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Why Wind Is Not Coal: On the Economics of Electricity

Listed author(s):
  • Lion Hirth

    (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Vattenfall GmbH, Geremany)

  • Falko Ueckerdt

    (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany)

  • Ottmar Edenhofer

    (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Chair Economics of Climate Change, Technische Universität Berlin and Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), Germany)

The economics of electricity is shaped by its physics. A well know example is the non-storability of electricity that causes its price to fluctuate widely. More generally, physical constraints cause electricity to be a heterogeneous good along three dimensions - time, space, and lead-time. Consequently, different generation technologies, such as coal and wind power, produce different economic goods that have a different marginal economic value. Welfare maximization or competitiveness analyses that ignore heterogeneity deliver biased estimates. This paper provides an analytical welfare-economic framework that accounts for heterogeneity for unbiased assessments of power generators. The framework offers a rigorous interpretation of commonly used cost indicators such as ‘levelized electricity costs’ and ‘grid parity’. Heterogeneity is relevant for all generators, but especially for variable renewables such as wind and solar power. We propose a definition of ‘variability’, derive the opportunity costs of variability, and link that concept to the ‘integration cost’ literature. A literature review shows that variability can reduce the value of wind power by 20-50%. Thus it is crucial that economic analysis accounts for the physics of electricity.

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Paper provided by Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei in its series Working Papers with number 2014.39.

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Date of creation: Apr 2014
Handle: RePEc:fem:femwpa:2014.39
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  1. Holttinen, H., 2005. "Optimal electricity market for wind power," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(16), pages 2052-2063, November.
  2. Nagl, Stephan & Fürsch, Michaela & Jägemann, Cosima & Bettzüge, Marc Oliver, 2011. "The economic value of storage in renewable power systems - the case of thermal energy storage in concentrating solar plants," EWI Working Papers 2011-8, Energiewirtschaftliches Institut an der Universitaet zu Koeln (EWI).
  3. Paul Simshauser, 2011. "The Hidden Costs of Wind Generation in a Thermal Power System: What Cost?," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 44(3), pages 269-292, 09.
  4. Andreas Schröder & Friedrich Kunz & Jan Meiss & Roman Mendelevitch & Christian von Hirschhausen, 2013. "Current and Prospective Costs of Electricity Generation until 2050," Data Documentation 68, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  5. Neuhoff, Karsten & Ehrenmann, Andreas & Butler, Lucy & Cust, Jim & Hoexter, Harriet & Keats, Kim & Kreczko, Adam & Sinden, Graham, 2008. "Space and time: Wind in an investment planning model," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 1990-2008, July.
  6. Brigitte Knopf & Bjorn Bakken & Samuel Carrara & Amit Kanudia & Ilkka Keppo & Tiina Koljonen & Silvana Mima & Eva Schmid & Detlef Van Vuuren, 2013. "Transforming the European Energy System: Member States' Prospects within the EU Framework," Post-Print halshs-00936127, HAL.
  7. Heide, Dominik & von Bremen, Lueder & Greiner, Martin & Hoffmann, Clemens & Speckmann, Markus & Bofinger, Stefan, 2010. "Seasonal optimal mix of wind and solar power in a future, highly renewable Europe," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 35(11), pages 2483-2489.
  8. Nagl, Stephan & Fürsch, Michaela & Lindenberger, Dietmar, 2012. "The costs of electricity systems with a high share of fluctuating renewables - a stochastic investment and dispatch optimization model for Europe," EWI Working Papers 2012-1, Energiewirtschaftliches Institut an der Universitaet zu Koeln (EWI).
  9. Erin Baker & Meredith Fowlie & Derek Lemoine & Stanley S. Reynolds, 2013. "The Economics of Solar Electricity," Annual Review of Resource Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 5(1), pages 387-426, June.
  10. Hirth, Lion, 2013. "The market value of variable renewables," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 218-236.
  11. Martin, Brian & Diesendorf, Mark, 1983. "The economics of large-scale wind power in the UK A model of an optimally mixed CEGB electricity grid," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 259-266, September.
  12. Edenhofer, Ottmar & Hirth, Lion & Knopf, Brigitte & Pahle, Michael & Schlömer, Steffen & Schmid, Eva & Ueckerdt, Falko, 2013. "On the economics of renewable energy sources," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(S1), pages 12-23.
  13. Severin Borenstein, 2012. "The Private and Public Economics of Renewable Electricity Generation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(1), pages 67-92, Winter.
  14. Taylor, Lance & Black, Stephen L., 1974. "Practical general equilibrium estimation of resource pulls under trade liberalization," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 37-58, April.
  15. Francis Bessière, 1970. "The "Investment '85" Model of Electricite de France," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 17(4), pages 192-211, December.
  16. Ueckerdt, Falko & Hirth, Lion & Luderer, Gunnar & Edenhofer, Ottmar, 2013. "System LCOE: What are the costs of variable renewables?," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 61-75.
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