This Barron’s story from a few days ago almost slipped by unnoticed:
Prices for wind and solar have collapsed in the past three years, meaning that by the end of the decade, 90% will be economically competitive with fossil fuels, according to a report by U.K.-based think tank Carbontracker. Already, some 60% of global solar resources and 15% of wind are competitive. By 2030, that will be all of solar and more than half of wind, the report says.
Hold on a moment: we’ve been told for quite a while that wind and solar power are competitive with conventional electricity sources now—not at some far off future point. And yet this has been the history of wind and solar power. Large subsidies, favorable tax treatment, and purchase mandates for both started in the late 1970s, and one of the key arguments was that subsidies were necessary to launch an “infant industry” and to help drive down costs. And it is true that with technological progress the cost of wind and solar tech has fallen substantially (especially for solar), and yet 40 years on we’re being told that cost parity is still almost a decade away? This is starting to sound like bait and switch. (The various calculations of what wind and solar actually cost are all over the map, and there isn’t a reliable single figure as the real cost depends heavily on location, grid condition and access, backup sources for when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, and a number of other factors.) Just how long do we need to continue subsidies for wind and solar? My guess is: forever.
Strangely, the link to the Carbontracker report in the article is now dead. How come? My suspicion is that someone reviewed its claims more closely and spotted multiple large errors. Or someone realized the message that lots of wind power is still more expensive than conventional energy is not politically correct.
John adds: This is the best analysis of the true relative costs of various energy sources of which I am aware. Claims that wind and solar are cost-competitive are completely bogus. Those making the claims always omit some of the largest costs associated with those sources, among others the cost of thousands of miles of transmission lines, the cost of disposal once the brief useful lives of wind turbines and solar panels are finished, and, most important, the cost of the complementary natural gas plants that supply electricity 60% of the time in the case of wind turbines, and up to 82% of the time in the case of solar panels. Unreliable energy is essentially useless energy, as Texas residents recently learned.
As always, the appropriate response to claims that wind and solar energy are cost-competitive is, Great: then there is no problem with eliminating all mandates and subsidies. Somehow, that logical conclusion never seems to follow.