Wind and solar have grown seemingly unstoppable.
While two years of crashing prices for oil, natural gas, and coal triggered dramatic downsizing in those industries, renewables have been thriving. Clean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels.
One reason is that renewable energy is becoming ever cheaper to produce. Recent solar and wind auctions in Mexico and Morocco ended with winning bids from companies that promised to produce electricity at the cheapest rate, from any source, anywhere in the world, said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
“We’re in a low-cost-of-oil environment for the foreseeable future,” Liebreich said during his keynote address at the BNEF Summit in New York recently. “Did that stop renewable energy investment? Not at all.”
Here’s what’s shaping power markets, in six charts from BNEF:
The reason solar-power generation will increasingly dominate: It’s a technology, not a fuel. As such, efficiency increases and prices fall as time goes on. What’s more, the price of batteries to store solar power when the sun isn’t shining is falling in a similarly stunning arc.
Just since 2000, the amount of global electricity produced by solar power has doubled seven times over. Even wind power, which was already established, doubled four times over the same period. For the first time, the two forms of renewable energy are beginning to compete head-to-head on price and annual investment.
Meanwhile, fossil fuels have been getting killed by falling prices and, more recently, declining investment. It started with coal. It used to be that lower prices increased demand for fossil fuels, but coal prices apparently can’t fall fast enough. Richer OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries have been reducing demand for almost a decade. In China, coal power has also flattened. Only developing countries with rapidly expanding energy demands are still adding coal, though at a slowing rate.
The best minds in energy keep underestimating what solar and wind can do. Since 2000, the International Energy Agency has raised its long-term solar forecast 14 times and its wind forecast five times. Every time global wind power doubles, there’s a 19 percent drop in cost, according to BNEF, and every time solar power doubles, costs fall 24 percent.
And while BNEF says the shift to renewable energy isn’t happening fast enough to avoid the catastrophic legacy of fossil-fuel dependence-climate change-it’s definitely happening.