Renewable Energy

All Renewables Will Be Cost Competitive With Fossil Fuels by 2020

Generating electricity from renewable energy sources is not only better for the environment compared to fossil fuels, but it will also be consistently cheaper in just a few years, according to a new report.

According to a cost analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) projects could deliver electricity for $0.03 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) by 2019, much lower than the current cost of power from fossil fuels, which ranges from $0.05 to $0.17 per kWh.

The analysis highlights the dramatic dip in solar and wind prices over the last decade. Onshore wind has fallen by around a quarter since 2010, with solar PV electricity costs falling by 73 percent in that time. Additionally, solar PV costs are expected to halve by 2020.

In the last 12 months alone, the global weighted average costs of onshore wind and solar PV have stood at $0.06 and $0.10 per kWh, respectively. Recent auction results also suggest future projects will significantly undercut these averages—onshore wind is now routinely commissioned for $0.04 per kWh. Additionally, record low prices for solar PV in Abu Dhabi, Chile, Dubai, Mexico, Peru and Saudi Arabia have made $0.03 kWh (and below) the new benchmark.

Other types of renewable technologies—including hydropower ($0.05 per kWh), bioenergy and geothermal ($0.07 per kWh)—have also been cost competitive with fossil fuels over the last 12 months, the report found.

Remarkably, IRENA projects that all forms of renewables will compete with fossils on price by 2020.

"This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm," Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA director-general, said. "These cost declines across technologies are unprecedented and representative of the degree to which renewable energy is disrupting the global energy system."

According to the report, the cost reductions have been driven by a number of factors, including competitive procurement practices, the emergence of a large base of experienced medium-to-large project developers competing for global market opportunities, and continued technological advancements.

"Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now—overwhelmingly—a smart economic one," Amin continued.

"Governments around the world are recognizing this potential and forging ahead with low-carbon economic agendas underpinned by renewables-based energy systems. We expect the transition to gather further momentum, supporting jobs, growth, improved health, national resilience and climate mitigation around the world in 2018 and beyond."

The report was released Saturday, the first day of IRENA's Eighth Assembly in Abu Dhabi, where more than 1,100 representatives of governments from 150 countries met to reaffirm the global renewable energy agenda and to make concrete steps to accelerate the global energy transition.

Here are highlights from the report:

  • The global weighted average levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of utility-scale solar PV has fallen by 73 percent between 2010 and 2017 to $0.10/kWh.
  • The average cost of electricity from onshore wind fell by 23 percent between 2010 and 2017. Projects are now routinely commissioned at $0.04/kWh and the global weighted average is around $0.06/kWh.
  • By 2019, the best onshore wind and solar PV projects will be delivering electricity for an equivalent of $0.03/kWh, or less. New bioenergy and geothermal projects commissioned in 2017 had global weighted average costs of around $0.07/kWh.
  • Record low prices for solar PV in Abu Dhabi, Chile, Dubai, Mexico, Peru and Saudi Arabia have made $0.03 kWh (and below) the new benchmark.
  • By 2020, project and auction data suggest that all currently commercialized renewable power generation technologies will be competing, and even undercutting, fossil fuels by generating in the range $0.03 to $0.10/kWh range.