Beware the Message

Beware the Message

The debate over energy, the green new deal and climate change has resulted in the art of obfuscation being advanced to new heights.

Energy and science are inherently complicated, but the laws governing these activities are rigid. Laws, such as, energy can neither be created or destroyed, are absolute. 

While the laws can’t be changed, it’s possible to modify perceptions by adding value judgments.

Value judgments are at the heart of obfuscation.

Coal is perhaps the least costly method for generating electricity. But, when a  price for CO2 is added, the cost of electricity increases. Without the cost of CO2, the LCOE for coal is under 6 cents per kWh, but adding a $15 charge for CO2 increases the LCOE to nearly 10 cents per kWh.

The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) has been a standard cost measurement for decades.

Based on LCOEs, the two least costly methods for generating electricity are coal-fired and natural gas combine cycle (NGCC) power plants.

The advent of the climate change debate and the introduction of renewables has resulted in a plethora of measurements to make it appear as though wind and solar are competitive with coal and natural gas.

Computers have assisted in the development of new hard to understand measurements. These new measurements have two advantages. The programs used to manipulate the new measurements are indecipherable to the average person. Even experienced engineers will have difficulty performing the tedious task of reviewing the logic and mathematics, always calculus, when trying to determine the validity of the new measurement.

The second advantage is that they can be used to obfuscate an issue and mislead people.

The latest of these new measurements has been introduced by the International Energy Agency in its WEO2018 Outlook and its WEM2018 (World Energy Model 2018).

The IEA has created the VALCOE (Value Added Levelized Cost of Electricity).

It’s ideally suited for obfuscation.

Quoting from the WEM2018:

“The value-adjusted LCOE (VALCOE) is a new metric for competitiveness for power generation technologies and was developed for the WEO-2018, building on the capabilities of the WEM hourly power supply model. It is intended to complement the LCOE, which only captures relevant information on costs and does not reflect the differing value propositions of technologies.

Who determines the value propositions of technologies? Who determines what is bad and what is good?

Now, we have a measurement that few people can understand and that is based on opinion, because that is what value judgments are.

This would all be amusing and relegated to the province of academia if it wasn’t used to propagandize people about the cost of electricity that affects every person’s household budget.

We have reached the point where it’s not possible to believe anything published by the media.

Perhaps the only way to determine whether what’s reported by the media is true, is to look at the outcomes of actions taken in different areas of the country.

For example, the cost of electricity in California is 50 percent higher than in states that haven’t adopted renewables. The cost of electricity in Germany, with its Energiewende program to cut CO2 emissions, is 4 times the average cost of electricity in the United States. 

As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, not the pretty picture on the cover of the box containing the pudding mix.

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4 Replies to “Beware the Message”

    • Yes, LCOEs can be manipulated by the assumptions used in the calculation. I noted on several occassions that the LCOEs published by the EIA at the time, used the same life for both the wind and natural gas LCOEs. NGCC plants have lives of 40 to 60 years while wind has a useful life of 20 or so years. This distorts the LCOEs.

    • Uisng the suugested link shows capital costs for new construction of a coal-fired power plant and compares them with a Thorcon plant. It would be helpul if the type of caol-fired power plant was mentioned. HELE plants are more expensive than previously built supercritical plants. Since only one HELE plant has been built in the US it’s probably not indicative of the cost of a new HELE plant if built in the US today. Capital costs for other plants weren’t shown.