The true cost of clean energy

So much has changed since I published my book. In the grand scheme of things they are merely a few details, but I kinda wish the world would stay still for a little while. Well, actually I don’t. I relish change and new challenges, that is why I added an erratum and update section to the site for The Volatile Fickle Unpredictable Undependable Price of Oil.
It is also why I took a course on energy. That might seem a little dumb, after all, I just wrote a book on the subject. But, and it is a big but, I love to learn. And Professor David Keith led the course and I love his article on the rebound effect.
So I signed up, not sure what to expect from the course and experiencing a baptism of fire when it comes to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC – I kid you not). After 10 weeks of slog, watching videos, reading materials, doing sums (lots and lots of sums) and writing four essays, I am now qualified in “Energy and the Environment”.

And my take home? (horrible jargon, but I think you know what I mean) – the Levelised Cost Of Energy – LCOE to its friends.
I wish I had stumbled across this handy little tool while I was writing my book. It is a great way of showing how the cost of energy from different sources varies and how the cost of using energy differs too. Now when we were comparing the running costs of halogen and LED light bulbs the sums were easy, but when it comes to working out the cost of energy from power plants you really need a specialist. That is why I was delighted to find a Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) document that lists the levelised costs of many forms of electricity generation.
Even though I am keen that we decarbonise, some of the costs were surprising and I want to share them with you. Please bear in mind that these costs are from 2013. As the department will shortly close, I don’t think we can expect an update for some time.

What is good? Well, a gas-fired combined cycle power station built in 2019 will generate electricity at a cost of £85 MWh. That is before profit and is calculated with a discount rate of 10%. Remember UK electricity generation is a private industry. This number assumes that we have progressed up a learning curve and are producing at low costs. Now for the other numbers:

The Levelised Cost of Energy for a range of electricity generation plants (£ per MWh)
The Levelised Cost of Energy for a range of electricity generation plants (£ per MWh) (click to get a bigger version)

You have probably heard of most of the generation methods, but just in case some are new to you…

Just this morning I picked up an article about Levelised Costs and found a very different set of numbers – it seems that even this numerate topic won’t stand still.


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