The costs of cycling a steam power plant

Advocates of intermittent power such as wind or solar generally suppress discussion of the costs such plants impose on the rest of the grid. Thanks to Peter Lang and John Morgan we have a very up to date analysis of the cycling costs imposed on a typical 500 MW coal plant: Make Your Plant Ready for Cycling Operations.

Aside from cost, there is another important impact of intermittent wind/solar – the inefficient operation of the backup plants increases their GHG emissions. We don’t yet have definitive studies to confirm where the wind power cross-over is – from my reading I’m guessing that marginal new wind power creates more (not less) GHG emissions when penetration gets above 20 to 30%.

UPDATE: please see also the related APTECH study “Integrating Wind: Cost of Cycling Analysis For Xcel Energy’s Harrington Station Unit 3 (phase 1 of 3 part report)”. Unit 3 is a pulverized coal plant.

2 thoughts on “The costs of cycling a steam power plant

  1. This is so useful! Thanks a million for the share. I’ve been interested in the transient operations of power plant steam cycles, and ideally the simulations I’m doing will be able to achieve some level of representation of this. I’m very interested in the economic impacts of different modes of operation, but it’s not so simple when you consider the the greatest detriment to doing maneuvering is the decrease in useful life of the equipment.

    Previously I only had a few numbers for cycling costs regarding nuclear units that came from an IAEA report in the 1980s, but it appears that your link adds to my library in this area. I presented on this subject several times to answer questions regarding the optimal operation of a multi-unit site. Fuel use is one variable in the optimization equation, but the choice of hot standby of one unit versus throttling of several units involves consideration of equipment life as well, and it’s not easy to make blanket statements for all cases.

  2. Alan – thanks heaps for your comments. Given a source of funding, Intertek APTECH (the authors’ consulting firm) would probably be qualified to investigate the intermittency costs of wind power.

    To see if there is anything useful to your investigations, there is another web-published APTECH study “Integrating Wind: Cost of Cycling Analysis For Xcel Energy’s Harrington Station Unit 3 (phase 1 of 3 part report)”:

    Unit 3 is a pulverized coal plant.

    If you have seen any studies on intermittency costs that you believe, please advise. No doubt you’ve seen “The economics of large-scale wind power in a carbon constrained world” by DeCarolis and Keith, 2004. Their results look awfully low to me.

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