Cost of switching from fossil fuels to renewables

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Every wind farm costs a few million pounds to build and delivers a few megawatts. As a very rough ballpark figure in 2008, installing one watt of capacity costs one pound; one kilowatt costs 1000 pounds; a megawatt of wind costs a million; a gigawatt of nuclear costs a billion or perhaps two. Other renewables are more expensive. We (the UK) currently consume a total power of roughly 300 GW, most of which is fossil fuel. So we can anticipate that a major switching from fossil fuel to renewables and/or nuclear is going to require roughly 300 GW of renewables and/or nuclear and tidal stream farms^5

\ wave farm % tidal stream wind farm lagoon solar power on roofs

* photovoltaic farm biofuels

] wood / mlscanthus

• nuclear power station A waste Incinerator new pumped storage + existing pumped storage

\ wave farm % tidal stream wind farm lagoon solar power on roofs

* photovoltaic farm biofuels

Playas Del Norte Brasil

Figure 28.2. A plan that adds up, for Scotland, England, and Wales. The grey-green squares are wind farms. Each is 100 km2 in size and is shown to scale.

The red lines in the sea are wave farms, shown to scale. Light-blue lightning-shaped polygons: solar photovoltaic farms -20 km2 each, shown to scale. Blue sharp-cornered polygons in the sea: tide farms.

Blue blobs in the sea (Blackpool and the Wash): tidal lagoons. Light-green land areas: woods and short-rotation coppices (to scale). Yellow-green areas: biofuel (to scale). Small blue triangles: waste incineration plants (not to scale). Big brown diamonds: clean coal power stations, with cofiring of biomass, and carbon capture and storage (not to scale). Purple dots: nuclear power stations (not to scale) - 3.3 GW average production at each of 12 sites. Yellow hexagons across the channel: concentrating solar power facilities in remote deserts (to scale, 335 km2 each). The pink wiggly line in France represents new HVDC lines, 2000 km long, conveying 40 GW from remote deserts to the UK. Yellow stars in Scotland: new pumped storage facilities. Red stars: existing pumped storage facilities.

Blue dots: solar panels for hot water on all roofs.


Rough cost total per person

Average power delivered

52 onshore wind farms: 5200 km2

29 offshore wind farms: 2900 km2

Pumped storage: 15 facilities similar to Dinorwig

Photovoltaic farms: 1000 km2

Solar hot water panels: 1 m2 of roof-mounted panel per person. (60 km2 total)

Waste incinerators: 100 new 30 MW incinerators

Heat pumps

Wave farms - 2500 Pelamis, 130 km of sea

Severn barrage: 550 km2

Tidal lagoons: 800 km2

Tidal stream: 15 000 turbines - 2000 km2

Nuclear power: 40 stations

Clean coal

Concentrating solar power in deserts: 2700 km2

Land in Europe for 1600 km of HVDC power lines: 1200 km2

2000 km of HVDC power lines

Biofuels: 30 000 km2

Wood/Miscanthus: 31 000 km2

35 GW

29 GW

30 GW 48 GW


(0.76 GW average) 8GW (2 GW average) 1.75 GW average 18 GW

40 GW average 50 GW 50 GW

- based on Lewis wind farm

- based on Kentish Flats, & including £3bn investment in jack-up barges.

- based on Solarpark in Bavaria

- based on SELCHP

- based on Olkiluoto, Finland

- based on SolUcar



16 kWh/d/p

- assuming land costs £7500 per ha

- based on German Aerospace Center estimates

(cost not estimated) (cost not estimated)

Table 28.3. Areas of land and sea required by plan M, and rough costs. Costs with a question mark are for technologies where no accurate cost is yet available from prototypes. "1 GW(th)" denotes one GW of thermal power.

thus have a cost in the ballpark of £300 billion. The rough costs in table 28.3 add up to £870bn, with the solar power facilities dominating the total - the photovoltaics cost £190bn and the concentrating solar stations cost £340bn. Both these costs might well come down dramatically as we learn by doing. A government report leaked by the Guardian in August 2007 estimates that achieving "20% by 2020" (that is, 20% of all energy from renewables, which would require an increase in renewable power of 80 GW) could cost "up to £22billion" (which would average out to £1.7billion per year). Even though this estimate is smaller than the £80 billion that the rule of thumb I just mentioned would have suggested, the authors of the leaked report seem to view £22 billion as an "unreasonable" cost, preferring a target of just 9% renewables. (Another reason they give for disliking the "20% by 2020" target is that the resulting greenhouse gas savings "risk making the EU emissions trading scheme redundant." Terrifying thought!)

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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