Thursday, February 5, 2009

Texas Wind not Competitive with Nuclear

Warren Heath brought my attention yesterday to a couple of documents from the National Wind Watch. The document was a statement prepared for the Environmental Court
of New Zealand by Bryan William Leyland,
a consulting mechanical and electrical engineer who was extremely well qualified to evaluate costs related to electrical generating systems including wind generating systems. Leyland had been retained by an party to a matter before the Environmental Court, to offer his views on the likely cost of a wind generation project in New Zealand. Leyland had been involved in wind projects as long ago as 1980, and had consulted on a wide variety of electrical generating projects as well as serving as a consultant on an electrical shortage to the New Zealand government.

Leyland testified about recent wind generator prices. These included the April 2008 cost of a 48 MW wind project at the Ashtabula Wind Center at North Dakota , that was priced at $121,000,000 or $2520 per KW. A project at New Richmond in Quebec in May 2008 cost $190,000,000 for 66 MWs of wind generating capacity, or $2880 per KW. Another Quebec project at St. Valentine the same month was estimated to cost $160,000,000 for a 50 MW wind array, or $3200 per KW. The Pampa Wind project in West Texas was also estimated in May of 2008 to have an expected price tag of $2720 per KW.

Leyland's testimony reflects prices during the first half of 2008, and thus may not reflect the full impact of the economic slowdown on the current price of wind power, never-the-less it does provide us with a picture of the price of wind in the recent past. If the price of wind dropped during the last half of 2008, it is possible that the same factors would have also dropped the price of nuclear generating capacity as well. It should also be noted that the prices quoted above, did not include the price of energy/electrical storage, or electrical transmission. The projects mentioned appear to have been located in very good sites so we can assume a capacity factor of .40 or even .45. Let us assume a capacity of .45. Let us also assume 12 hour battery electrical storage. Wind systems tend to generate more electricity during off peak hours than during peak hours. Thus battery backup is essential in order for a wind system to be able to meet peak electrical demands.

Thus cost of making West Texas Wind reasonably reliable would require the doubling of generating capacity and feeding the excess generated electricity into 12 hour capacity battery storage. The battery storage for a 1 GW of reliable wind system would run @350,000,000 per hour of storage or $4.2 billion for a 12 hour storage system. In order to approach the reliability of a one GW nuclear generation facility, two GW of wind generation capacity would have to be built. One GW to provide electricity when the wind blows, and one GW to supply electricity to the battery back up system. Thus the May 2008 cost of reliable West Texas wind would be two times the cost of the systems stated capacity, or $5,440,000,000 plus another $4,200,000,000 for the batteries. The total cost of a reliable wind system would be $9,640,000,000. To this we can add the cost of an expanded electrical transmission system, between West Texas, and Texas cities like Dallas or Houston. If we compare this cost to the 2008 cost of nuclear power @ $4 to $5 billion per GW, we see that the cost of reliable wind is about double that of nuclear power. Of the two electrical systems the nuclear system would be by far more reliable and flexible. The wind system would still fail to meet summer electrical demand. Even with full redundancy and 12 hour battery backup, summer capacity factor for the system would drop to half or less or the objective of 1 GW of around the clock electricity. Further fossil fuel fired backup would have to be maintained to assure summer electrical reliability. The wind system would fall short of equaling the capacity factor of nuclear. While the winter capacity factor might approach or even exceed 100% of nameplate system capacity, the summer capacity factor would lag significantly.

Now consider a radical back up alternative. Assume that the system operators chose to back up the 1 GW wind system with nuclear power rather than a redundant wind system plus batteries. The cost of the wind system would then drop to $2.7 billion plus $5 billion for nuclear backup or $7.7 billion. Quite obviously the nuclear backup would be cheaper, but now the wind is totally redundant, because the backup system can operate full time for just the added price of fuel. Thus the purely nuclear system would simply be a lower cost than wind a reliable wind system. The nuclear system would be more reliable, and could be counted on with a fairly high degree of certainty to produce at 100% of its rated capacity during peak electrical demand summer months.

In addition current nuclear generating systems have an estimated lifetime of 60 to 80 years, while Wind generating systems last 20 to 30 years. Battery backup systems have an estimated 15 year life span. Nuclear plants undergo significant parts replacements after 40 years, but this cost far less than the cost of replacing wind turbines and storage batteries. Again the cost advantage, and indeed another decisive advantage goes to nuclear power. Clearly then wind is not cost competitive with conventional nuclear generated electricity.

Update 2/6/09: The Working Waterfront, A Canadian Publication this morning carried a story titled "Wind energy expands on Prince Edward Island" by Kathy Birt.
based in an estimated . . . windfarm development cost of $2.3 million per megawatt . . .
The Canadian Dollar was worth 1.23 US Dollars at the close of yesterday's currency exchange market, which makes $2.3 Canadian the equivalent of $2.8 million US Dollars. This figure is whole in line with Mr Leyland's wind cost testimony. From The Chronical Harold, reporting on a Canadian wind development, the Glen Dhu wind park near Merigomish, Pictou County, Nova Scotia. A 60 MW wind farm is expected to cost between $143 and $160 (Canadian) or $175 to $197 US dollars. That is $2.9 million to $ 3.28 million US Dollars per MW.

From Seeking Alpha 2/5/09 "Alliant Energy Q4 2008 Earnings Call Transcript"
Beginning with our wind generation plans, WP&L Cedar Ridge project became our first owned wind firm when it began producing electricity in December. The 68 megawatt wind farm was completed on time and under budget at a cost of $156 million.
The Noble Flat Hill Windpark, located about 12 miles northeast of Moorhead, North Dekota project to build 134 wind turbines with a rated capacity of 201 MWs. Estimated price $450 million.

These prices are not inconsistent with the prices of wind generating facilities which Mr. Leyland indicated. Thus the charge that Mr. Layland distorted wind costs is without merit.


Fabio said...

I have more or less the same numbers for Italy. A study prepared one year ago by a pro renewable agency quoted the price of wind power stations at 1800 eur/MW or 2340 $/MW.
Recently a 53 MW wind project in south italy has been financed for 114.000.000 euro or 2192 eur/MW or 2800 $/MW ( in italian).
Worse for offshore wind: the alpha ventus project in Germany is quoted at 2910 eur/MW (,1518,604586,00.html ) or 3700 $/MW the same price tag as nuclear power plants.

DV8 2XL said...

You know this highlights what the real problem is; it's the semantics of wind and solar. These don't so much need auxiliaries as they are auxiliaries.

It's time to recognize that the only thing they are capable of is reducing the fuel costs from baseload gas, and as you pointed out, if that is the case, then we have to ask why bother.

David Walters said...

To the Daily Kos with this one Charles!


Marcel F. Williams said...

The cleanest back up option for wind and solar would be carbon neutral methanol power produced from currently wasted off-peak nuclear electricity via hydrogen extracted from water through electrolysis and CO2 extracted from the air.

Natural gas electric power plants that currently provide back up energy for wind can be easily modified to burn carbon neutral methanol.

Jason Ribeiro said...

Charles, I always appreciate your vigilant criticism of wind power. As it is the most prominent renewable energy choice in the public eye, it should deserve more criticism than it receives in the mainstream media, which from what I've seen amounts to none.

Starting with the concept of capacity factor vs. nameplate capacity, many mainstream media sources completely fail to understand this concept. Next is the failure to recognize the seasonal fluctuation and fickleness of the wind. Anyone who's been sailing can tell you stories about this.

I find it rather amazing how many greens completely give wind generators a pass when it comes to killing birds. Recently in the Huffington Post, an article stated the worlds largest 7MW wind generator has an average rotation speed of 5 seconds or 20 RPM. With a diameter of 413 ft. the blade tip will be moving at 259 ft per second - fast enough to kill anything that gets in its path much less a bird.

I am afraid that in the haste to show a good face of effort in doing something about carbon emissions, wind power is picked as an easy first choice. The pressure is on, but without a comprehensive plan, we have a plan to fail.

As about 100 nuclear plants supply 20% of electrical energy, it should not be so far out to suggest another 50 or so be built within 10 years to increase that to 30%. The coal capacity should be reduced in accordance. If global warming is as urgent as the greens say it is, they should be asking for emergency assistance from the nuclear industry instead of bashing it. Nonetheless, I would rather see a reasonable nuclear mandate for at least another 10% of the market share, instead of watching the slow motion train wreck of the renewable energy build up.

Charles Barton said...

Thank you Jason.

Anonymous said...


As a Canadian fan of your site, I wish that 1 CAN Dollar was 1.23 US Dollar. But it is the other way around. 1 CAN Dollar is 1/1.23 = .81 US Dollars.



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