Are Solar And Wind The Cheapest Forms Of Energy And Other Faqs About Renewables
Everything you ever wanted to know about the way we will ultimately derive all our power from renewable sources, and how quickly it will be achieved.
Renewable energy sources accounted for 24 per cent of electricity produced in Australia in 2021, but that figure is set to rise sharply in the future. Image from Shutterstock.
Renewable energy is often hailed as the future, but some might also wonder why its not already here yet.
Wind farms, solar arrays, pumped hydro and electric vehicles are not brand new technologies and yet, across Australia as a whole, fossil fuels still accounted for around 76 per cent of all energy produced in 2021.
However, Professor Alistair Sproul, Head of School of UNSWs School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering , says the plummeting cost of producing renewable energy now makes it inevitable that burning coal and gas will soon be consigned to history.
Professor Sproul says basic economics will be the tipping point in the switch to renewables and that the energy revolution will be completed much quicker than many expect.
We can and will make the transition to 100 per cent clean, green, renewable energy and it wont cost the earth, he says.
The dollars and cents are on our side now and the market is changing before everyones eyes, so I think it will likely happen faster than most people might think.
A wind farm near Cape Jervis in South Australia. Image from Shutterstock
If Renewable Energy Costs Much Less Wont We All Then Just Use More Energy
Since 2008, electricity consumption across Australia has actually dropped, due in part to improved efficiency of devices.
There are still lots of improvements that can be made with regards to efficiency of such things as high efficiency air conditioning units, the heating of swimming pools using solar energy, and building regulations for houses which will mean even less energy being used.
On the other side, world-leading research at UNSW on photovoltaic cells used in solar panels means we can expect much more than the current average of 25 per cent efficiency, ensuring that the same sized panels could produce a lot more energy in the near future.
But, in any case, some advocates of renewable energy argue that if it is extremely cheap and extremely green, then why should anyone care if more of it is being consumed?
Why Cheap Solar Could Save The World
The Indicator NPRhide caption
Solar panels on a roof of one of the largest apartment complexes in New York City, installed by private equity firm The Blackstone Group. Darius Rafieyan /NPRhide caption
Solar panels on a roof of one of the largest apartment complexes in New York City, installed by private equity firm The Blackstone Group.
Fifteen years ago, pursuing solar energy was so expensive that it seemed like a pipe dream in the development of alternative energies. Since then, government incentives and competition in the market have brought the price of solar down by what economist Ben Ho calls “a magical amount of money.”
Today, the price of solar energy is cheaper even than coal – traditionally the cheapest form of energy out there. Now major companies are investing millions of dollars in solar power, including The Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, known for making lots of money. It recently made the decision to install thousands of solar panels on the roof of one of its apartment complexes and has plans to expand its solar investment. And the reason is all about cost savings.
On today’s show, we talk to Ben Ho about the price of solar, or what he says is “the most important indicator of all time.”
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What About Energy Storage Isnt That A Problem With Renewables
Ten or even five years ago traditional lithium-ion batteries were the main technology available for storing energy, but were largely too expensive and too inefficient to be used at any kind of scale.
However, technology often moves with markets and developments in batteries have been growing in pace as renewable energy production has increased globally.
Batteries such as these are able to store energy produced by renewable sources and feed it into the electricity grid system as required. Image from Shutterstock
There are now many battery technologies being developed for all different types of purposes. Some will be better suited to longer-term storage of commercial renewable energy, while others will be ideal for home usage or to power electric vehicles.
As the technology improves, the prices are also expected to fall. Even traditional lithium-ion batteries have fallen in price by 97 per cent since 1991 when comparing cost per kilowatt-hour capacity.
Weekend Long Reads: Whats The Cheapest Form Of Energy
This weeks long read is light on words and heavy on charts and graphs. Its a comparison of the cost to generate electricity from a number of different sources, both clean and dirty.
The business and finance consultant company Lazard has compiled an analysis of the levelized cost of energy every year since 2007. By levelized, they mean that they factor in all of the costs: capital costs to build out electricity generation facilities, including the materials, manufacturing, construction, installation, permitting, and property ongoing operational and maintenance costs fuel costs for the types of generation that require fuel and regulatory costs. They calculate the expected operational lifetime of a power generation facility and then divide the sum of the costs by the total expected power generation over a facilitys lifetime to arrive at a cost per megawatt-hour.
And there is some very good news for the planet: Solar and wind power, at the scale that a major utility would deploy them, are now the cheapest form of power. Theyre a bit less expensive than natural gas-fired power plants and considerably cheaper than coal and nuclear.
Even better, solar and wind technologies continue to improve rapidly, driving up the amount of power you can generate in a given space and driving down the cost even further. Given that every day we hear about the increasing impacts of climate change, the fact that green power is now cheaper than dirty power is welcome news indeed.
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Most New Wind And Solar Projects Will Be Cheaper Than Coal Report Finds
Almost two-thirds of renewable energy schemes built globally last year expected to undercut coal costs
Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the worlds cheapest new coal plants, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency .
The agency found that the falling cost of new windfarms and solar panels meant 62% of new renewable energy projects could undercut the cost of up to 800 gigawatts worth of coal plants, or almost enough to supply the UKs electricity needs 10 times over.
Solar power costs fell by 16% last year, according to the report, while the cost of onshore wind dropped 13% and offshore wind by 9%.
In less than a decade the cost of large-scale solar power has fallen by more than 85% while onshore wind has fallen almost 56% and offshore wind has declined by almost 48%. Francesco La Camera, Irenas director general, said the agencys latest research proved the world was far beyond the tipping point of coal.
He said: Today renewables are the cheapest source of power. Renewables present countries tied to coal with an economically attractive phase-out agenda that ensures they meet growing energy demand, while saving costs, adding jobs, boosting growth and meeting climate ambition.
Buy The Best Solar Panels
Anyone new to solar panels should start with a good kit, like this one by Renology. You’ll get everything you need in one, including an 100W solar panel, 30A PWM negative ground charge controller, MC4 connectors, a 8Ft 10 AWG tray cable, and mounting Z brackets for an RV or boat. It can fully charge a 50Ah Battery from 50% in 3 hours.
What causes cost of capital to lower? It depends on a bunch of things, but for renewable energy, there are a few low-hanging factors. As people and companies see more successful projects like Elon Musks South Australia solar battery farm, their investment confidence grows.
The better the technologys batting average, the more you look forward to its at-bats. And the cost of the technology itself continues to fall, meaning investors are asked to swallow at least a little smaller pill. Then, policies like tax incentives and low-cost financing sweeten the deal.
IEAs recommendations include similar projections and calculations for all renewables as well as nuclear. Solar is well positioned to blow up in the next 10 years, the IEA says, because right now its in the sweet spot of low cost and increasing availability. All the pathways listed include a mix of renewables, nuclear, and shrinking coal and gas power. And while the news is very good for solar, its still pretty good for all the other renewables as well as nuclear, the IEA says.
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Onshore Wind And Solar ‘cheapest’ Form Of Energy For Two
28 April 2020, source edie newsroom
Utility-scale solar PV and onshore wind are now the cheapest forms of new-build energy generation across two-thirds of the global population, according to new analysis from BloombergNEF that shows that costs for renewables and battery storage have plummeted in recent years.
The LCOE of battery storage has fallen to $150 per MWh for systems with a four-hour duration, almost half of its LCOE cost recorded in 2018
Latest BNEF analysis shows that the global benchmark levelised cost of electricity the all-expense cost of produce one MWh of electricity from a new-build project has fallen by 9% for onshore wind and 4% for solar PV since the second half of 2019. It now costs $44 and $50 per MWh for these technologies across countries accountable for two-thirds of the global population, 71% of GDP and 85% of global energy generation.
BNEFs lead author of the analysis Tifenn Brandily said: There have been dramatic improvements in the cost-competitiveness of solar and wind. Part of it is due to photovoltaic and wind technology getting better at extracting renewable resources. But our analysis also suggests that since 2016, auctions are forcing developers to realise cost savings by scaling up project size and portfolios.
Larger scale enables them to slash balance-of-plant, operations and maintenance expenses and have a stronger negotiating position when ordering equipment.
Forget About Concentrating Solar Power Or Not
With solar PV power so cheap and getting cheaper, it may be tempting to say its time to give up on concentrating solar power . However, its costs have also been dropping consistently, it offers some other benefits that could complement solar PV on a high-modern-renewables grid, and the DOE isnt giving up on it.
Todays announcement also supports several concentrating solar-thermal power projects, the department notes. Here are details from the DOE:
- $33 million for CSP advances: The new funding opportunity also includes funding for improvements to the reliability and performance of CSP plants, which can dispatch solar energy whenever it is needed identifies new solar applications for industrial processes, which contribute 20% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and advances long-duration thermal-energy storage devices. Long-duration energy storage is critical to decarbonizing the electricity sector and couples well with CSP plants, but the cost must fall by a factor of two to unlock deployment.
- $25 million to demonstrate a next-generation CSP power plant: Sandia National Laboratories will receive funding to build a facility where researchers, developers, and manufacturers can test next-generation CSP components and systems and advance toward DOEs 2030 cost target of 5 cents/kWh for CSP plants.
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Cheap Renewables Are Good News
IRENAs report, Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2020, finds that costs for renewable technologies are continuing to fall significantly year-on-year.
Today, renewables are the cheapest source of power, said IRENAs Director-General Francesco La Camera.
Cheaper renewables give developed and developing countries a compelling reason to phase out coal while meeting growing energy demands, saving costs and adding jobs, IRENA said.
Retiring costly coal plants would also stop the emission of about three gigatonnes of CO2 a year 20% of the reduction in emissions needed by 2030 to avert climate catastrophe.
Emerging economies will save up to $156 billion over the lifespan of the renewable projects added in 2020 alone, the agency added.
Solar Is Now The Cheapest Form Of Electricity Generation To Build
Solar plants are now the cheapest form of electricity generation to build, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency .
The IEAs World Energy Outlook 2020 said that for the first time, solar power stations cost less to construct than fossil fuel-based plants.
It explained that supportive policies and maturing technologies are enabling very cheap access to capital for solar builds in leading markets.
With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen, the IEA said.
The report offers four possible scenarios for the worlds energy landscape over the next 30 years, which includes revisions of the IEAs previous estimates.
The main scenario expects a 43% higher solar output by 2040 than the IEA expected in 2018.
This can be partially attributed to analysis showing that solar power is 20-50% cheaper than initially thought, as explained by Carbon Brief.
Previously the IEA assumed a range of 7-8% for all technologies, varying according to each countrys stage of development.
Now, the IEA has reviewed the evidence internationally and finds that for solar, the cost of capital is much lower, at 2.6-5.0% in Europe and the US, 4.4-5.5% in China and 8.8-10.0% in India, Carbon Brief said.
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Cheapest Power Sources: 2014 To Now
Ten years ago, when wind and solar were just 1% of the US energy mix, it would have seemed unrealistic to envision renewables replacing fossil fuels.
Yet, this April marked the first time that renewable energy supplied more power to the US grid than coal, showing that solar and wind have certainly stepped up to the plate.
BloombergNEFs report compared the cheapest power around the world from five years ago to now.
In 2014, coal was listed as the cheapest form of power for most of the world, followed by gas, with wind energy only being the cheapest in Germany, Denmark and Uruguay.
Solar didnt even make it on the list.
In 2019, wind energy is still regarded as the cheapest power for Germany, Denmark and Uruguay, along with nine other countries including the US, Canada and the UK.
Meanwhile, solar energy has topped the list as the cheapest energy technology in 2019 for Australia, Chile, Egypt, France, India, Israel, Italy, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.
A handful of eastern European countries including Russia have recorded gas as the cheapest form of power in 2019, while coals list of countries has more than halved to mostly Asian nations including Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
Why Is This Happening Learning Curves And The Price Of Solar Photovoltaics Modules
How can this be? Why do we see the cost of renewable energy decline so very fast?
The costs of fossil fuels and nuclear power depend largely on two factors, the price of the fuel that they burn and the power plants operating costs.9 Renewable energy plants are different: their operating costs are comparatively low and they dont have to pay for any fuel their fuel doesnt have to be dug out of the ground, their fuel the wind and sunlight comes to them. What is determining the cost of renewable power is the cost of the power plant, the cost of the technology itself.
To understand why solar power got so cheap we have to understand why solar technology got cheap. For this, lets go back in time for a moment.
The first price point for usable solar technology that I can find is from the year 1956. At that time the cost of just one watt of solar photovoltaic capacity was $1,865 .10 One watt isnt much. Today one single solar panel of the type homeowners put on their roofs produces around 320 watts of power.11 This means that at the price of 1956 one of todays solar modules would cost $596,800.12
At this price more than half a million dollars for a single panel solar was obviously hopelessly uncompetitive with fossil fuels.
Then why didnt the history of solar technology end right there?
There are two reasons why instead of dying, solar has developed to become the worlds cheapest source of electricity today.
‘the New King Of The World’s Electricity Markets’
But how rapidly solar is taken up will be largely shaped by when COVID is brought under control, and whether governments pursue clean energy policies during the recovery, or stick with what they did before the pandemic.
The report paints a picture of the world at a crossroads of energy policy – decisions made now could see the world achieve net zero emissions by 2050, or result in most countries largely missing their Paris Agreement targets.
The researchers outline four potential pathways for the future: under one scenario COVID is brought under control by 2021 and the world continues on much as before, with demand for energy bouncing back.
Under this scenario, renewables will meet 80 per cent of the growth in global electricity demand to 2030. This means that eight out of every 10 megawatts of new power generation brought online will be renewables. And that’s a conservative scenario where governments don’t push for more sustainable energy than before.
“I see solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets,” Dr Birol said.
What does this look like? Vast fields of solar panels, for one. Also expect to see the spinning blades of wind farms on the horizon.
The state of Gujarat in India, for example, recently announced a world-record solar facility that would cover 60,000 hectares of non-arable land in photovoltaic panels .
” set new records for deployment each year after 2022, followed by onshore and offshore wind,” the report said.