Shine On: Solar power is eclipsing coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy with rapid growth and cost reductions

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A heatwave across Europe was a reminder of the dangers of climate breakdown, but also of the enormous opportunities for tapping into the clean renewable energy that can replace the fossil fuels that drive global warming.

Ever since 2013, the installation of new renewable energy capacity has outstripped all other major energy generating sources combined, coal, oil, gas and nuclear. There are impressive figures for all renewables but the growth and fall in costs of solar power has stunned even seasoned industry observers.

Since its invention in 1954 in the United States, the photovoltaic (PV) cell has offered access to the sun’s energy for free. But it is only in the last decade that the cost of manufacturing solar panels has plummeted dramatically, making them not only affordable but sometimes even the cheapest form of electricity, outcompeting fossil fuels. The City of Los Angeles is negotiating a 25 year power purchase agreement that would deliver solar PV generated electricity at 2¢/kWh and battery storage at 1.3¢/kWh. In the response, the leading authority on renewable energy, Prof of civil and environmental engineering, Mark Z Jacobson, commented, “Goodnight natural gas, goodnight coal, goodnight nuclear.” According to Forbes magazine, this is half the cost of electricity generated from a new natural gas plant, often touted as the efficient, acceptable face of fossil fuels. MORE

Lessons for a rapid transition

  1. Governments play a vital part in stimulating industries that advance zero carbon technologies with tax incentives and other forms of financial support to encourage early uptake.
  2. Bringing down costs is vital for the widespread adoption of any technology, and once scaled up the fall in costs can be dramatic.
  3. Solar power offers unique opportunities to poorer energy consumers in the global South, with its high levels of sunshine and often patchy energy networks.

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