Welcome to the clean energy revolution – with or without Trump. A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), and Frankfurt School – UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance reveals plunging costs in renewable technology have generated a whole new world of power. Unsubsidized renewables in more countries are now the cheapest new form of energy.
Renewable energy detractors love to claim it’s too expensive, but that criticism simply doesn’t hold up anymore, according to the new report. Per megawatt, the average dollar capital expenditure fell by more than 10 percent for wind and solar. The report also revealed worldwide solar generation costs fell by an average of 17 percent in one year. Onshore wind dropped by 18 percent, and offshore wind plummeted by 28 percent.
BNEF advisory board chairman Michael Liebreich said in the report, “The question always used to be, ‘Will renewables ever be grid competitive?’ Well, after the dramatic cost reductions of the past few years, unsubsidized wind and solar can provide the lowest cost new electrical power in an increasing number of countries, even in the developing world – sometimes by a factor of two. It’s a whole new world…instead of having to subsidize renewables, now authorities may have to subsidize natural gas plants to help them provide grid reliability.”
138.5 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy capacity came online in 2016, greater than 2015’s 127.5 GW, but the 2016 GW were built with investment 23 percent lower than 2015. Investors now get more bang for their buck, according to the report’s foreword.
“Moving from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as solar and wind is key to achieving social, economic, and environmental development,” according to the report. Renewable energy creates jobs, provides electricity for people who didn’t have it before, and reduces air pollution, all at an increasingly low cost.