Is Wind Power Cheaper Than Coal Fired Power? – Well, No

So many times I have seen the comment that Wind Power is cheaper than Coal Fired Power, when it comes to constructing any new type of Power Plant. The comment always comes from someone who is a supporter of Wind Power, and when I attempt to explain how it isn’t a cheaper way to go, I then become the person with an agenda.

Stetson Mountain Wind Plant – Washington County Maine

Stetson Mountain Wind Plant – Washington County Maine

It’s easier to believe that one liner that it’s cheaper, than it is to understand why it actually isn’t cheaper. The mistake often made is that this is a theoretical statement based loosely around a set of facts, and it deals with NEW plants that may be constructed, because for existing power generation Coal Fired Power is far cheaper than Wind Power could ever hope to be.

You’ll hear quoted things like EROI (Estimated Return Of Investment) or even LCOE (Levelised Cost Of Electricity) and these provide the headline numbers that make Wind ‘seem’ to be cheaper, and from that, green supporters accept that headline number, without having the understanding as to how those figures were come by.

So then, let me explain how this method of theoretical calculation is arrived at, and how it is manipulated to make it ‘seem’ that any new Wind plant can be made to look cheaper than a Coal Fired plant.

To do that, first you need to understand the end result that all these theoretical calculations are made from. That comes from the actual power that the plant generates over its life span, and from that, they can then calculate how much needs to be charged per unit of electricity to recover all the costs involved.

A typical Wind Plant might have a lifespan of 25 years and a typical Coal Fired plant will have a base lifespan of 50 years.

There is an Industry formula for this power actually delivered for consumption, and that formula is:

NP X 24 X 365.25 X CF

Here, NP stands for Nameplate Capacity. There are 24 hours in a day and 365.25 days in a year, with the leap year taken into account as the .25 extra. CF stands for the Capacity Factor of the plant. This CF is the ratio of power actually generated to the theoretical maximum power if the plant were to run at 100% for the whole year round. For a typical large-scale coal fired plant, while ever it is running it is generating its maximum power. The only down time is for scheduled maintenance, when the plant is not delivering power. When it comes to Wind power though, the generators can only generate their power when the wind is blowing and turning the huge blades that drive the generator.

Typically, for a large-scale coal fired plants, their CF is around 75 to 80%. The newer technology UltraSuperCritical plants currently being constructed all over China are running at a capacity of around 93%, and have been doing that for almost four years since they started going in. As a plant of this type ages, it requires more maintenance, hence more down time each year, so the CF quite naturally lowers, but a figure of 80% is not out of the question as current long term large scale coal fired plants, some in operation for many decades have in fact been running at this level.

With Wind plants however, that capacity is considerably lower. Often quoted at around 30 to 35%, all across the World Wind Power is currently averaging between 15 and 25%.

So for this purpose, I will be using 77.5% for coal fired power, and 25% for Wind power, probably on the low side for large scale coal fired power, and on the high side for wind, but as you will see the end result is surprising to say the least.

While power plants are of many and differing sizes, here, for the purposes of this theoretical exercise, I have used the same initial size for the calculation, and that will be 1000MW. A typical large-scale wind plant might only be of 500MW in size and that will be approximately 170 huge towers. A typical large-scale coal fired plant will be around 2000MW and will have two large generators, so for the purpose of equivalence, here I am using the same starting point, 1000MW.

So using the same calculation for Wind we have the following. (KWH, MWH GWH and TWH are multiples of 1000 used to signify power delivered over time, with the WH meaning WattHours, the K for Kilo, M for Mega, G for Giga, and T for Tera)

1000 X 24 X 365.25 X 0.25 giving a one-year total power delivered of 2191500MWH or 2191.5GWH, and a power delivery over its lifetime (25 years) of 54.8TWH.

For coal-fired power we have this.

1000 X 24 X 365.25 X 0.775 giving us 6793650MWH or 6793.7GWH and a lifetime (50 years) power delivery of 340TWH

So, see the difference here with Coal Fired power delivering 6.2 times more power.

Now, from that end result of the power total, they can then work out how much they can charge per unit of electricity to recover their costs.

Can you see that with coal fired power delivering so much more power over a much longer period of time, then their unit cost for the electricity they deliver is lower, not just lower, but considerably lower?

So, now knowing that, how could the numbers be manipulated to make wind ‘seem’ cheaper, when it is so patently not cheaper?

They play with the data from both forms of generation to artificially lower the cost for wind while at the same time raising the cost of coal fired power by manipulation. So then, let’s look at how they do this.

Click here for Page 2

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© Tony from Oz 2013


8 thoughts on “Is Wind Power Cheaper Than Coal Fired Power? – Well, No

  1. This was posted on another blog.

    You conveniently forgot to include costs for carbon capture/climate change/environmental degradation.

    To which I pointed out that this was covered on page 2. The article’s author has passed on some further thoughts, which I will post here.

    It seems that sometimes, people don’t even read the whole article.

    Carbon Capture is dealt with in the article. It is a process that will never be realised on the scale required, and yet, it is always used as a driver for those costs.

    Climate Change is also dealt with in the section under Carbon Dioxide and ETS, where I mention that these costs are used as add ons to the overall cost.

    As to environmental degradation, you have ONE large scale coal fired plant that covers a relatively small localised area to be cleaned up after possibly 50 years. For an equivalent Wind Plant delivering the same electrical power, you would have in the region of 500+ towers, delivering only one third of the power on a yearly basis, so realistically to deliver the same power, you are effectively looking at three maybe four Wind Plants, spread over a vast area, and to clean that up would cost considerably more than cleaning up the one coal-fired plant, and then, as the life span is only half that of the coal-fired plant, you have to do this every 25 years as opposed to the 50 years for the one coal-fired plant.

    Environmental degradation. Does that take in the known and documented data that wind plants kill many different species of birds and bats.

    Environmental degradation. Does that take in the now documented and proven data of the human medical problems associated with low intensity noise from wind towers.

    Environmental degradation. Does that take into account people driven from their land by those medical problems.

    Environmental degradation. Does that take in loss of visual acuity of the landscape with hundreds of towers detracting from looking at the actual environment.

    Grumpy, I hope this is of assistance.


    Posted by grumpydenier | April 24, 2013, 12:59 pm
  2. Another good reason to stop the insidious march of these useless follies?

    Wind turbines ‘could allow enemy jets to sneak into British airspace’

    The Ministry of Defence is fighting plans for two giant wind turbines over fears the towers could mark enemy jets entering British airspace.

    Posted by grumpydenier | April 25, 2013, 1:58 pm
  3. Excellent article Tony from Oz. Keep em’ coming.

    Posted by orcadiana | May 4, 2013, 7:52 pm
  4. Let’s consider what a wind-powered hospital in New York might look like. NYU’s Langone Medical Center lost power shortly after Sandy hit. The hospital had diesel-fired emergency generators, but basement flooding caused them to fail. That required the evacuation of hundreds of patients.
    Assume the hospital needs one megawatt of emergency electricity-generation capacity. Lives are at stake. It needs power immediately. That capability could easily be provided by a single, trailer-mounted diesel generator, which would occupy a small corner of the hospital’s garage (and be safely removed from any flooding threat). By contrast, providing that much wind-generation capacity would require about 5.6 million square feet of land—an area of nearly 100 football fields. And all of that assumes that the land is available, the wind is blowing, and there are enough transmission lines to carry those wind-generated electrons from the countryside into Lower Manhattan.http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/after-sandy-no-one-lined-up-for-wind.html

    Posted by joe from Australia | May 30, 2013, 9:35 am
  5. The best place to look for any energy information, including the cost of wind vs. coal can be found in data collected by the EIA – Energy Information Administration. That is a cool place for number guys like me.

    Based on data I found in the EIA’s Annual Energy Review for 2012 I wrote an article that included a chart from that report comparing the 2016 projected, levelized costs for energy from a bunch of different sources. According to it “conventional coal” will cost $94.8/kWh and wind will cost $97/kWh. However, “Advanced coal with CCS” will cost $136.2/kWh.n

    Of course, by then, natural gas will be cheapest and solar the most expensive. Off-shore wind is also prohibitively expensive.

    My article is here:

    Most of the source data for that article comes from here:

    Posted by azleader | June 7, 2013, 9:58 pm
  6. I’m pleased that I seen this website, precisely the proper information that I was trying to find! cgaeeegdbgcg

    Posted by Johnd632 | July 24, 2014, 9:16 am


  1. Pingback: A new series of Guest posts by Tony from Oz | grumpydenier - April 22, 2013

  2. Pingback: Dispatches – 23 August 2013 (Dichotomy – 2 of a series) | grumpydenier - August 23, 2013

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