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The Future Cost of Power Generation: Capital costs, the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), power economics and the balance between conventional and renewable technologies, New Report Launched

Chapter 1 Electricity and fuel cost trends: the signature of the past and signs for the future

The power generation and supply industries are facing unparalleled changes as renewable generating technologies are promoted to reduce atmospheric carbon emissions, challenging the dominance of fossil fuel based technologies in the process. Grid operation is beginning to change to accommodate these new resources and the structure of grid systems is beginning to fragment as distributed generation grows. Meanwhile a revolution in oil and gas production in the USA is having ramifications for gas and coal costs that has already spread to other regions. Even so, fossil fuel generation, primarily based on coal, still dominates global generation. However this is much more pronounced in the developing world than in the developed where renewable generation is growing faster than other types. The Asia-Pacific region now has the largest global electricity production, followed by Europe and then North America. Global fuel prices have been rising everywhere during the past decade although shale oil and gas has led to a fall in gas prices in the USA in the past two years. In most regions coal is the cheapest fuel if it is available. Electricity costs have followed or exceeded fuel prices in their rises and domestic consumers have been penalized more than other groups in recent years, suggesting that this group is being unfairly treated in a market-driven electricity sector.

Chapter 2 The capital cost of power generation technologies

The capital cost of a power plant is, along with the cost of fuel, one of the key determinants of the cost of electricity. Capital cost trends are therefore one of the most important indicators of the changing balance between different technologies. For renewable technologies the capital cost is the main cost determinant since there is no fuel cost. Renewable plants generally have lower capacity factors than conventional and nuclear plants and this must also be taken into account when assessing overall economic performance. The cheapest type of power plant from a capital cost perspective is a gas turbine based station. The gas turbine is a globally traded commodity and price competition is fierce. Best of all is a combined cycle plant which is both cheap and highly efficient. A typical pulverised coal fired plant will cost almost twice as much as the combined cycle plant. Adding carbon capture and storage pushes the prices of both up but adds relatively more to the cost of the combined cycle plant than it does to the coal plant. Of the main renewable technologies, hydropower and onshore wind are more expensive than a gas turbine plant but cheaper than a coal plant. Solar photovoltaic costs are higher than either fossil fuel based technology although costs are falling rapidly. Solar thermal generation is more costly still. All these costs vary regionally depending on local labour costs and the need to import sophisticated components and this can affect the balance between technologies.

Chapter 3 The future cost of electricity: the levelized cost of power from conventional, nuclear and renewable technologies

In order to identify the best technology for a given power development, one of the key determining factors will be the cost of electricity from the plant. To determine the future cost of power an economic model called the levelized cost of electricity model is used. When this modelling is carried out the cheapest source of power in the USA is a combined cycle power plant burning natural gas. However elsewhere nuclear and even coal-fired generation can theoretically be more cost effective. Of the main renewable technologies, hydropower can be cost effective in many parts of the world although opportunities in the developed world are scarce. Wind and solar generation are becoming increasingly competitive too and may already have reached parity in some situations. Adding carbon capture and storage to a fossil fuel power plant can push the cost of electricity from such facilities above that from the main renewable generation technologies. Meanwhile short term predictions for future costs show all the main renewable technology costs falling relative to conventional sources. There are sharp variations in the cost of electricity from plants in different regions of the world. These reflect both differing market conditions and in some cases the effects of subsidies.

Chapter 4 Global electricity generating capacity and the cost of power: technology growth trends and prospects

The production of electricity will double, globally over the next thirty years. Much of this growth will take place in the developing world but there will be some increase in capacity within the developed world too. Trends differ between the two groups however with fossil fuel production continuing to grow in the developing world while across the developed world there is a more pronounced shift towards renewable generation. In both regions, however, natural gas will become increasingly popular for power generation too and this could accelerate if oil and gas from shale deposits is exploited in regions other than the USA. Meanwhile most of the growth in coal-based generation will be found in China and India. How fast renewable generation will increase depends on a range of factors and predictions differ from a doubling of capacity by 2030 to an increase of more than ten times. The shift towards renewables is already beginning to change the role of conventional power plants such as combined cycle facilities which will have to offer grid support roles in the future. At the same time predictions of future electricity costs show costs from the main renewable sources falling relative to conventional generation sources. More global financial investment is now flowing into renewable generation than into conventional generation. Whether this will continue and how overall investment will hold up may depend on developments in developing world countries that have profited from the global crisis but may now be starting to suffer as markets elsewhere show signs of recovery.

Spanning over 123 pages, The Future Cost of Power Generation: Capital costs, the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), power economics and the balance between conventional and renewable technologies” report covering the Executive summary, Electricity and fuel cost trends: the signature of the past and signs for the future, The capital cost of power generation technologies, The future cost of electricity: the levelized cost of power from conventional, nuclear and renewable technologies, Global electricity generating capacity and the cost of power: technology growth trends and prospects

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