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Solar and wind to produce cheaper electricity than fossil fuels by 2020

31/05/2019
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Regular observers of the global energy industry are likely somewhat jaded at the oft-made claims that ‘renewables will kill oil and gas’, but a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) claims solar and wind really will produce cheaper electricity than fossil fuels by 2020, without subsidies.

The report Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2018, is based upon a comprehensive review of data from projects around the world and suggests that the cost advantage of renewables will continue to extend until it surpasses fossil fuels in 2020.
Solar and wind to produce cheaper electricity than fossil fuels by 2020
“Renewable power is the backbone of any development that aims to be sustainable,” says Francesco La Camera, IRENA’s Director-General. “We must do everything we can to accelerate renewables if we are to meet the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement. Today’s report sends a clear signal to the international community: Renewable energy provides countries with a low-cost climate solution that allows for scaling up action. To fully harness the economic opportunity of renewables, IRENA will work closely with our membership and key partners to facilitate on-the-ground solutions and concerted action will result in renewable energy projects.”

Admittedly a research report from a renewable energy industry body is hardly likely to contain withering critiques of the industry, but nevertheless the cost advantage of renewables over fossil fuels really does seem to be increasing. 

The costs for renewable energy technologies decreased to a record low last year. The global weighted-average cost of electricity from concentrating solar power (CSP) declined by 26%, bioenergy by 14%, solar photovoltaics (PV) and onshore wind by 13%, hydropower by 12% and geothermal and offshore wind by 1%, respectively.
By 2020, onshore wind and solar PV will be a less expensive source of new electricity than the cheapest fossil fuel alternative.
From a solar perspective, these developments appear to be Swanson’s law in action: the observation that the price of solar photovoltaic modules tends to drop 20 percent for every doubling of cumulative shipped volume.

IRENA’s report suggests that such cost reductions, especially for solar and wind power tech, are set to continue throughout the next decade. According to IRENA’s global database, over three-quarters of the onshore wind and four-fifths of the solar PV projects that are due to be commissioned next year will produce power at lower prices than the cheapest new coal, oil or natural gas options. Crucially, they are set to do so without financial assistance.

If IRENA’s database proves correct, this will be transformative- both for the fossil fuel and renewable industries and the technical and engineering professionals that work in them.

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Solar and wind to produce cheaper electricity than fossil fuels by 2020 - Time to read 3 min
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