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Solar power will kill coal faster than you think

Renewables will be cheaper almost everywhere in just a few years.

Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast. That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India.

The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency’s central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come. “Costs of new energy technologies are falling in a way that it’s more a matter of when than if,” said Seb Henbest, a researcher at BNEF in London and lead author of the report.

The report also found that through 2040:

  • China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39% all investment in the industry.
  • The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71%, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
  • At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
  • Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16% more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that’s increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

BNEF’s conclusions about renewables and their impact on fossil fuels are most dramatic. Electricity from photovoltaic panels costs almost a quarter of what it did in 2009 and is likely to fall another 66% by 2040. Onshore wind, which has dropped 30% in price in the past eight years, will fall another 47% by the end of BNEF’s forecast horizon.

That means even in places like China and India, which are rapidly installing coal plants, solar will start providing cheaper electricity as soon as the early 2020s.

“These tipping points are all happening earlier and we just can’t deny that this technology is getting cheaper than we previously thought,” said Henbest.

Coal will be the biggest victim, with 369 gigawatts of projects standing to be cancelled, according to BNEF. That’s about the entire generation capacity of Germany and Brazil combined.

Capacity of coal will plunge even in the U.S., where President Donald Trump is seeking to stimulate fossil fuels. BNEF expects the nation’s coal-power capacity in 2040 will be about half of what it is now after older plants come offline and are replaced by cheaper and less-polluting sources such as gas and renewables.

In Europe, capacity will fall by 87% as environmental laws boost the cost of burning fossil fuels. BNEF expects the world’s hunger for coal to abate starting around 2026 as governments work to reduce emissions in step with promises under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Beyond the term of a president, Donald Trump can’t change the structure of the global energy sector single-handedly,” said Henbest.

All told, the growth of zero-emission energy technologies means the industry will tackle pollution faster than generally accepted. While that will slow the pace of global warming, another $5.3 trillion of investment would be needed to bring enough generation capacity to keep temperature increases by the end of the century to a manageable 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the report said.

The data suggest wind and solar are quickly becoming major sources of electricity, brushing aside perceptions that they’re too expensive to rival traditional fuels.

By 2040, wind and solar will make up almost half of the world’s installed generation capacity, up from just 12% now, and account for 34% of all the power generated, compared with 5% at the moment, BNEF concluded.

© 2017 Bloomberg

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But our dear corrupt ANC government is still pushing the nuclear agenda…irrespective that most countries move away from nuclear and coal to renewable energy. Maybe their motives were noble, but they’ve eroded our trust with multiple scandals & puppet show style leadership in most areas, deterioration in quality of service/competitiveness, demonstrated poor leadership in most state run entities (Eskom, SABC, SAA, education, Public protector, health service, SARS?, economy, mining charter, etc.), etc. They can no longer be trusted.

I still don’t get it. If it is night time how does solar generate power? It cannot. Nor can one store MW or GW of power in batteries. Storing energy in chemicals is just too inefficient.

A report like this would have had to look at storage as a factor. They spoke about massive lithium batteries which you state is inefficient but also more importantly gas which is more on demand. If the cost of the installation and production of the renewable is low enough storage becomes less of an issue again.

An example is the UK in April ran their grid for 24 hours without coal so the unthinkable seems to be possible – the mix was primarily gas, nuclear and wind in this instance.

Correct. Too many people drink the MSM Cool Aid about renewables. Simply incapable of basic arithmetic, I say. Certainly an average 4 bedroom house may be able to generate enough electricity to power itself but the issue of storage is the big elephant in the room. My 6.6kW rooftop solar array made 673kwH in the last month. We use about 500kwH per month (cook and hot water on gas) so it does stack up but we make too much in the day and nothing at night.

Then we have the issue of high density neighbourhoods, CBDs, factories, aluminium plants etc. A high rise block of flats does not have enough roof space to power itself. The inescapable conclusion is that one cannot get away from the grid nor a reliable source of baseload electricity (hydro, coal, gas, nuclear).

If what the authors of this piece say is true (certainly debatable) then it would be pure folly for the SA Regime to go anywhere near renewables and make long term investments while the price is in freefall. Would you buy a smartphone for $800 when a far better one is available for $300 next week? No but even if you are quite dof then you are smarter than the ANC.

one cannot escape the grid (yet), but concentrating electricity usage to daytime will reduce fossil fuel dependency massively. in europe solar-generated energy is stored efficiently in massive underground dams (yes, heated water). large solar farms will continue to pop-up (i have heard SA is the 4th best country in the world to generate solar energy?. it can be done.

MOK, You are storing heat not electricity. Heat is the most useless form of energy know to man. It doesn’t make sense to put up solar farms when the price is in free fall (according to these authors).

My reply to underground hot water storage: dS=dQ/T

Some interesting developments in the liquid metal battery space which could offer an alternative over the next decade.

Lots of different ideas floating around, creating hybrid wind/solar plants with storage and gas seems to be a potential solution that is clean as well.

I think the motivation behind nuclear in SA is pretty clear but if we could create a SADC energy network then nuclear could make a lot of sense to provide base load with the other countries utilizing renewables as cheap generation.

My experience is from a home 1.5kW grid-tie solar power installation, now running two years. Pure solar power can well supply a portion of our needs economically, within practical limits. Battery storage makes no investment sense, but is good “insurance” against critical power loss. Issues to overcome are the lack of night-time solar generation, seasonal variation in sunshine hours, and daytime cloudy spells, often lasting days or a whole week in the Cape winter. Nothing critical may depend on it, and there is only so much you can time-delay the usage of household appliances before it becomes a drag on one’s lifestyle.
I think the best potential in SA is to match pool pump usage to solar power generation – high demand/generation in summer, much less in winter, and it’s mostly not a train smash to delay the usage by a few hours. Put a mandatory timer and ripple controller on each pool DB board and open it between 10h00-18h00, and then again in off-peak time, then running off coal only if required. Just allow a bypass for 60-minute stints for special tasks.

Well if this is true why has the solar power layout in the highly developed Germany not succeeded??? If it cannot work there it will not work anywhere.

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