The Challenge Ahead For Renewables: Part 2

In Part 1 I showed how the low Capacity Factors of wind and solar mean enormous amounts of wastage of resources and money have been incurred over the past 20 years. 

I also said that the wastage can only get worse.  Here’s how.

In Part 1, I only looked at historical electricity generation.  What of the future according to the major political parties? (The Greens don’t count because they can’t count.)

The major parties are committed to Net Zero emissions by 2050, which will require massive changes to our energy use.

I use data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021, the National Energy Market website, and the report of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (2021).

To replace 2020 fossil fuel electricity with renewable electricity will require an extra 200.6 TeraWattHours:

Figure 1:  Total Electricity Generation

That’s an extra 22,884 MegaWatts of renewable capacity at 100% capacity factor.  Remember, wind’s capacity factor is about 32%, and solar is about 15%.  At $1.8 million per MW, that will cost somewhere between 129 and 275 billion dollars. 

That is of course entirely achievable.  Costly, but achievable.

However, electricity makes up only a small part of Australia’s total energy use.  Transport alone uses much more.  That is why there is a push for more electric vehicles: the ALP wants 89% of new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030.

Australia’s 2020 energy consumption was 5,568.59 PetaJoules, a decrease of 5.25% on 2019.  One PetaJoule is the equivalent of 0.278 TeraWattHours, or 277,778 MegaWattHours, which is the power generated by 31.7 MW over one year.

Figure 2:  Total Energy Consumption in Australia

Renewables of all sorts accounted for just 8% of energy consumed in Australia in 2020.  Include hydro and that rises to 10.4%.  Figure 2 shows the amount for each.

Figure 3:  Energy Consumption by Type

Note the complete absence of nuclear energy.

If Australia is to be completely fossil fuel free (with no increase on 2020 consumption, which was reduced because of Covid), renewables will have to produce an extra 4,990.9 PetaJoules.  Our consumption will look like this:

Figure 4:  Energy Consumption without Fossil Fuels

4,990.9 PJ is 1.387 billion MegaWattHours, which will need 158,152 MW generation (at 100% capacity)- only 27.8 times 2020 generation.

If this is to be supplied by wind alone, we will need an additional 494,225 MW of installed capacity in wind farms- 52 times 2020 wind capacity- at 24 Hectares per MW.  An extra 118,600 square kilometres of suitable land for wind farms will be difficult to find.

Solar at 2-3 Hectares per MW would probably be a better proposition.  If the extra generation is to come from solar, we will need an extra 1,054,357 MW- 60 times 2020 solar capacity.

Therefore the cost of meeting our current energy consumption- transport, domestic, commercial, and industrial- with no allowance for growth, and ignoring the cost of converting our entire domestic, commercial, industrial, mining, and air transport capacity to some form of electric vehicles, would be between:-

$ 889.6 BILLION  (if all wind)


$1.898 TRILLION (if all solar).

(Australia’s nominal GDP will be around $2.1 trillion in 2022.)

That’s up to $73,700 for every man, woman, and child in Australia.

Figure 5 shows the comparison between Australian GDP and the cost of solar generation needed.

Figure 5:  Cost of extra solar generation compared with the whole of the economy

How much of that investment would be in wasted capacity? Between 68% and 85%-from $605 Billion to $1.613 Trillion.

Moreover, the life of a wind turbine is 20 to 25 years, and 25 years for solar panels, so we can look forward to more expense in decommissioning and replacement in the future.

(By the way- do you think that “future technology and innovation” will be any cheaper?)

That’s just what would be the result of the major parties’ commitment to Net Zero.

But wait- there’s more. Stand by for Part 3.

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8 Responses to “The Challenge Ahead For Renewables: Part 2”

  1. Garth Says:

    Ken, nicely put together as always. I think you deserve the first morning presentation slot of any net-zero / power generation conferences in 2020. You’d help them take a longer lunch… Looking forward to Part 3. Happy New Year, Garth

  2. kenskingdom Says:

    Thanks Garth (and also John and Brian.)

  3. John in Oz Says:

    May I assume that part 3 will add the additional generation required to power the EVs, including ?,000’s of charging stations to domestic infrastructure upgrades to allow overnight charging and the high voltage power lines to get from solar/wind farms to a GPO?

    Again, good work but preaching to the innumerate (if they bother to read it)

    • kenskingdom Says:

      No, far beyond that. Although the additional infrastructure for EVs is not included in Pt 2 costs, but I have no idea how much extra that will cost. Downtime for recharging will be another cost- time is money.

  4. Pauly Says:

    Ken, perhaps a discussion on the cost of storage, given that the biggest problem with renewables remains its intermittency, Despite the claims of renewable advocates, first world civilisations still require base load power to be supplied all through the night. Base load demand will only increase as electrification of vehicles becomes a reality. So how much will storage cost us?

    • kenskingdom Says:

      Not just storage either- transmission lines, substations, charging points for vehicles, building hydrogen plants, losses involved in electrolysis of water, conversion to ammonia and back again, conversion of hydrogen to motive power…….

  5. Allan Says:

    This paper may add to your analysis

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