Jun 042013

4 June 2013

Back in March we wrote an article showing the sleight of hand used by Windies Yes2Renewables and MACWind when they quoted a Bloomberg Finance review which claimed to prove wind power was now cheaper than coal power. Of course they neglected to highlight the article compared a new wind factory to an new coal-fired power plant (of which there are none in Australia).

Now someone has done a comprehensive comparison between new coal-fired and new wind electricity plants (and “comprehensive” means not only “thorough”, but also, “not by a financial mob with their snouts in the Big Wind trough”).

Power Plant Comparison – Coal-Fired Versus Wind

I would like to show you something very important here, something that supporters of Renewable Power conveniently neglect to mention.

To demonstrate this, I’m going to construct a comparison between coal-fired power and wind power.

To do this comparison, I’m going to spend exactly the same amount of money both for the coal-fired plant and the wind plant, and because I live here in Australia, I’ll be doing it in Australian Dollars, but as the cost factor is not the part I’ll be drawing your attention to, that cost is mentioned just as an indicator, and for the sake of the exercise, the amounts will be the same both for the coal-fired plant and the wind plant, and at each stage I will give a careful explanation.

Pretending that money is really no object, let’s then construct one of those new technology large-scale coal-fired plants that are now being constructed in China, India, and at a number of other places around the World. These plants are the new technology USC (UltraSuperCritical) plants. The Chinese have now mastered the technology and these plants have been under construction in China for more than 4 years now.

While these plants are indeed coal-fired plants, because of the technology, they actually burn up to 15% less coal than equivalent existing older technology coal-fired plants. That’s 15% less coal being consumed, hence 15% less CO2 being emitted.

Because the technology produces larger amounts of high temperature high pressure steam, these plants can in fact drive generators that produce more power, again, another thing that the Chinese have succeeded in scaling up. While older technology plants typically can only drive generators that produce 660MW, these newer technology Chinese plants can drive generators that can produce 1000MW and more, previously only the province of large-scale nuclear power plants.

So, for the purpose of the exercise, we will be constructing a large-scale coal-fired plant with 2 of these size generators, hence the Total Capacity will be in that typical large-scale range of 2000MW plus.

Now, China can construct one of these plants for $1.2 Billion, a seemingly large amount. However, as everything is so cheap in China, especially labour costs, then there’s no way known that a plant of this nature can be constructed in the already Developed World for that price.

German Neurath new technology coal fired plantGerman Neurath new technology coal fired plant

So, we now have to look elsewhere for an actual plant of this nature being constructed in a place that could give us a good handle on what the true cost might be.Germany is actually in the stages of constructing these new technology plants themselves. They have already gone down the path of Renewable power, and have seen, quite starkly, how it absolutely fails to deliver the power required on the basis required. So, Germany is now making plans to construct these new large-scale plants, almost 20 of them, in fact, and they actually now have a couple of them up and running, and supplying power to the grids in Germany.

One of those is the new unit at the Neurath plant. This plant actually has 2 generators capable of 1100MW, for a total output of 2200MW, so this is what I will be using for the sake of comparison.

Now, while the Chinese can do this for that $1.2 Billion, Germany has found that the cost for them is $3.4 Billion. (The plant actually cost the Germans €2.6 Billion.) Note how in the Developed World, a plant of this nature costs almost three times as much to construct as it costs in China.

So now we have a baseline for our comparison.

$3.4 Billion.

Okay then, knowing that, we are now going to spend exactly that same amount of money on Wind Power.

Now, unlike some Renewable Power supporters who do all their costings on modelling, LCOE (Levelised Cost Of Electricity) these paper exercises always gives false outcomes, making coal-fired power more expensive, as I explained in my earlier Guest Post here at this site, those same models also seem to come up with Wind Plants that are artificially cheaper, hence making coal-fired power look bad, and wind power look attractively so much better.

However, unlike those who use their clever models to do their paper comparisons, I use real World costings for real World Constructions.
In the same manner as I found a real World example for a new technology coal-fired plant, let’s then use a real World example for wind power.

Currently, here in Australia, there is a new proposal to construct a large-scale Wind Plant on King Island, off the North West coast of Tasmania, that large Island just to South of Mainland Australia.

This proposed plant will cost $2 Billion. For this amount, they will be constructing between 200 and 250 huge turbines. The height at the hub of each tower will be 105 metres, (341 feet) with a swept diameter of 90 Metres. The nacelle on top of the tower will hold a generator capable of delivering 3MW.

Now, while the proposal is not solid on its numbers, let’s go with the higher amount of turbines they hope to construct (250) for this $2 Billion. So now we have to scale this up to the original outlay, so for that $3.4 Billion, we’ll get 425 of those huge towers. Each will have 3MW turbine/generators, so now we have a total Capacity of 1275MW. Keep in mind here, that there’s not many wind plants of that size, so realistically, we are looking at 2 of these large-scale wind plants, but the main thing here is the original amount of money.

Now, straight up, you notice that even though the original cost is exactly the same, the wind plant only has a total capacity of 1275MW, while the coal-fired plant has a capacity of 2200MW, so right up front, this coal-fired plant is 72% larger in its total power.

That’s just the beginning, and while that alone is important enough, what is more important is not this up front total, the Nameplate Capacity, but the actual power delivered to the grids for consumption by all the sectors actually using the electricity.

This is the important thing I want to show you.

Now, the operation of the coal-fired plant is such that while ever the crushed and powdered coal is being fed into the furnace to make the steam to drive the turbine, the generator is always turning, and always delivering its maximum power. The only down time is for maintenance, when the whole unit is totally shut down. What is happening in the Chinese plants is that they are actually running at around a 92% Capacity Factor. Now while that is early days, the lifetime capacity of a plant of this nature is around 80%, and some might even say that could be on the low side, as efficiencies in the more modern technology see these type of plant operating quite efficiently with respect to delivery of power. In fact, an Australian plant, near where I live here in Rockhampton, the Stanwell plant had one of its units in full operation for just under three years, a World’s record for any power plant generator.

However, for the sake of this exercise, let’s go with that lower figure of 80%. That means that over one full year, this coal-fired plant with both units running can actually deliver 15,428GWH. (GigaWattHours)

A typical large-scale coal-fired power plant has a lifespan of 50 years. This can be (and more often than not is) extended out by a number of years, but hey, let’s go with that lower figure of 50 years.

So now, over the life of the plant, we have an actual power delivery of 771,408GWH or converted, 771TWH. (TeraWattHours)

Keep that number in mind. 771TWH

Musselroe wind plantMusselroe wind plant -
image courtesy Ross Marsden, TheMercury

Now, let’s look at the Wind Plant. When the proposal is first submitted, nearly all of them quote the Capacity Factor (CF) at 38%. Once operational, very few wind plants actually achieve that. Most settle down in the early years to a CF of 30%, and as data from all across the Planet is becoming more known, then a CF of 20% is actually closer to the truth, and in fact, some Countries have that CF as low as 15%. But hey, in much the same manner as I went for worst case scenario for the coal-fired plant, let’s actually go with the higher figure here of 20%, best case scenario.

So now we have this (equivalent cost) wind plant of 1275MW delivering 2235GWH per year: Note how that compares with the delivery from the coal-fired plant of 15,428GWH.

We are told that these wind plants have a life span of 25 years. So now, we have a lifetime power delivery from this wind plant of 55,875GWH or 55.875TWH.

Say, will you look at that. The coal-fired plant delivers 771TWH during its life and the equivalent costing wind plant delivers only 56TWH.

So the coal-fired plant delivers 13.8 times as much power.

That is the important thing I wanted you all to see.

For the same money, you get almost 14 times as much power.

There is an addition to this, something that is only now becoming known. They are finding out now that wind plants, while they claim 25 years as their life span, are realistically lasting barely 15 years, and some are barely making 10 years. That CF also is becoming more worrying as some plants are dropping to around 15% CF after only ten years.

So then let’s say the best we get out of a wind plant is indeed this newer figure of 15 years, then the total power delivery drops even further.

In this case, the coal-fired plant will deliver 23 times as much power, and if that CF falls, as is being shown, then that total power delivery drops even further.

So, then right at the start, we used the same amount of money for each of the plants, and here we find that the coal-fired plant delivers considerably more power over its life span.

You can add in all the things you like to make coal-fired power look bad, and wind power look good by comparison, but when it comes to actual delivery of power, then coal-fired power wins. In fact, it’s no contest really.

It’s a bit like saying you can win Le Mans in a Mini Minor, when you’re up against a Porsche racing car. In the Renewable supporters’ World, the Mini Minor wins every time, because they make the rules, and then force the Porsche to tow a 40 foot caravan.

Supporters of Renewable Power will see something like this exercise, and, umm, look the other way.


There’s only so much I can mention in the main article, and if I was to mention everything, then it would become horrendously long, so I’ll try and cover it with this reply, which to explain correctly, then by its very nature, this must also be long as well..

It is entirely correct to bring this matter up, and yes coal fired power will have extra costs, but the point I was making was the headline indicator of actual power generated for consumption. All forms of power generation will also have other associated costs relating to their operation, and wind power is not immune from those costs either.

As to maintenance costs, consider that with this one coal fired plant, we have two units, from the coal loader, the crusher, the feeder, the injectors, both for coal and ram air, the furnace, the boiler, the pressuriser, the multi stage turbine, the generator and the regulators. Two complete units at ground level in an environmentally controlled area at ground level. Any maintenance is indeed a relatively involved process, but relatively easily carried out.

With the wind plant, you have the huge fan blades at the front driving the generator through a CSD. (Constant Speed Device) There are directional controls for the positioning of the nacelle, a feathering device and the generator itself, all contained in that nacelle, which by its very nature has to be in a confined space for weight saving purposes. All of this is on top of a 340 foot pole. The coal fired plant has 2 units. The wind plant has 425 units spread over what amounts to many square miles. I would suggest that a wind plant would have higher maintenance costs when compared to a coal fired power plant.

True, coal fired power also has other costs, not the least of these the purchase of the coal itself, and in some cases the transport of the coal to the plant. However, in a lot of cases coal fired plants are constructed at, or near to, the source of the coal, and in some cases, the coal fired plant actually owns the coal itself.

That being the case then, with these added costs, let’s again look at just what I wrote in the main article.

What needs to be recovered here is the original Capital cost, and that is spread over the life of the plant and is calculated at recovery by the sale of the electricity at a per unit cost basis, and keep in mind here, that right from the outset I based the whole exercise on the same original cost.

So, here we have this wind plant, which delivers for consumption an amount of that calculated 55.875TWH for a Capital cost of that $3.4 Billion. So then, just to recover that Capital cost alone, the wind plant has to set a base price for the sale of its electricity to the grid, the wholesale price, (not the retail that the consumer pays) set at 6.1 cents per KWH just to recover the Capital cost.

The coal fired plant, just to recover the same Capital cost, charges only 0.44 cents per KWH.

0.44 cents per KWH compared to 6.1 cents per KWH.

The same applies here with all costs. They are spread across the lifetime expected actual total power delivery for the plants, both wind and coal fired, and as you can see, if wind has a considerably shorter lifespan, and a considerably smaller power delivery, then they have less power to recover those costs from, hence any maintenance costs would add a larger increment to wind than to coal fired.

Even with everything added on to make coal look to be more expensive, and with wind power running at the absolute best with no added costs whatsoever, then coal fired power is still infinitely cheaper.

The whole cost structure is based around power actually being delivered for sale, and if the coal fired plant delivers the base 14 times more power, then no matter what added extra costs you load onto the coal fired option, it will still be so much cheaper.

All this is based on worst case scenario for coal fired power and best case scenario for wind.

At the option where wind has a lifespan of only 15 years, which is now proving to be the case, then coal fired power stays at the 0.44 cents per KWH and wind now becomes 10.12 cents per KWH, just to recover the Capital cost.

As I mentioned in the earlier Guest Post, everything is being done to make the coal fired option look expensive, while at the same time making wind look cheap.

I hope this adds some further explanation for you.

 Posted by on 04/06/2013