Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s outlook shows renewables will be cheaper almost everywhere in just a few years.
Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast.
That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India.
The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency’s central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.
“Costs of new energy technologies are falling in a way that it’s more a matter of when than if,” said Seb Henbest, a researcher at BNEF in London and lead author of the report.
The report also found that through 2040:
BNEF’s conclusions about renewables and their impact on fossil fuels are most dramatic. Electricity from photovoltaic panels costs almost a quarter of what it did in 2009 and is likely to fall another 66 percent by 2040. Onshore wind, which has dropped 30 percent in price in the past eight years, will fall another 47 percent by the end of BNEF’s forecast horizon.
That means even in places like China and India, which are rapidly installing coal plants, solar will start providing cheaper electricity as soon as the early 2020s.
“These tipping points are all happening earlier and we just can’t deny that this technology is getting cheaper than we previously thought,” said Henbest.
Coal will be the biggest victim, with 369 gigawatts of projects standing to be cancelled, according to BNEF. That’s about the entire generation capacity of Germany and Brazil combined.
Capacity of coal will plunge even in the U.S., where President Donald Trump is seeking to stimulate fossil fuels. BNEF expects the nation’s coal-power capacity in 2040 will be about half of what it is now after older plants come offline and are replaced by cheaper and less-polluting sources such as gas and renewables.
In Europe, capacity will fall by 87 percent as environmental laws boost the cost of burning fossil fuels. BNEF expects the world’s hunger for coal to abate starting around 2026 as governments work to reduce emissions in step with promises under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“Beyond the term of a president, Donald Trump can’t change the structure of the global energy sector single-handedly,” said Henbest.
All told, the growth of zero-emission energy technologies means the industry will tackle pollution faster than generally accepted. While that will slow the pace of global warming, another $5.3 trillion of investment would be needed to bring enough generation capacity to keep temperature increases by the end of the century to a manageable 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the report said.
The data suggest wind and solar are quickly becoming major sources of electricity, brushing aside perceptions that they’re too expensive to rival traditional fuels.
By 2040, wind and solar will make up almost half of the world’s installed generation capacity, up from just 12 percent now, and account for 34 percent of all the power generated, compared with 5 percent at the moment, BNEF concluded.
Solar power is now cheaper than coal in some parts of the world. In less than a decade, it’s likely to be the lowest-cost option almost everywhere.
In 2016, countries from Chile to the United Arab Emirates broke records with deals to generate electricity from sunshine for less than 3 cents a kilowatt-hour, half the average global cost of coal power. Now, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Mexico are planning auctions and tenders for this year, aiming to drop prices even further. Taking advantage: Companies such as Italy’s Enel SpA and Dublin’s Mainstream Renewable Power, who gained experienced in Europe and now seek new markets abroad as subsidies dry up at home.
Since 2009, solar prices are down 62 percent, with every part of the supply chain trimming costs. That’s help cut risk premiums on bank loans, and pushed manufacturing capacity to record levels. By 2025, solar may be cheaper than using coal on average globally, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“These are game-changing numbers, and it’s becoming normal in more and more markets,” said Adnan Amin, International Renewable Energy Agency ’s director general, an Abu Dhabi-based intergovernmental group. “Every time you double capacity, you reduce the price by 20 percent.”
Better technology has been key in boosting the industry, from the use of diamond-wire saws that more efficiently cut wafers to better cells that provide more spark from the same amount of sun. It’s also driven by economies of scale and manufacturing experience since the solar boom started more than a decade ago, giving the industry an increasing edge in the competition with fossil fuels.
The average 1 megawatt-plus ground mounted solar system will cost 73 cents a watt by 2025 compared with $1.14 now, a 36 percent drop, said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis for New Energy Finance.
That’s in step with other forecasts.
The solar supply chain is experiencing “a Wal-Mart effect” from higher volumes and lower margins, according to Sami Khoreibi, founder and chief executive officer of Enviromena Power Systems, an Abu Dhabi-based developer.
The speed at which the price of solar will drop below coal varies in each country. Places that import coal or tax polluters with a carbon price, such as Europe and Brazil, will see a crossover in the 2020s, if not before. Countries with large domestic coal reserves such as India and China will probably take longer.
Coal industry officials point out that cost comparisons involving renewables don’t take into account the need to maintain backup supplies that can work when the sun doesn’t shine or wind doesn’t blow. When those other expenses are included, coal looks more economical, even around 2035, said Benjamin Sporton, chief executive officer of the World Coal Association.
“All advanced economies demand full-time electricity,” Sporton said. “Wind and solar can only generate part-time, intermittent electricity. While some renewable technologies have achieved significant cost reductions in recent years, it’s important to look at total system costs.”
Even so, solar’s plunge in price is starting to make the technology a plausible competitor.
In China, the biggest solar market, will see costs falling below coal by 2030, according to New Energy Finance. The country has surpassed Germany as the nation with the most installed solar capacity as the government seeks to increase use to cut carbon emissions and boost home consumption of clean energy. Yet curtailment remains a problem, particularly in sunnier parts of the country as congestion on the grid forces some solar plants to switch off.
Sunbelt countries are leading the way in cutting costs, though there’s more to it than just the weather. The use of auctions to award power-purchase contracts is forcing energy companies to compete with each other to lower costs.
An August auction in Chile yielded a contract for 2.91 cents a kilowatt-hour. In September, a United Arab Emirates auction grabbed headlines with a bid of 2.42 cents a kilowatt-hour. Developers have been emboldened to submit lower bids by expectations that the cost of the technology will continue to fall.
“We’re seeing a new reality where solar is the lowest-cost source of energy, and I don’t see an end in sight in terms of the decline in costs,” said Enviromena’s Khoreibi.
On Nov. 4, Walmart announced an aggressive plan to increase its investments in renewable energy, pledging to power half its operations from wind, solar, and other renewables by 2025 and to cut the carbon footprint of its operations by 18 percent over the same period. Ten days later, Microsoft made its largest wind-power purchase agreement ever, with a deal to buy 237 megawatts of electricity from turbines in Kansas and Wyoming to run data centers in Cheyenne.
In between those announcements, Donald Trump was elected president, in part by calling climate change a hoax and vowing to gut most of Obama’s clean-energy policies and revive coal mining. If the actions of Walmart and Microsoft are any indication, a Trump administration will do little to dissuade companies from continuing to invest in renewables. “I think fears of a negative impact of Trump on renewable energy are really overblown,” says Thomas Emmons, a partner at Pegasus Capital Advisors, a private asset management firm focused on sustainable and alternative investments.
One reason is timing. The biggest economic incentives for clean energy are federal tax credits for solar and wind projects. Both were set to expire at the end of last year, prompting a surge in investments as companies raced to get in under the deadline. In December, Congress unexpectedly extended both credits (for solar until 2021 and for wind until 2019) as part of a deal to lift the 40-year-old ban on U.S. oil exports. It’s not clear that Trump will try to persuade Congress to repeal the extensions. Wind power is especially popular across the Midwest, a Republican stronghold; in many cases it’s become cheaper than other sources of grid power.
Sixty percent of Fortune 100 companies have renewable-electricity or climate change policies, and 81 companies globally have committed to get 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Companies tend to invest in renewable energy in one of three ways: sourcing clean power from wind and solar projects through long-term agreements; purchasing a stake in green power projects; or using renewable-energy credits to offset the dirtier power they consume.
Since 2008, U.S. companies have signed agreements to purchase more than $10 billion worth of wind and solar power— about 10Gw, enough to run almost 2 million U.S. households for a year. BNEF expects that pace to increase over the next decade, with at least 50 U.S. companies signing long-term agreements to buy an additional 22Gw of clean energy. “A Trump presidency does not lower our expectations for the growth of the corporate renewable-energy market,” says Nathan Serota, a clean-energy analyst at BNEF. “If anything, a less ambitious stance on renewables at the federal level could encourage corporations to pick up the slack even further.” With the government providing less support, more businesses may decide the best way to ensure clean-power projects get built is to sign long-term purchase agreements. That way, renewable developers have a guaranteed customer, ensuring they can finance new projects.
These agreements are emerging as the preferred way to invest in clean energy. Locking in electricity prices for up to 15 years, the deals let companies hedge exposure to volatile natural gas and coal prices, which have historically determined wholesale power prices in the U.S. As wind and solar get cheaper, companies are able to lock in renewable power for less than the average wholesale power price, says Swami Venkataraman, senior vice president at Moody’s Investors Service.
“Companies are investing in sustainability, not because they’re making a political statement, but because they have a fiduciary duty to protect shareholders and make money,” says Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocate. Even if Trump rolls back Obama’s commitment to the Paris climate accord and his signature clean-energy initiative, the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which directs states to lower carbon emissions from power plants, it’s unlikely to influence investment decisions. “Renewable developers weren’t building a business model premised on the CPP,” Serota says.
On Nov. 16, 300 U.S. businesses, including General Mills, EBay, and Intel, called on Trump to support the Paris accord. “The sustainable investing trend has global momentum and big players such as Goldman Sachs and Bill Gates,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director for energy and sustainability at the University of California at Davis, in an e-mail. “Corporate America has lots of millennial customers, and they want to buy from companies with sustainable supply chains and a commitment to renewable energy. I don’t see that changing.”
The United Nations (UN) climate change secretariat has added its voice to concerns being raised about a proposal made by China’s Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO) for the construction of a coal-fired plant in St Elizabeth.
The proposal was announced after JISCO completed a deal to acquire the Alpart alumina factory from Russian company, UC Rusal. The new Chinese owners plan to upgrade the plant with an aluminum smelter that would be powered by a 1,000-megawatt coal-fired plant.
Based on calculations provided by the CoalSwarm Global Plant Tracker, a 1,000 megawatt coal plant would produce 5.6-5.8 million tonnes of CO2 annually, increasing Jamaica’s emissions of CO2 by 79-82 per cent. Greenpeace campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta has said that the construction of the plant would violate the Paris Agreement signed under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Commenting on the possible impact of the proposed coal plant on Jamaica’s UNFCCC standing, Nick Nuttall, UNFCCC spokesperson, pointed out that Jamaica had submitted an ambitious national climate action plan to the UN aimed at achieving a nearly eight per cent emission reduction by 2030. He also argued that the action plan promised commitments of greater investment in greener sources of homegrown energy such as wind and solar power rather than increases in oft-imported fossil fuels.
He argued that economic growth and job creation were not antithetical to environmental protection.
“Many complex choices will be made by governments over the years and decades to come, including with regard to energy sources, but today, there is an ever clearer consensus that overcoming poverty and growing GDP, which are critical for developing countries, can go hand in hand with generating new kinds of high-tech jobs; creating healthier, less polluted societies and a transition to a low carbon economy …,” he said in an email response to The Gleaner.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that the Government is committed to balancing its economic-growth aspirations with its environmental and international commitments.
Comments solicited from Jamaica’s mission to the UN and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were not forthcoming up to press time.
Malvern, St Elizabeth — Eighteen months after ground was broken, the 36.3-megawatt wind farm run by BMR Jamaica Wind at Potsdam, Malvern, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, was formally commissioned in mid-August.
Priced at US$89.9 million, the wind project, located across the road from another wind farm run by light and power company Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), is being described as the single largest investment in St Elizabeth since construction of the Alpart alumina plant at Nain in the late 1960s.
The BMR project includes eleven wind turbines, which will provide energy to JPS’s national grid at US12.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.
BMR Jamaica Wind is a subsidiary of US-based BMR Energy. Guests at the recent formal commissioning were told that billionaire British investor, Sir Richard Branson — who turned up for the commissioning — was in the process of acquiring BMR through his wide- ranging and far-flung Virgin Group.
Branson, who triggered laughter by ripping up and throwing away what he said were his speaking notes, told his audience that his motive for the acquisition was to promote a clean energy revolution.
“I decided recently that we needed to get one or two core (clean energy) companies under our belt so that we can actually get out there and speed up this revolution …” he said.
“ We were delighted to acquire BMR and we will be out there trying to hustle and bustle governments all over the Caribbean and other countries to hurry up towards carbon neutrality by 2050. Personally, I don’t need to make money out of it, if it makes a bit of money, fine; if it doesn’t, fine. I just want to get the wind out there get the solar out there, … be powered by sun, wind, sea… a green energy revolution and bring the cost of energy down for everybody; get rid of the dangers of coal and oil and the dirty energies that we are using today… ” said Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
Funding for the BMR project in Malvern was sourced through a package including a US$42-million loan from the US quasi-government investment agency Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which pushes US overseas investment globally; US$10 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which promotes private sector development; US$10 million from the IFC-Canada Climate Change Programme and equity investment of US$26.9 million from BMR Energy.
Jamaica’s energy minister Andrew Wheatley said the BMR wind farm formed part of the government’s drive to significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce the current annual oil bill of about US$2 billion. Ninety-two per cent of Jamaica’s energy needs are currently met by oil imports, he said.
The project was in line with the target of 30 per cent renewables in the national energy mix by 2030, as stated in the National Energy Policy, and in keeping with Vision 2030 Jamaica, the minister said.
“Projects like BMR continue to establish Jamaica as a clear renewables market leader within the Caribbean. By the end of this year, we would have added 80 MW of renewable energy to the national grid, through Wigton III (a wind farm at Rose Hill in southern Manchester), Content Solar (solar plant in Clarendon), and this facility,” Wheatley said.
Bruce Levy, president of BMR Energy, said the company had plans to expand the wind farm at Malvern by an additional three wind turbines. Small farmers would co-exist with the energy-generating operations, he said.
Jamaica is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030 as part of its global commitment to take climate change mitigation action.
To bring this about, the island – as reflected in its nine-page Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) document to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – has undertaken to implement energy policies that ensure that the island uses energy wisely and aggressively to pursue opportunities for conservation and efficiency has a modernised and expanded energy infrastructure that enhances energy-generation capacity and ensures that energy supplies are safely, reliably, and affordably transported to homes, communities, and the productive sectors on a sustainable basis, and achieves its energy resource potential through the development of renewable energy sources by increasing their share in its primary energy mix of 20 per cent by 2030.
Such policies are also to ensure that government agencies and ministries are models and leaders in energy conservation and environmental stewardship and that the island has a well-defined and established governance, institutional, legal, and regulatory framework.
Fully implemented energy polices need, too, to ensure that private industry embraces “efficiency and ecological stewardship to advance international competitiveness and to move towards a green economy”, the document said.
Realising Nationally Determined Contributions is essential if the target of the climate deal, brokered in Paris in December, is to be reached.
That agreement – to which Jamaica is a party – looks to hold “the increase in the global average temperatures to well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”.
It is against this background that Jamaica is continuing its own mitigation efforts.
“Certain new activities have started up again under the memorandum of understanding we had with the Americans, for example, particularly around natural gas, that will allow us to have much more efficient plants …” a source from the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change told The Gleaner at the start of the year.
“Natural gas generation, generally speaking, can be made to respond very well to changes in demand … . For example, if you have a solar plant and production dips, it is relatively easy for you to ramp up the production of electricity from a natural gas plant,” the source added.
There are also other efforts afoot.
“Recognising that energy is not just electricity, it is also transport, some of the work we will be doing in respect of sector planning will involve a closer look at transportation and transportation efficiency and how we can reduce the amount of oil consumed there,” the source noted.
Further, to achieve 20 per cent renewables in the island’s energy mix, the source said, “You can increase the amount of renewables or decrease the amount of other fuels in the mix. There, you are talking efficiency measures and the Government is looking at efficiency in a number of respects.”