Power Plant Comparison – Coal-Fired Versus Wind

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 plant

Musselroe 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.

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15 thoughts on “Power Plant Comparison – Coal-Fired Versus Wind

  1. Grumps…. Tony did a great job with this, but should also include maintenance and operations costs to complete the picture. Coal is cheap but it ain’t free.


    Posted by Jeff Wolfers (@JeffinLondon) | May 11, 2013, 11:25 am
  2. Jeff, thanks for this response.

    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.

    Again, sorry to reply at length, but when it comes to replies, I prefer to go with a correct explanation detailing the facts instead of the easy one liners.


    Posted by TonyfromOz | May 11, 2013, 11:08 pm
  3. Thanks for the reply. And for contributing to Grumpy’s blog.

    Wind is clearly a waste of monetary and political capital. It astounds me that new wind towers are being built every day all around the world. I just don’t get it.

    Politicians, apparently, cannot do even simple maths.

    Cheers, Jeff

    Posted by Jeff Wolfers (@JeffinLondon) | May 12, 2013, 8:05 am
  4. I was not happy one little bit that when I clicked on the link to this page and it closed the 12 open pages of other items I wanted to read, it just left https://grumpydenier.wordpress.com/guest-posts/tony-from-oz/power-plant-comparison-coal-fired-versus-wind/ open. Please inform your page designer to correct the problem.

    Posted by David Cliffe | June 2, 2013, 4:42 am
    • If the link you clicked on was from a different source – ie Twitter, website, facebook etc – then I have no control over that, I’m afraid. On here, I try to ensure that every external link automatically opens in a new window or tab. That’s the way I find I prefer to work, myself.

      Posted by grumpydenier | June 2, 2013, 9:21 am
  5. You should add the cost of buying coal to generate 771TWH to the capital cost then recalculate how many TWh windpower can produce for that money. It doesn’t change much the fact that wind is horrendously expensive and wastefull but it will spare you of the usual drivel “wind is free” while keeping the reasonning simple.

    Posted by Jean Demesure | June 4, 2013, 11:15 am
  6. Excellent article. Just one problem: Please change your name to rational sensible person.
    Fans of big wind power avoid discussion of the need for reliable base load power to pump prime the grid, particularly on days when no wind is blowing. They avoid discussion or mention of all the other difficulties of clustering wind turbines near high wind areas, and the constraints imposed by their location relative to distribution infrastructure and energy users.
    A micro wind generation system with a storage solution is a different matter, and like the home solar system, which seems to get cheaper and better each year, will see increasing use and acceptance.

    Posted by sbturner@bigpond.net.au | August 18, 2014, 4:05 am
  7. Reason has no connection to politics or to politicians. Environmentalists have emotion on their side, and emotion almost always trumps reason and facts. Conclusion: The Environmentalists Whackos will win. JT

    Posted by John P. Timbrell | January 5, 2015, 3:17 pm
  8. Hi, I enjoyed reading your article. We live in Sth Aust where the proposed Palmer Wind Facility will be built. There will be 114 of the 4 or the 3.3MW turbines put in our area. The height of these things will be 165m tall at the tip. We have 17 of these turbines with in 2.5km. My question is, do Industrial Wind Turbines actually reduce CO2 emissions due to the coal fired power stations have to keep running because of the inconsistency of wind.

    Posted by Gregory Noel | May 9, 2015, 1:11 am
  9. The current ‘power supply’ decisions are driven by political polemic, and ‘favoured friend’s’ financial interests, never the good of the public or the economy from which we all derive our livelihood from;

    Murphy from Texas

    Posted by Brian k murphy | September 23, 2016, 1:11 pm


  1. Pingback: Another well-crafted article by Tony from Oz | grumpydenier - May 11, 2013

  2. Pingback: Power Plant Comparison – Coal-Fired Versus Wind | ajmarciniak - June 5, 2013

  3. Pingback: Wind Energy Vs Coal Graph - November 28, 2014

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