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Levelized Energy Cost Comparison

Using publicly available information, and some educated guesses, I have come up with this comparison of the levelized energy costs of four very different power sources:

  • The rooftop solar array on our house
  • Waldpolenz Solar Park, a 40 megawatt photovoltaic power plant in Germany
  • Portlands Energy Centre, a newly constructed, combined cycle natural gas turbine just east of downtown Toronto
  • Darlington Nuclear Power Station, the most efficient nuclear power plant in Ontario, a hour’s drive east of Toronto

  Our rooftop solar array Waldpolenz Solar Park
(photovoltaics, Germany)
Portlands Energy Center
(natural gas turbine, Toronto)

Darlington (nuclear power station, Toronto)  
Nameplate capacity
0.00315 MW 40 MW 550 MW 3,610 MW Notes
Capacity factor 13.6% 11.5% 40% 75% Notes
Total annual output
(megawatt hours)
3.75 MWh 40,296 MWh 1,927,200 MWh 23,717,700 MWh Notes
Cost to build $27,000 $195,000,000 $730,000,000 $14,400,000,000 Notes
Number of employees 0 0.1 25 1,800 Notes
Average annual salary of employees $0 $60,000 $75,000 $100,000 Notes
Annual salary costs $0 $6,000 $1,875,000 $180,000,000 Notes
Annual maintenance and upkeep costs $100 $100,000 $1,000,000 $100,000,000 Notes
Fuel costs to generate one megawatt hour $0 $0 $45 $5 Notes
Annual fuel costs $0 $0 $86,724,000 $118,588,500 Notes
Total annual operating costs $100 $106,000 $89,599,000 $398,588,500 Notes
Total operating costs for 20 years $2,000 $2,120,000 $1,791,980,000 $7,971,770,000 Notes
Total costs to build and operate for 20 years $29,000 $197,120,000 $2,521,980,000 $22,371,770,000 Notes
Total power output in 20 years (megawatt hours) 75.06 MWh 805,920 MWh 38,544,000 MWh 474,354,000 MWh Notes
Levelized cost per kilowatt hour for 20 years 39¢ 24¢ Notes
Levelized cost per kilowatt hour for 40 years 21¢ 12¢ Notes
  Our rooftop solar array Waldpolenz Solar Park
(photovoltaics, Germany)
Portlands Energy Center
(natural gas turbine, Toronto)

Darlington (nuclear power station, Toronto)  

Comments and References

Our rooftop solar array

Micro solar installations are expensive, but prices are dropping all the time, 20% between 2009 and 2010. Plus, zero greenhouse gas emissions are priceless. Micro installations can eliminate the need for a grid connection too

Waldpolenz Solar Park

Large scale solar is slightly less expensive than micro installations. It is highly sensitive to initial build costs, so increases in cell efficiency and decreases in cell costs are the key to making large scale installations more viable.

There is a lot of general information about Waldpolenz on the internet, including an official press release.

Portlands Energy Center

For now, natural gas turbines are a cost effective option for city-level generation. Portlands provides 25% of central Toronto’s electricity (though many question whether we needed a new natural gas plant in the city). Natural gas produces greenhouse gas emissions, but less than coal. It is highly sensitive to the price of fuel and if fuel costs rise and solar costs continue to drop, natural gas could be on par with solar within 30 years.

The official Portlands Energy Center website has a lot of information, including a FAQ and a fact sheet.

The US department of energy has posted a detailed analysis of the operations of a natural gas plant that is very similar to the Portlands plant. Also online, there is a US Army technical manual about natural gas plants. It provides some general information about the fueling requirements.

Some general information about natural gas prices is available on the Canadian Gas Association website.


Nuclear comes with phenomenal production capacity, and phenomenal upfront build costs and ongoing refurbishment costs. It has minimal fuel costs, compared to fossil fuels, but can’t compete with renewables of course. Darlington provides 20% of Ontario’s electricity. Zero greenhouse gas emissions are a plus, but enormous environmental risks in the event of an accident, and radioactive waste that lasts for 10,000 years, are two very big downsides.

The Ontario Power Authority website has copies of some quarterly reports about the operation of Darlington. The US Department of Energy has a website with a lot of information about uranium, including one general comment about the amount of energy you can get from one ton (approximately 40 million kilowatt hours).