2016 was a spectacular year for solar power. For the first time ever, solar is pulling ahead in the energy race as the least expensive type of new electricity. The latest data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reveals that solar plants in developing countries are now cheaper to construct than wind projects.
There’s a lot to celebrate in the world of renewable energy. People predicted solar would one day be cheaper than wind power, but almost no one thought it would happen so fast. Bloomberg also projects 70 gigawatts of new solar will have been installed in 2016, beating out wind’s 59 gigawatts.
Not only is solar topping wind, it’s edging out fossil fuels too. Unsubsidized solar is becoming more competitive than natural gas and coal “on a larger scale,” according to Bloomberg. Electricity obtained from fossil fuels may reach a peak within the next 10 years, as more clean energy capacity is added yearly than capacity for natural gas and coal put together.
BNEF Head of Americas Ethan Zindler told Bloomberg, “Solar investment has gone from nothing – literally nothing – like five years ago to quite a lot. A huge part of this story is China, which has been rapidly deploying solar.”
Even more exciting, emerging markets are leading the way in renewable energy investments. In 2015 they spent $154.1 billion compared to wealthier countries, which spent less at $153.7 billion. Bloomberg predicts developing countries will continue to lead the way in clean energy.
It’s too simple to say solar is cheaper everywhere; new solar projects in developed countries have to compete with existing fossil fuel plants. But according to BNEF chairman Michael Liebreich, in nations rapidly adding new electricity capacity, “renewable energy will beat any other technology in most of the world without subsidies.” Renewables can make a dramatic difference for people depending on expensive kerosene, or those who have no electricity at all.