Renewables power past coal
November 1, 2021 - Renewable energy sources that came on stream in 2020 -- driven by solar photovoltaic panels -- pushed electricity costs lower than the cheapest source of fossil fuel-fired capacity.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), costs continued to decline in 2020, with the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PVs) falling 7% year-on-year, offshore wind fell by 9%, onshore wind by 13% and that of concentrating solar power (CSP) by 16%.
The decade 2010 to 2020 saw a dramatic improvement in the competitiveness of solar and wind power technologies. Expressed in “levelized costs of energy” (LCOE), the price of power from solar PVs has plummeted by 85%. Concentrated solar power -- which uses mirrors to focus the sun’s rays to create heat to generate electricity -- has fallen by 68.2%. In comparison, the cost of electricity from onshore and offshore wind has fallen by 56.2% and 48.1%, respectively.
An analysis by IRENA suggests that up to 800 gigawatts of existing coal-fired capacity could be economically replaced by new renewables capacity, saving the electricity system up to US$32 billion per year and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to three gigatonnes. Renewables could provide 20% of the emissions reduction needed by 2030 for the 1.5°C climate pathway agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement treaty on climate change.
Low-cost renewables can provide a worldwide decarbonised electricity supply, replacing coal and oil as part of the energy future.