[images links in on-line article]
Look Fast: Solar Is Blowing Past Coal…And Gas…And Wind
December 16th, 2016 by Tina Casey
Now, here’s a surprise. Wind power has been growing at a rapid clip, but
it looks like solar is sneaking up from behind with a Negasonic Teenage
Warhead-scale weapon in hand: it’s cheaper. In fact, according to data
studied by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, solar power is on its way to
becoming “the cheapest form of new electricity” globally, even without
The data is drawn from the third annual edition of an online tool called
Climatescope, and yes, it shows that solar is becoming cheaper than coal
and natural gas, too.
To be clear, BNEF’s take on the Climatescope data does not show that
solar is cheaper in all markets. It’s a trend report that focuses on 58
emerging energy markets, including the gigantic Chinese and Indian
markets. Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and South Africa have also emerged as
high-demand markets for low carbon (aka non-coal) energy projects.
Industry observers have been tracking cheap solar, which was once
confined to highly specific, individual episodes such as regional
auctions where competition pushes prices down.
BNEF teases out how those tiny specks are beginning to enlarge and connect:
…unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas
on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets
are costing less to build than wind projects, according to fresh data
from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
According to BNEF, industry observers have been anticipating that solar
would outpace wind because costs are dropping more rapidly in the solar
field. The surprise is that it happened so quickly.
Aside from being cheaper, solar also surpassed wind in the number of
installations. BNEF’s projections for 2016 is that newly completed solar
projects will add up to 70 gigawatts, with wind coming in second at 59
More Bad News For Coal
Wind is still in a competitive position for power generation and it
still has plenty of room to grow in terms of technology improvements
that lower costs.
Natural gas is also still in a good position for power generation,
especially with Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson set to lead US global
energy policy as Secretary of State for the incoming Trump
Administration (his position is pending confirmation by the Senate).
That leaves coal the odd man out, and BNEF does not spare the knife:
The world recently passed a turning point and is adding more capacity
for clean energy each year than for coal and natural gas combined. Peak
fossil-fuel use for electricity may be reached within the next decade.
If 2016 is any indication, peak use could come even sooner than BNEF
This year has seen a remarkable run for solar power. Auctions, where
private companies compete for massive contracts to provide electricity,
established record after record for cheap solar power. It started with a
contract in January to produce electricity for $64 per megawatt-hour in
India; then a deal in August pegging $29.10 per megawatt hour in Chile.
That’s record-cheap electricity—roughly half the price of competing coal
US coal companies have been depending on the export market to prop them
up, but the rug is being pulled out from under those markets by global
investors in solar and other renewables, notably those based in China.
The trend further undercuts President-elect Donald Trump’s emotional
appeals to US coal workers and their communities during the 2016
campaign season. They helped propel him into office but ever since the
bad news has been cascading down upon the domestic coal industry.
More $$$ For Cheap Energy
One interesting finding in Climatescope is that renewable energy
projects tend to be more expensive in developed economies, where
electricity demand has flatlined. That’s reflected in the location of
the dollars where investors are staking their claims.
The 58 markets targeted by Bloomberg, despite their lower position on
the developed-economy scale, slightly outspent the 35 developed nations
that belong to OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation &
The numbers add up to $153.7 billion for OECD nations, with the 58
emerging markets clocking in at $154.1 billion.
Right Back At You, Rex
Soon-to-be Secretary of State Tillerson has been traveling the globe to
tout low cost natural gas as the only way to lift emerging markets out
of “energy poverty.”
That’s true for the here and now. It’s also true that coal will continue
to play a role in emerging markets for the foreseeable future.
However, the trend clearly points to shrinkage for both gas and coal in
favor of solar and other renewables, and BNEF is not shy about hammering
away at it. Here’s the closing argument from BNEF’s press release
announcing the new report:
…for populations still relying on expensive kerosene generators, or who
have no electricity at all, and for those living in the dangerous smog
of thickly populated cities, the shift to renewables and increasingly to
solar can’t come soon enough.
If you want a quick rundown on what the solar powered future looks like,
check out the latest press release from Climatescope. One of the key
trending sectors in emerging markets is a direct challenge to the
central power plant model for coal and natural gas:
New players focused on “off-grid” or “mini-grid” solutions are
challenging the assumption that only an expanded hub-and-spoke power
grid can meet the needs of the world’s 1.2bn with inadequate access to
power. A slew of these start-ups are privately-funded and between them
had raised over $450m cumulatively through year-2015.
Climatescope, btw, is a free online renewable energy index that enables
site visitors to compare progress in solar, wind and other low carbon
sources among the 58 emerging markets. It is supported by the UK and the
US, but considering President-elect’s disdain for renewable energy, the
UK could be looking for a new partner after Inauguration Day.
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