Grid Parity, Low LCOE Driving 34% Global Renewables Capacity by 2030

by Silvio Marcacci

When it comes to global electricity generation, coal is still king – but not for long

Fast-changing economics mean renewable energy worldwide will represent 34% of all installed capacity by 2030, according to the World Energy Perspective: Cost of Energy Technologies — a report from the World Energy Council (WEC) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Global levelized cost of electricity graph via World Energy Council
Global levelized cost of electricity graph via World Energy Council

The report finds many clean energy technologies are already cost competitive with fossil fuels and only getting cheaper, echoing another analysis that found US wind and solar costs fell 50% since 2008. As a result, fossil fuel’s slice of the world energy pie is projected to fall fast, from 67% in 2012 to 40%-45% in 2030.

Falling Renewable LCOE Powers Clean Energy Surge

Vast differences in the cost of building and generating power exist across the globe, but one trend is clear – the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) continues to fall for mature renewable energy technologies, placing them close to grid parity with fossil fuels. In addition, the cost of producing power from renewables fall continue at a rate related to the level of usage, a trend known as the “experience curve.”

Our study finds that although fossil fuels continue to dominate, renewable energy and the investment appetite for them are growing.

With wider deployment the price of renewables will fall, reducing the risk for investors, and we expect to see greater uptake over the years. — Guy Turner, Chief Economist at BNEF.

The WEC report uses several cost metrics exist to evaluate power generation including capital expenditures, operating expenditures, and capacity factor, but LCOE stands as arguably the most important indicator of renewable energy’s value because it’s the only one that evaluates the total lifecycle costs of producing a megawatt hour (MWh) of power.

LCOE is best explained as the price a project must earn per MWh in order to break even on investment and considers cash flow timing, development and construction, long-term debt, and tax implications to equally evaluate all energy technologies on an equal basis in terms of their actual costs.

But most importantly, LCOE underlines the ascendance of renewable energy across the world – especially wind and solar.

Wind Power Gusts Ahead

Wind power has already become the largest non-hydro renewable electricity source and is projected to more than triple from 5% of global installed capacity in 2012 to 17% by 2030, breezing past large hydropower. From 2000-2010 global onshore and offshore wind capacity increased 30% per year, reaching 200GW installed in 2010.

Onshore wind LCOE by region
Onshore wind LCOE by region graph via World Energy Council

Onshore wind’s LCOE has fallen 18% since 2009 on the strength of cheaper construction costs and higher capacity factors.

Turbine costs have fallen nearly 30% since 2008, outpacing the traditional experience curve.

The LCOE for onshore wind is cheapest in India and China, running between $47-$113 and making well-sited wind farms in these countries among the cheapest in the world – an incredibly important factor considering their surging demand for power is currently being met by coal.

The LCOE picture isn’t as clearly defined for offshore wind, as 95% of the world’s 4GW installed offshore wind capacity is located in European waters.

By 2020 installed capacity growth in Asia will surge, offsetting Europe’s dominance with 40% of all installed annual capacity – China alone will have 30% of all new capacity. As more offshore wind comes online in different markets, LCOE will become clearer.

Solar’s Remarkable Shine

But if wind’s LCOE drop has been steady, solar energy’s has been meteoric.

The WEC reports feed-in tariffs and plummeting photovoltaic module prices make solar competitive with most forms of power generation – in some markets with expensive power, like Germany, businesses with installed solar now find using their generated power more profitable than selling it to the grid.

Solar power LCOE over time chart via World Energy Council
Solar power LCOE over time chart via World Energy Council

As a result, solar power’s worldwide capacity will absolutely boom, growing from 2% of installed capacity in 2012 to 16% by 2030. China and Japan will be biggest beneficiary of solar’s rise, with China set to exceed 50GW installed solar by 2020.

The WEC’s forecast for solar power is incredible, but even this outlook is underestimates solar’s clean energy potential, because it only includes projects above 1 megawatt in capacity – completely ignoring the spread of small-scale rooftop solar and the rise of distributed generation

Solar power LCOE by region graph via World Energy Council
Solar power LCOE by region graph via World Energy Council
Fossil Fuel’s Achilles Heel: Operational Costs

In spite of falling renewable costs, fossil fuel generation is still cheaper in most regards, except for one – the price of operation.

The WEC notes that once renewables are built and online, their costs are mainly marginal operational and maintenance expenses. Compare that to fossil fuels, whose costs are volatile and subject to change from factors like commodity price swings and external costs like carbon pricing and pollution.

This trend is most clearly seen in developed nations like Western Europe, America, and Australia, where the WEC says the potential for significant amounts of new coal generation to come online is low.

Today, developing nations buck this trend and coal is a growing generation source in Brazil, China, and India. In fact low capital costs make China the cheapest country to generate power from coal, less than half the LCOE in Europe or the US.

Coal LCOE by region chart via World Energy Council
Coal LCOE by region chart via World Energy Council

But the tide is starting to turn, evidenced by growing concerns about air pollution in China and the development of carbon markets in many of the world’s developing economies where fossil fuels have dominated generation.

Grid Parity For Renewables Fast Approaching

Put it all together, and it’s clear to see global energy economics are changing fast.

While coal still dominates global electricity production, renewables are catching up with net investment growing seven-fold from 2004-2011, outpacing fossil fuels for the second year in a row in 2012. And as more renewables come online, their costs continue to fall faster and faster from larger economies of scale.

The cost of most technologies, and most dramatically that of solar PV, is coming down with production scale-up in many areas of the world.

With such growth, grid parity will become reality in the coming years. — Dr. Christoph Frei, World Energy Council Secretary General

This article, Grid Parity, Low LCOE Driving 34% Global Renewables Capacity by 2030, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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Renewable Energy cost reductions of 50% since 2008

by Silvio Marcacci

That renewable energy is becoming more cost-competitive with fossil fuels isn’t news — as technology improves and more clean power generation comes online, electricity without emissions gets cheaper.

But one new analysis reveals just how shockingly cheap it’s gotten.

The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from wind and solar sources in America has fallen by more than 50% over the past four years, according to Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis 7.0, recently released by global financial advisor and asset manager firm Lazard Freres & Co.

Lazard’s analysis compared the LCOE for various renewable energy technologies to fossil fuels on a cost per megawatt hour (MWh) basis, including factors like US federal tax subsidies, fuel costs, geography, and capital costs.

Unsubsidized LCOE for US energy
Unsubsidized LCOE for US energy graph via Lazard

Utility-Scale Solar, Wind Lead LCOE Charge

The LCOE analysis shows that even during one of the most turbulent times in recent memory for renewables, the environmental and economic benefits of clean energy continue to spur technological innovations and utility-scale deployments across the globe.

According to the analysis, utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) and leading types of wind energy are leading the surge — the LCOE of both power sources has fallen by more than 50% since 2008. Lazard estimates that utility-scale solar PV is now a competitive source of peak energy compared to fossil fuel power in many parts of the world without subsidies.

In fact, Lazard finds certain forms of renewable energy generation are now cost-competitive with many fossil fuel generation sources at an unsubsidized LCOE, even before factoring in externalities like pollution or transmission costs.

Specifically, solar PV and wind energy both fall within the range of $68-$104 per MWh, making them extremely competitive with baseload power from coal ($65-$145 per MWh), nuclear ($86-$122 per MWh), and integrated gasification combined cycle ($95-$154 per MWh).

Financial Incentives, Energy Storage Could Boost Fortunes

The LCOE of electricity from those renewable energy sources falls even further when US federal tax subsidies are included in the equation. Lazard realistically admits incentives are key to pushing renewables toward grid parity without subsidies, but finds wind ($23-$85 per MWh) and thin-film utility scale solar PV ($51-$78 per MWh) especially competitive.

LCOE for US energy with tax subsidies
LCOE for US energy with tax subsidies chart via Lazard

While wind is progressing quite well — generally speaking — against fossil fuel generation in Lazard’s analysis, it could get much cheaper much faster in the near future when combined with energy storage. The report cites numerous examples of existing battery storage combining with off-peak wind production to demonstrate value in load shifting and peak power applications.

And while utility-scale solar PV leads the LCOE charge, rooftop solar PV remains expensive by comparison — a trend evident in recent summaries of the US market. Ironically, Lazard says this may be attributable to the generous combination of multiple levels of tax incentives, which distort resource planning by excluding externalities in long-term outlooks.

Power generation rates for US metro areas
Power generation rates for US metro areas chart via Lazard

Interestingly enough, solar is becoming an economically viable peaking generation source in many geographic regions of the US. This trend is especially apparent in transmission-constrained metropolitan areas like New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Lazard estimates solar could become even more competitive as prices continues to fall, but the observation is somewhat muddled by factors like system reliability, stranded costs of distributed generation for existing systems, and social costs/externalities of rate increases.

“Increasingly Prevalent” Renewable Energy Use

But the most promising potential for the future of renewable energy sources may be their value as distributed small-scale generation. Lazard estimates that the expensive capital construction costs of fossil fuel generation boost their LCOE when utilities consider future resource planning across an integrated system, and make them less cost-competitive — without even considering externalities.

US energy capital cost comparison
US energy capital cost comparison chart via Lazard

Lazard concedes that the future of renewable energy is far from set though, and still faces significant challenges like establishing long-term financing structures in the face of falling subsidy levels, excess manufacturing capacity, and the globalization of markets.

However, renewable energy’s role in America’s energy mix is likely to continue growing despite these challenges, concludes the analysis.

“We find that alternative energy technologies are complementary to conventional generation technologies, and believe that their use will be increasingly prevalent for a variety of reasons.”

This article, Analysis: 50% Reduction In Cost Of Renewable Energy Since 2008, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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