Wind Power, Other Renewables Just as Cheap as Coal and Oil

Wind Turbine at Dusk

By Maura Forrest

February 05, 2015

Many renewable power technologies are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels, according to a new report – even with the recent drop in oil prices.

The report, published earlier this month by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), found that onshore wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass electricity are as cheap as or cheaper than electricity from fossil-fuel power stations.

While solar power is not yet competitive, its price is falling fast. The cost of solar photovoltaic modules has dropped 75 per cent since 2009, and the cost of electricity from solar power has dropped 50 per cent since 2010.

“Any remaining perceptions that renewable power generation technologies are expensive or uncompetitive are at best outdated, and at worst a dangerous fallacy,” the authors concluded.

Some of the world’s best wind power projects are delivering electricity for five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). In comparison, fossil-fuel power plants charge anywhere from 4.5 to 14 cents per kWh. When damage to human health from fossil fuel pollution is taken into account, the cost rises to between 7 and 19 cents per kWh.

The IRENA report found that 2013 was a record year for renewables, with the addition of 120 gigawatts of green energy to the global mix. Estimates suggest that even more capacity was added in 2014.

The findings could have big implications for the 1.3 billion people worldwide living without electricity. Fossil fuel lobbyists have taken to arguing that developing countries need coal, oil, and natural gas to move out of poverty. But this report concludes that renewable energy is the best hope for poor and isolated communities.

That’s also an important message for northern Canada, where many remote communities are still powered entirely by diesel-fired power stations. In Nunavut, for example, diesel accounts for 99.94 per cent of the territory’s electricity.                                                                                                                          

The report’s outlook is not entirely rosy. Some renewable technologies remain significantly more expensive than fossil fuels. The authors caution that, even with declining costs, we are not on track to double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030. That was one of three goals set by the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative in 2011.