning mass of steam-driven turbines. Costly changes in system inertia are only likely to become significant when wind and solar pass 50% grid penetration, UKERC says.

Whole system approach

The overlaps between different types of system costs mean these category-by-category cost estimates “cannot be simply added together to determine the total systems costs”, UKERC says.

As Gross explains: “Many of us would like to say that the answer is six or the answer is 11. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.”

Gross and his co-author, Phil Heptonstall, a UKERC research fellow, tell Carbon Brief that at 30% penetration for wind and solar – roughly double today’s level – the total for the two most significant categories of system cost amounts to around £10/MWh. Heptonstall tells Carbon Brief:

“This excludes outliers, either because they assume an all [solar] PV scenario and/or they use an approach which has come under substantial criticism. It also excludes transmission and network reinforcement costs on the basis that such reinforcements confer benefits on the whole system, not just variable renewables. It is a simplification, but in our view, not an unreasonable one.”

A more reliable way to estimate whole system costs, UKERC says, is to take a whole systems approach. This means creating a model to simulate the electricity system, then comparing versions with and without high levels of wind and solar.

Hugo Batten, senior project leader at consultancy Aurora Energy Research, tells Carbon Brief it simply isn’t possible to get accurate system integration cost estimates without modelling the different electricity markets down to half hourly resolution.

If you’re not doing that, Batten says, “I would take [the] results with a pinch of salt”. There are already a number of published studies that use a whole systems approach, several of which were included in the UKERC review. Their findings are similar to Gross and Heptonstall’s simplified estimate of around £10/MWh.

In a medium flexibility electricity system, total integration costs for wind and solar would average between £10 and £14/MWh during the 2020s, according to one study from NERA Economic Consulting commissioned by power station Drax.

In a report commissioned by the Solar Trade Association, Aurora found solar integration costs would reach no more than £7/MWh. This estimate assumes solar capacity increases from today’s 11 gigawatts (GW) to 40GW in 2030. If battery costs fall faster than expected, solar integration could be a net benefit to the electricity system (see chart, below).

Estimated system integration costs for solar power in the UK. Source: Aurora Energy Research.

Estimated system integration costs for solar power in the UK. Source: Aurora Energy Research.

Another whole system study, from Imperial College on behalf of several energy firms, finds integration costs in 2030 ranging from £6 to £48/MWh. This range is capped at no more than £17/MWh, as long as the system includes a small amount of additional flexibility compared to today’s levels (see chart).

Estimate 2030 system integration costs for offshore wind (left), onshore wind (centre) and solar (right). No flex reflects today's situation. Low/mid flex add 5/10GW of new storage and 6/7GW of new interconnectors. CAPEX refers to capital costs for generation (G), local distribution networks (D) and regional transmission networks (T). OCGT and CCGT are open cycle and combined cycle gas turbines respectively. CCS is carbon capture and storage. Source: Imperial College.

Estimate 2030 system integration costs for offshore wind (left), onshore wind (centre) and solar (right). No flex reflects today’s situation. Low/mid flex add 5/10GW of new storage and 6/7GW of new interconnectors. CAPEX refers to capital costs for generation (G), local distribution networks (D) and regional transmission networks (T). OCGT and CCGT are open cycle and combined cycle gas turbines respectively. CCS is carbon capture and storage. Source: Imperial College.

Earlier work from Imperial, carried out for the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), found system integration costs in 2030 of between £6 and £9/MWh, if the electricity sector makes its recommended contribution to the UK meeting climate targets.

Conclusion

The idea that wind and solar impose significant, hidden costs on the electricity system has become a staple of (at least some parts of) the political debate in the UK. The topic is ripe for exploitation, given its complexity and the very wide range of estimates for integration costs.

UKERC’s review is an attempt to summarise all of the evidence on the costs of intermittency. Its main message is that costs can be minimised if system flexibility is increased. Ministers recognise the need to modernise the electricity system and are seeking views on how to go about this.

This review is also an opportunity to recognise that the base cost of generation, per MWh, is a limited way to measure usefulness to the electricity system.

There is a growing movement among energy system experts to shift away from levelised costs per MWh towards attempts to value the time, location and flexibility of generation. Frontier Economics, the authors of the government’s long-awaited system costs review, also line up behind this idea.

In a brief report on the issue, Frontier backs a nuanced approach to system costs, based around reforms of the electricity markets and policies, such as the capacity market. It says:

“While it’s tempting to believe that these forgotten costs can be incorporated into existing support schemes through the judicious use of simple technology uplifts or penalties, this isn’t the best approach, not least because the necessary adjustments will prove very difficult (and controversial) to calculate.

“Rather than trying to solve these problems through low-carbon support mechanisms, policy makers should focus on revising their market and charging frameworks to make all actors – conventional and low-carbon alike – better accountable for their whole system impacts.”

Still, if integration costs add somewhere in the order of £10/MWh to renewable costs, as the UKERC review authors tell Carbon Brief it is reasonable to assume, then onshore wind and solar will remain among the cheapest ways to generate power in the 2020s.

Carbon Brief



31 Comments on "The Whole System Costs of Renewables"

  1. Cloggie on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 7:31 am 

    B-b-but doesn’t the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) know that renewable energy is an extension of fossil fuel and as such futile in the long term?

    Chief Seattle has said so himself! ROFL

    Give it up folks, the dice have been cast. Most of the required innovations have already been achieved and much more is in the pipeline. In a couple a decades nobody talks about Shell anymore other than as that company that is specialized in drilling 2 km holes for geothermal hot water production.

    There is no longer term energy problem.

  2. rockman on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 8:41 am 

    “Its main message is that costs can be minimised if system flexibility is increased”.

    And the often critical component left out of the renewable discussion is the integration with fossil fuel power as opposed to its complete replacement. Waiting for the “perfect” renewable replacement has resulted in needless delays.

    Yes, back to how Texas, the country’s largest fossil fuel producer, developed some of the largest alt energy capacity in the world. It didn’t wait for the storage problem to be solved…it maintained ff generation for nighttime and low wind periods. It didn’t wait for millions of consumers to install their own systems. It spent $7 billion in consumer/tax payer capex to expand the grid allowing statewide distribution of alt energy. Some Texas communities ARE NOT waiting for lower rates to justify switching to the alts: they are willing to initially pay above fossil fuel rates in order to provide financial incentive for private alt investors. And gain long term stability and lower prices by the effort.

    Such as Georgetown which will be the largest US city to go 100% alt…not just for city services but the entire community. By guaranteeing investors a predictable revenue stream investors could secure financing for a new wind farm and solar field. And by maintaining connection to fossil fuel electricity the town won’t have to worry about the intermittency factor. In fact, there have been instances when wind power backed up fossil fuel plants when they went down: in one event wind prevented blackouts by supplying almost 40% on the total statewide demand.

    No, maintaining NG/coal power sources is not part of a “perfect” solution. But it has allowed the largest electricity consuming state to get at least a 10 year headstart on most of the country. And one big benefit often ignored in these discussions is addressing demand growth: had Texas not grown its alt energy we would have built more NG/coal fired plants to meet increasing demand. And we have 100+ years of proven fossil fuel reserves to feed that demand.

    As always the enemy of the “worthwhile” is the “perfect”.

  3. forbin on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 9:45 am 

    its alright if the wind blows – other wise the UK is a FF nation .

    gridwatch.uk tells me that windpower does have an effect – one that needs CCGT backup

    yah I do know FF are one time only source but when Nat gas runs out the UK is in the crapper

    compare with gridwatch.fr

    still yer gotta laff , aint yah?

  4. David on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 10:32 am 

    Right principles – I question the low cost numbers there is a lot of hypothetical stuff about getting the right level of smart consumers, demand-side activity and batteries… if we continue with the evaporating conventional generation hypothesis then we get into an oligopoly of critical service providers who can ask whatever price they want to secure the grid and then we move on into outside-market actions and disconnections to secure the grid… do we want to go there???

  5. brough on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 10:41 am 

    Well said forbin. You should be working for UKERC and then we would at least get a concise report on the state of the UK grid.

  6. Jan on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 10:45 am 

    The imperial college study puts extra cost at no more than £17MW/h. If we take a lowish figure of £10 MW/h. The annual additional costs to UK businesses and households would be £22 billion per year. At a time when hospitals and doctors are close to breaking point. Millions of elderly people cannot even get help with basics like dressing and feeding themselves. That £22 billion needs to go on these areas and not supporting stupid wind farms which produce as little as 2% of our needs.

  7. Antius on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 11:05 am 

    What’s this? Another specious renewable energy claim that I need to smash to pieces? I have downloaded the report and will get right on it.

  8. Ghung on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 11:30 am 

    Right, Jan, as long as short-term demands trump long-term planning our essentially bankrupt societies will dig their holes deeper. All things considered, that’s happening either way. Nevertheless, societies will be forced to adapt over time.

    Adaptation is rarely emphasized in these articles and proposals. Our collective sense of entitlement is complete, and the idea of having to do with less in terms of consumption and in terms of time-of-demand is incompatible with our 24/7/365 expectations.

    My family’s off-grid journey required compromise and adaptation: Adapting to new consumption patterns => developing storage => installing sufficient PV production => knowing when to say no to discretionary use of energy => being flexible enough to use surplus generation for productive uses when it is available => moving other loads such as water pumping and space heating to their own independent systems and storage: Adapting to a different energy reality that is far older than the industrial age. Earth cycles.

    Society’s expectations and built-in requirements are what make sustainable energy unsustainable, as much as those systems are reliant upon non-renewable resources and infrastructure. Contraction and/or collapse is built in to our future. Always was. People better get their minds right with that, because reality doesn’t give a shit.

  9. penury on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 11:34 am 

    I really fervently wish that non fossil fuel energy wasw available and provided to all. However, the cynic in me says that when cows fly and pigs sing opera, it will happen but sooner than that “No way Jose”

  10. Jan on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 11:58 am 

    Hi Ghung.
    the problem with many western countries is we have let so many things degrade. UK roads are a joke, out schools need billions, parents cannot get children into local schools. Old people die of cold in the tens of thousands. So making electricity cost so much more is the last thing we need to be doing. Where are you off grid and how do you heat your home?

  11. Apneaman on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 12:10 pm 

    Seems like even fossil fuel power is having a hard time keeping up with the new climate the humans triggered.

    Power plant outages contributed to overloading scare during NSW heatwave, report finds

    “A fault in a gas turbine forced an outage at the Illawarra’s Tallawarra plant, while low gas pressure stopped production at the Snowy Hydro’s Colongra plant.

    The report also said a “number of thermal generators” reduced output.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-22/report-shows-power-plant-outages-contributed-to-nsw-power-scare/8294496

    NSW heatwave: Another catalogue of fossil fuel power failures

    “A recent New South Wales power supply scare has been found to have been caused – not by renewables – but by a series of gas and coal plant faults and failures that happened to coincide with record high electricity demand as the state sweltered through a February heatwave.”

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/nsw-heatwave-another-catalogue-of-fossil-fuel-power-failures-16667/

    Early rounds of the AGW fight and the humans are already taking a beating.

  12. Jerry McManus on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 12:15 pm 

    And as usual no mention whatsoever of the most obvious question, among many.

    If so-called “renewables” were so cheap and easy then why didn’t we do it a long time ago?

    Solar panels and wind generators are not new technology, not by a long shot. Been around quite a while as a matter of fact. I guess about 150 years or so, at least.

    And yet, we continue to spill stupendous amounts of blood an treasure, year after year, decade after decade into stinking deserts and jungles on the other side of the planet.

    Anyway, every time one of the “renewable” jackasses opens their mouth I can guarantee you the first words will be some variation of “if only”.

    If only we could catch unicorn farts!

  13. Ghung on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 12:49 pm 

    Jerry asks; “If so-called “renewables” were so cheap and easy then why didn’t we do it a long time ago?”

    We did, Jerry, for about 99.9% of our history. Then we got greedy. As for “cheap and easy”, the costs have dropped dramatically, but obtuse fools tend to ignore that part, like you.

  14. Ghung on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 12:59 pm 

    Jan asked; ” Where are you off grid and how do you heat your home?”

    Western North Carolina where average rainfall exceeds 65 inches (165 cm) per year (temperate rain forest here). We heat with solar-warmed thermal mass and wood. Water is solar heated, augmented with wood, stored in a 1600 liter tank. Surplus hot water gets pumped through the slab floor for additional heat.

    As for degrading infrastructure and all that, it’s an artifact of the collapse of complex societies, which makes most of this discussion moot anyway.

    Better start making your own arrangements, because your society is surely going to double down on the poor choices that got us into this mess in the first place. Our grandkids are going to hate our guts.

  15. Anonymous on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 1:29 pm 

    The whole system cost of ‘renewables’ has to take into the account the cost of the oil that makes the production of all that renewable equipment possible in the first place.

    The math works, in simplest possible terms like this:

    -No FF, no ‘renewables’.

    -Expensive, or constrained FF. Very expensive and or constrained availability of ‘renewable’ equipment.

    But I would caution, the inverse is not necessarily true. What if FF were super-abundant and cheap as dirt? Wouldn’t that mean we’d be awash in windmills and solar panels, problem solved?

    Well no, because when FF were dirt cheap and plentiful, the last thing anyone was building was windmills. In fact, they did the exact opposite, ignored and suppressed wind and solar, and continued to extract ever greater quantities of FF, mostly to throw back into the atmosphere in the form of heat trapping gasses and waste heat for the most trivial of reasons.

    The authors of this report, want ‘renewables’ to expand the total supply of energy over and above what they have now. Which means even more land and resources set aside for power generation, already in short-supply in overpopulated Britain. To power what exactly? Maybe its to replace or supplant all that North Sea oil they squandered so recklessly in the 80s and 90s? I bet most in GB thought that gravy-train would never stop rolling either, or anyone that DID say it would come to an end one day(and soon), was soundly ignored.

    The UK has a ton of unaddressed problems as it is, energy production is just one of them. And even IF the UK had all the energy they wished for, it would do very little for all the other non-energy related, economic, environmental and social problems the brits have created for themselves.

  16. rockman on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 3:48 pm 

    Forbin – “I do know FF are one time only source but when Nat gas runs out the UK is in the crapper”. Same would be true for Texas and every other ff dependent economy. But thanks to our big wind capacity and sudden growth spurt of solar our fossil fuel generation capacity has been extended at least several decades. Wouldn’t it be nice if alt development in the UK had their intermittent nature not only backed up by your NG resources but also pushed back the date “when NG runs out” by several decades…maybe even longer? That’s the nice side effect of transitioning to alt energy: it extends the life of your finite fossil fuel resources.

    penury – Better then 80% of Texas consumers have “non fossil fuel energy…available…”. Give us a few more years and I’m sure we’ll be 100%.

  17. makati1 on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 4:41 pm 

    Rockman, you will only be 100% when you no longer need electric. Cut ALL power lines coming into Texas and shut down the nuclear power plants, then claim 100% or even 80%.

    Texas: Renewable Energy Consumption as a Share of State Total = 4.7 %

    https://www.eia.gov/state/print.cfm?sid=TX

    Interesting? You and Cloggie like to brag. But it appears like the total energy used in Texas is 20 times your “renewables”. A long way from “energy independence”.

  18. peakyeast on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 4:47 pm 

    ” At a time when hospitals and doctors are close to breaking point. Millions of elderly people cannot even get help with basics like dressing and feeding themselves. That £22 billion needs to go on these areas and not supporting stupid wind farms which produce as little as 2% of our needs.”

    THAT is exactly what I have been saying for a LOONG time.

    We waited with the transistion until the transisition would cause the politicians to have to make a choice between caring and feeding the population or installing renewable power.

    So stupid to wait until the choice is next to impossible to make. But thats the kind of leadership we have had for the past 100 years.

  19. makati1 on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 5:22 pm 

    Yep Peaky, the U$ government is run by the multi-nationals and the privately owned Federal Reserve. And only total collapse will break the chain. Soon, I hope.

    “Clowns to the left of me,
    Jokers to the right, here I am…”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=surb8FzjWfg

    Nuff said.

  20. penury on Wed, 22nd Feb 2017 7:04 pm 

    Rockman, Texas is leading the way and we need to celebrate,k however the last time I was in Texas I saw a lot of cows flying, Cargo. And in Ft Worth I thought I heard someone singing opera, but that was “Grand Old Opry

  21. kiwichick on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 12:19 am 

    other renewables are essentially baseload

    geothermal tidal wave

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-23/albany-wave-power-farm-carnegie-wave-keen-wa-election-labor/8296758

  22. Jan on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 5:15 am 

    Wind and solar energy in the U.K. produce around 15% of total production. Often output from these two is less than 3% of demand. The cost of having these two almost useless technology is an additional £10MW/h on every one of the 2,200 million MW/h consumed. On top of that wind and solar get massive top ups.
    https://www.carbonbrief.org/uk-renewables-auction-pushes-down-costs
    No wonder our high energy companies are closing down and China is out producing us with cheap coal accounting for 70% of output.
    http://www.tsp-data-portal.org/Breakdown-of-Electricity-Generation-by-Energy-Source#tspQvChart

  23. brough on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 5:58 am 

    The UK as been extracting FFs from within its own borders longer than any other nation on the planet and as such it is now a worked-out shell. Therefore as no options but to import FFs from other countries. At least wind generated electicity give us a small amount of energy security and helps in our balance of import/export payments.
    Forget solar in a country thats on a latitude of 50-60 degrees N, its useless.
    China has as many energy problems as the UK, the secret of thier success is an almost bottonless pit of cheap youthful labour.

  24. Cloggie on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 6:12 am 

    The UK as been extracting FFs from within its own borders longer than any other nation on the planet and as such it is now a worked-out shell.

    Really?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2593032/Coal-fuel-UK-centuries-Vast-deposits-totalling-23trillion-tonnes-North-Sea.html

    (For the record, the UK should not touch these reserves but proceed with building giant wind parks in the North Sea).

  25. Davy on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 7:05 am 

    “No wonder our high energy companies are closing down and China is out producing us with cheap coal accounting for 70% of output.”
    Jan, if you realize what China (and Asia) is producing is a significant amount of malinvestment at home and unneeded consumer plastic waste for export then you see through your above statement. The key is for the west to leap /frog Asia by adapting to alternative and redesigning life around alternative as best we can. Let Asia breed itself into oblivion in overpopulation and environmental suicide.

    This means one thing and that is a life of less but that can be more spiritually and emotionally. There is no reason why less consumption has to equate one to one with less satisfaction. The only problem with this is the minimum operating levels of globalism means any significant slowdown will result in failure of the just-in-time economies of scale that allow global distribution and finance. All locals are delocalized and dependent on the global for resupply. This is the biggest tragedy of globalism and that is choosing efficiency over sustainability.

    Now is the time to reinvent ourselves so we can survive this existential bifurcation. This is not true of all places because some are not positioned to survive any kind of down turn. We must be ready for pain and suffering but if ready it will be possible for some to survive. The problem is now the status quo refuses any hint of a downsizing with those who are affluent and maintain the power. The sheeples are clueless because the establishment tells them problems will be overcome by progress. We are in a critical window now for our ability to scale and in time for a collapse process that will dangerously accelerate at some point

  26. rockman on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 8:32 am 

    mak – “A long way from “energy independence”.” Apparently you completely missed my point. The primary motivation for expanding Texas alt energy was to avoid building NEW NG/coal fired plants. Plants we MUST build to meet growing demand. So in addition to not adding more GHG production (which has never been a priority here) it preserves more of our fossil fuel resources for the future.

    No one in Texas has ever talked about the state being energy independent or going 100% renewable. As I mentioned Georgetown isn’t going 100% green to “to save the planet”. Those politicians state their motivation very clearly: growth. Being a suburb of our state capital it’s a blowing area. BTW we don’t have power lines bringing in electricity to cut: Texas is on a grid separate from the rest of the US.

  27. rockman on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 8:52 am 

    penury – Yep, that’s why I keep emphasizing the alt push in Texas IS NOT based on environmental concerns but on GROWTH. Which is how I suggest it’s working here: we found an economic justification and did not depend on morality. Morality others provide only lip service to and not capex. While other discuss the problem with maintaining BAU we are focused on expanding business. After all which states’ politicians would understand our declining reserve base better then those in the top producing state. Heck, some of them actually worked for exploration companies. Who would understand the struggle better: them or the governor of Utah…or a Maryland senator? LOL.

  28. Simon on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 9:00 am 

    To be fair the UK makes abysmal infrastructure choices, ssems to be a habit, compared to the rest of the EU.

    The UK will invest in Nuclear (150EUR per Mwh, so don’t bitch about renewable costs) and more FF and when the day comes (soon) that FF starts to skyrocket and we reach peak uranium (its coming) and the costs start to skyrocket, they will blame all their woes on Dodgey Ham sandwich throwing foriegners.

  29. Jan on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 9:37 am 

    Davy you are correct; there is poor investment in China. China may well make lots of plastic crap but unfortunately people purchase it by the container ship full. The fact is cheap labour and cheap power has enabled China to steal hundreds of millions of manufacturing jobs. However it’s debt will bring it down just like every other country which have overspent.
    http://uk.businessinsider.com/the-real-problem-with-chinas-corporate-debt-load-2017-1?r=US&IR=T

  30. John Kintree on Thu, 23rd Feb 2017 9:58 am 

    I would like to see more articles like this, looking at the whole system costs of solar and wind, and also of other forms of energy. Even though assumptions and selection of data in any particular study are debatable, it is useful way of thinking about the choices.

    The whole system costs of solar and wind are much better than they were ten years ago. Better technology by itself might not be the solution, but better technology can help.

  31. Antius on Fri, 24th Feb 2017 3:02 am 

    I have reviewed the original reference. The methodology and assumptions used in their study are not transparent. The document reads more like an exercise in spin and New Labour double-speak than a professional engineering study. But the lack of transparency makes it difficult to critically assess their conclusions.

    On the face of it, the conclusions are difficult to accept. A coal power plant will typically generate at £50/MWh when used in baseload. About two-thirds of that cost is O&M and capital remuneration cost – say £33/MWh. If the plant is used as back-up and sitting idle whilst renewable energy is being generated, those costs are still being incurred, though you will save most of the fuel cost. At renewable market penetration of 30%, the loss of energy due to curtailment should be relatively small – average capacity factor of wind is 20-30% depending on location.

    Basically, the extra cost of a MWh of renewable energy at <30% market penetration is the capital and O&M cost of the back-up plant, residual fuel costs incurred due to idling and cold starts and the capital & O&M on any grid reinforcement required. It is difficult to say what these will be without detailed study, but £10/MWh sounds very optimistic.

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