Capacity factors for electrical power generation from renewable and nonrenewable sources

by Natanael Bolson, Pedro Prieto\, Tadeusz Patzek
Year: 2022 DOI:


Given the dire consequences of climate change and the war in Ukraine, decarbonization of electrical power systems around the world must be accomplished, while avoiding recurring blackouts. A good understanding of performance and reliability of different power sources underpins this endeavor. As an energy transition involves different societal sectors, we must adopt a simple and efficient way of communicating the transition’s key indicators. Capacity factor (CF) is a direct measure of the efficacy of a power generation system and of the costs of power produced. Since the year 2000, the explosive expansion of solar PV and wind power made their CFs more reliable. Knowing the long-time average CFs of different electricity sources allows one to calculate directly the nominal capacity required to replace the current fossil fuel mix for electricity generation or expansion to meet future demand. CFs are straightforwardly calculated, but they are rooted in real performance, not in modeling or wishful thinking. Based on the current average CFs, replacing 1 W of fossil electricity generation capacity requires installation of 4 W solar PV or 2 W of wind power. An expansion of the current energy mix requires installing 8.8 W of solar PV or 4.3 W of wind power.