Solar energy reaches historically low costs
In some parts of the world, solar power is now the cheapest source of electricity in history, thanks to policies encouraging renewable energy growth. That’s according to a new report released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Sunshine is free, but the technology needed to turn it into usable electricity can be expensive. To encourage more people and companies to switch to solar power, countries can adjust their policies to make purchasing that equipment more affordable. Today, more than 130 countries have policies that lower the cost of building new solar installations. This is the first year that the IEA took such policies into consideration when calculating the cost of solar energy in its annual World Energy Outlook report. After doing so, their estimates of the cost of solar power fell by between 20 to 50 percent per region compared to last year, Carbon Brief first reported.
Solar is on track to become “the new king of electricity supply,” the report says, as prices continue to fall. It’s expected to dominate more and more of the market over the next decade, boosted by global efforts to tackle climate change. The EU, for example, set a goal to source 32 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030.
“It does seem that the policy support is here to stay which is a very good thing,” says Brent Wanner, who leads power generation modeling and analysis for the IEA’s World Energy Outlook. “These policy frameworks are really essential to underpinning those low costs, which then underpin the kind of growth we need to move towards climate ambitions.”
国际能源署“世界能源展望”(World Energy Outlook)发电建模和分析负责人布伦特·万纳(Brent Wanner)表示：“看起来政策支持确实会持续下去，这是一件非常好的事情。”“这些政策框架对于支撑这些低成本真的至关重要，而低成本又支撑着我们实现气候雄心所需的那种增长。”
In most countries in the world, it’s consistently cheaper to build solar farms than new coal- or gas-fired power plants, the report says. For utility-scale solar projects completed this year, the average cost of electricity generation over the lifetime of the plant (called the levelized cost of electricity) was between $35 to $55 per megawatt-hour in some of the world’s biggest markets — the US, Europe, China, and India. Just four years ago, the global average levelized cost for solar power was $100 per megawatt-hour, according to the World Economic Forum. About a decade ago, it was $300.
报告称，在世界上大多数国家，建造太阳能发电场一直比新建燃煤或燃气发电厂更便宜。对于今年完成的公用事业规模的太阳能项目，在一些世界上最大的市场-美国、欧洲、中国和印度-在工厂整个生命周期内的平均发电成本(称为标准化电力成本)在每兆瓦时35美元到55美元之间。根据世界经济论坛(World Economic Forum)的数据，就在四年前，全球太阳能的平均水平成本为每兆瓦时100美元。大约十年前，这是300美元。
The cost for coal, in comparison, currently ranges between about $55 and $150 per megawatt-hour, according to the new IEA report — about the same as where it’s been for more than a decade. And the coal industry has been in decline despite US efforts from the Trump administration to prop it up. Globally, coal use probably won’t go back to pre-pandemic levels even if the economy recovers next year, the IEA anticipates.
The forecast for solar in the future, on the other hand, is sunny. Electricity demand is down now because of the pandemic, but the IEA expects that people’s appetite for electricity could rebound quickly once the pandemic is under control and the economy recovers. It also anticipates a future where solar power continues to grow at record-setting speeds to meet increasing consumer demands.
“The good news about this is that solar tech continues to improve and innovation continues to drive those costs down,” Wanner says.