Solar and wind beat coal and gas

11/20/18, 11:02 AM -

Due to falling technology costs unsubsidised solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest source of new bulk power in all major economies except Japan, according to BloombergNEF.

Cost of new bulk and dispatchable electricity, China.
Cost of new bulk and dispatchable electricity, China.

The report “2H 2018 LCOE” assesses the cost competitiveness of different power generating and energy storage technologies globally (excluding subsidies). Key findings include:

Solar and wind are now the cheapest new source of generation in all major economies, except Japan. This includes China and India, where not long ago coal was king. In India, best-in-class solar and wind plants are now half the cost of new coal plants.

13 percent falling costs for PV within several months

The utility-scale PV market in China has contracted by more than a third in 2018 because of policy revisions in that country. This in turn has created a global wave of cheap equipment that has driven the benchmark global levelized cost of new PV (non-tracking) down to $60/MWh in 2H 2018, a 13% drop from the first semester of 2018.

The global benchmark levelized cost for onshore wind sits at $52/MWh, down 6% from our 1H 2018 analysis. This is on the back of cheaper turbines and a stronger U.S. dollar. Onshore wind is now as cheap as $27/MWh in India and Texas, without subsidy.

In most locations in the U.S. today, wind outcompetes combined-cycle gas plants (CCGT) supplied by cheap shale gas as a source of new bulk generation. If the gas price rises above $3/MMBtu, our analysis suggests that new and existing CCGT are going to run the risk of becoming rapidly undercut by new solar and wind. This means fewer run-hours and a stronger case for flexible technologies such as gas peaker plants and batteries that do well at lower utilization (capacity factor).

Upward financing costs dwarfed by lower equipment costs

Higher interest rates in China and the U.S. over the past two years have put upward pressure on financing costs for PV and wind, but these have been dwarfed by lower equipment costs.

In Asia-Pacific, more expensive gas imports mean that new-build combined-cycle gas plants with a levelized cost of $70-117/MWh continue to be less competitive than new coal-fired power at $59-81/MWh. This remains a major hurdle for reducing the carbon intensity of electricity generation in this part of the world.

Batteries cheapest source of new fast-response except U.S.

Short-duration batteries are today the cheapest source of new fast-response and peaking capacity in all major economies except the U.S., where cheap gas gives peaker gas plants an edge. As electric vehicle manufacturing ramps-up, battery costs are set to drop another 66% by 2030, according to our analysis. This, in turn, means cheaper battery storage for the power sector, lowering the cost of peak power and flexible capacity to levels never reached before by conventional fossil-fuel peaking plants.

Batteries co-located with PV or wind are becoming more common. Our analysis suggests that new-build solar and wind paired with four-hour battery storage systems can already be cost competitive, without subsidy, as a source of dispatchable generation compared with new coal and new gas plants in Australia and India. (HCN)

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