Is Wind Power Actually Cheaper Than Coal Fired Power? Well, No!

Posted on Sun 11/25/2018 by

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By Anton Lang ~

Virtually every commentator who even mentions renewable power generation these days will tell you that renewable power generation is cheaper than coal fired power, but is this really the case?

It has puzzled me for a long time now how they can get away with saying that, and not actually taking the time to check the real data to see if it’s true at all. They just repeat that same old thing, time after time, and as the old adage says, repeat something often enough and it then becomes the truth.

You’ll see all sorts of ways they can justify it, usually by quoting what is referred to by the acronym LCOE. (Levelised Cost Of Electricity) Over the years I have been doing this, now almost eleven years, I have seen so many different versions of these LCOE documents, and they have changed across the years, becoming more and more complex. However, one thing I have noticed with them is that they are skewed in favour of renewable power to make it look as good as they can possibly make it, and at the same time, skewed against coal fired power to make it look as bad as they possibly can make it. By far the biggest manner they skew the results is that they attempt to make it ‘a level playing field’, by trying to make the numbers suggest that all the electrical power generated is basically equal, no matter what the source, and there are so many variables that are just not taken into account, and other variables that are included, some of which are patently false, the biggest of these being CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) which is something that will never be achieved on any level, let alone on the scale required, and to a lesser degree, the imposition of a cost on the emissions of Carbon Dioxide, your typical Carbon (sic) Tax

Because that LCOE is so biassed and incorrect, and there have been so many of them, all different, I would tend to discount them.

In saying that, can I actually justify the position I am taking here?

Well yes, I can.

What I will be doing below is showing you actual data for both sources of power generation, wind power and coal fired power, and from that you can see, quite easily in fact, that real data supports my argument that wind power is definitely not cheaper than coal fired power, and in fact, it’s not even close.

The data I will be using is from Australia, and while you may think that is a small scale to be using, it is something which can be scaled up to the ‘bigger picture’.

What I will be using is the most current data for both wind power, and also for coal fired power as well, so it is actually a relevant argument.

Australia currently has a total Nameplate for ALL wind power of 5452MW. That comes from 50 Wind plants spread across the Country in the vast AEMO coverage area, and that’s every part of Australia East of the Western Australian border. This coverage area is for  the 5 States, from largest to smallest, New South Wales Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania and also the Australian Capital Territory, so it is not a small area we are looking at here.

That total Nameplate of 5452MW is from those 50 wind plants with an estimated total number of wind towers in the vicinity of 2800.

However, saying that the Nameplate is 5452MW does not mean that those wind plants deliver that total all the time. The total power s calculated by the actual generated power and is worked out across a full year, and that’s the Industry Standard, and that amount of power is expressed in GWH. (GigaWattHours) Everyone knows that wind power is variable. It has good days and bad days. That ratio of power generated versus Nameplate is expressed as the Capacity Factor. The current Capacity factor for wind power here in Australia for all those wind plants is 30%, so, across the full year, that Nameplate of 5452MW is only the equivalent of around 1650MW. The total generated power delivered to the grid across Australia for every one of those wind plants is a tick under 14400GWH.

The Bayswater Coal Fired Power Plant In New South Wales

Okay then, let’s compare that with an existing coal fired power plant, and for this case, I will use the Bayswater plant near Muswellbrook in New South Wales. This plant is now 32 years old. It has four large Units, each one of 660MW in total for a Nameplate of 2640MW. Again, this plant also does not deliver that total power all of the time. It runs constantly while ever they feed coal into the furnace/boiler part of each Unit. The power delivery ramps up and down each day, and the only time the Units are off line is when they are undergoing maintenance or Upgrades. Like wind power, this coal fired plant is also subject to that tem Capacity Factor, and for this Bayswater plant, it’s Capacity Factor across a full year is around 75%. It delivers 17000GWH to the grid in that State of New South Wales.

So, as you can see from just these last two paragraphs, wind power has a total Nameplate of 5452MW, and Bayswater has a Nameplate of 2640MW, so wind power has double the Nameplate for the coal fired plant.

However, look here at the totals for generated power. Bayswater delivers 17000GWH, and wind (that’s EVERY wind plant in the Country) delivers 14400MW. So Bayswater, with half the Nameplate delivers 18% more power to the grid for use by all electricity consumers.

So, here you have 50 wind plants with 2800 wind towers still not delivering the same power as ONE coal fired power plant.

Now, I don’t care what anyone says here, there is no way that one coal fired power plant cost anywhere even close to the total cost of those 50 wind plants.

Okay, so there’s the case for existing power, already in place.

What about making a case for new coal fired power then? Would there be much difference?

Steam turbine/Generator Units at the HELE UltraSuperCritical Waigaoqiao No. 3 (Shanghai) (photo courtesy of IEA CCC)

Let’s do the maths for a new coal fired power plant, and here I will use the example of what is called a HELE (High Efficiency Low Emissions) coal fired power plant, the newest and most technologically advanced version of coal fired power, and these plants are in operation now all over the World, mostly in China where all new coal fired plants are of this type. It is also referred to as a USC (UltraSuperCritical) plant. These plants burn less coal for greater output and higher efficiency than old 1960s to 1980s technology plants, and these new plants are three levels of technology better than those older coal fired plants

Because the technology and efficiencies are so much better, these new plants can operate larger generators as the technology for every stage of these plants has improved, also meaning that the technology for the actual power generator has also improved, these new plants can drive generators up to an individual generator Nameplate of 1500MW, but they typically drive two Units each of 1200MW each for a total plant Nameplate of 2400MW.

Again, because the technology has improved so far their power delivery ahs also increased and they can typically operate at a Capacity Factor of around 85%, and some plants are operating at Capacity Factors over 90%.

So, using the example of a new HELE plant with a Nameplate of 2400MW, and operating at a yearly Capacity Factor of that 85%, they will deliver across a full year 17800GWH of usable power to the grid.

So now, that reference point is that figure of 17800GWH.

Macarthur Wind Plant In Victoria Australia

Let’s do the maths for wind power, and here I’ll be using the example of the largest (and also one of the newest) wind plants in Australia, the Macarthur Wind plant in the State of Victoria.

This Macarthur wind plant has a total Nameplate of 420MW, and has been operating at that average Capacity Factor of 30%, so it will deliver across a full year 1100GWH of usable power to the grid.

1100GWH from wind versus 17800GWH from the coal fired plant.

So, from that, we can see now that o equal the same power delivery of that coal fired plant, we need to have in place 16 of these Macarthur equivalent wind plants.

That’s 16 of them.

The cost for the Macarthur wind plant was around $1Billion, and yes, that’s One Billion Dollars, and most sites only list that cost as ‘around’ that figure of a Billion.

So, right there, we are now looking at a total of $16 Billion.

SIXTEEN BILLION DOLLARS.

On top of that, the new coal fired plant has a life expectancy of 50 years, in exactly the same situation as current coal fired plants also have a life expectancy of 50 years, and some of them even longer than that. The best case scenario for wind plants is the figure quoted at most wind plant informational sites, where they give that life expectancy of 25 years, but the real truth could be closer to only 20 years, and some instances I have seen in recent times is that most of might only reach a life expectancy of 15 years, but for the case of this exercise, I will use that best case scenario of 25 years. So, from that you can now see that the cost actually doubles because you now need twice that number to deliver the same power over the life of the coal fired plant., so now we are looking at $32 Billion.

THIRTY TWO BILLION DOLLARS.

I have purposely not given a cost for the new HELE coal fired power plant, because there is no way it could cost anywhere even close to that. They are constructing them in Germany for the equivalent of $3 Billion Australian Dollars. They are constructing in China for $US1 Billion.

There is no way known that even 50 years of other costs could bring that figure up to $32 Billion.

So, as you can see, when you use current data for actual power generation, wind power is most definitely NOT cheaper than coal fired power.

Anton Lang uses the screen name of TonyfromOz, and he writes at this site, PA Pundits International on topics related to electrical power generation, from all sources, concentrating mainly on Renewable Power, and how the two most favoured methods of renewable power generation, Wind Power and all versions of Solar Power, fail comprehensively to deliver levels of power required to replace traditional power generation. His Bio is at this link.

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