Levelized Costs of New Electric Generation

Levelized Costs of New Electric Generation
Levelized Costs of New Electric Generation

The levelized cost of electricity includes all factors - construction costs, capital costs, fuel costs and whatever additional  costs may be required to connect the generator to the grid.

The above graph shows the comparative costs for 16 different ways of generating electricity, ranging from coal and the fossil fuels to nuclear, geothermal, offshore wind and photovoltaic panels. The horizontal axis separates the different generating sources. The vertical axis represents costs. The highests bars represent the most expensive forms of generation. 

Construction costs are defined as "fixed operating and maintenance costs" and represented by the pale blue bar. As can be seen, these are very low for natural gas plants, relative high for nuclear and coal with carbon capture and storage, and extremely high for offshore wind and solar.

Capital costs are mainly a reflection of how long it takes to build the plant. Nuclear has the largest capital costs because reactors take the longest to build. Gas plants can be built teh fastest and only geothermal and biomass plants have significant capital components.

Variable operating and maintenance costs mainly means fuel.  They are represented by the darkest blue bar. Fuel costs are very highly for natural gas - even with the recent price drops - medium for coal and very low for nuclear, wind, solar and hydroelectric.

Finally, transmission costs are represented by the orange bar at the top. Only wind and solar have significant transmission costs since they are often located in remote areas and must be connected to population centers.

Altogether, offshore wind is by far the most expensive form of generation, with solar thermal second and photovoltaic panels third. All the others are bunched together with only coal with carbon capture notably high. Gas with combined cycle, both conventional and advanced, is by far the cheapest form of generation, which explains why most new plants are now burning gas. Wind constitutes another large component of recent generation but that is because of the production tax credit, which makes it highly profitable to build windmills even if they do not generate much electricity. The PTC is currently under review by Congress and may not be renewed.

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