How carbon pricing changes the relative competitiveness of low-carbon baseload generating technologies

Fig. 1. Levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) for baseload electricity generating technol- ogies. Error bars represent 90% confidence intervals for the mean (bar height).

This 2010 Energy paper by Martin Nicholson, Tom Biegler and Barry W. Brook is a well-researched meta study of levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) and LCA emission intensity. The meta study considers only those sources that can deliver reliable baseload electricity while reducing green house gases; based upon studies published in the last ten years:

Only five current technologies meet these criteria: coal (both pulverised fuel and integrated gasification combined cycle) with carbon capture and storage (CCS); combined cycle gas turbine with CCS; Generation III nuclear fission; and solar thermal backed by heat storage and gas turbines.

It includes coal and gas with CCS even though CCS is by no means proven at scale. It is entirely understandable that the authors include three flavors of fossil-fueled generation with CCS. Otherwise the spectrum of low carbon baseload alternatives comes down to nuclear and solar thermal with gas backup and storage.

The paper is certain to be attacked by solar PV and wind advocates. The focus of their attack will begin with the authors’ ‘Fit-for-Service’ (FFS) critera for low-carbon baseload:

We consider only those low-emission technologies that can provide baseload power. We use a set of objective criteria to select candidates from present and proposed technologies commonly mentioned in the context of future power generation (IEA [14], EIA [12]). Each technology is assessed in Table 1 against the following criteria:

For a technology to be considered fit-for-service (FFS) as a baseload generator it needs to be scalable, dispatchable without large storage3 [15] and have a reliable fuel supply, low (L) or moderate (M) emissions intensity and a high capacity factor as defined in Table 1. Load access is considered to be desirable for transmission cost reasons but is not essential to meeting baseload demand.

Fig. 2. Emission intensity for fit-for-service baseload electricity generating technolo- gies. Error bars represent 90% confidence intervals for the mean (bar height).

The conclusions:

To address the cause of anthropogenic climate change, we must aim to uncouple energy production from greenhouse gas emissions [45]; this requires using only low-carbon technologies for baseload electricity generation. Here we have shown how a systematic approach can be used to identify and qualify potential technologies that are able to supply fit-for-service electricity in sufficient quantities to replace existing fossil-fuel plants (Table 1). There is an abundance of authoritative energy literature on the costs and emission intensities of each of the qualifying technologies ([Table 2] and [Table 3]); these are the focal studies of this meta-review (see Section 2.5). We have also assessed the impact of carbon pricing on the relative costs of the qualified technologies to see how cost competitiveness changes with the anticipated progressive increase in carbon price (Fig. 3).

Our meta-review of the authoritative energy literature shows that the technology options for replacing fossil fuels, based on proven performance and reliable cost projections, are much more limited than is popularly perceived. An objective analysis of these data shows nuclear power to be the standout solution for low-emissions baseload electricity, in terms of cost and ability to meet the timetable for GHG abatement. Further, nuclear power’s relative competitiveness increases as the carbon price rises.

Of the other candidate technologies, solar thermal is, by comparison, the least competitive, and there is no clear evidence that its costs will compete with nuclear, even in the long term. Further, depending on CCS technologies delivering the desired emissions outcome by 2050 is a risky strategy at this stage of their development. Renewable energy technologies are unlikely to be able to supply the majority of electricity for most regions at reasonable cost, particularly in the urgent timeframe required for effective climate change mitigation.

I have downloaded this paper for our energy policy archive. After a careful reading I am confident you will be archiving the paper as well.