Solar now the Cheapest Source of new Power in Many Markets: WoodMac

A new report finds that by 2030, solar will become the cheapest source of new power in every US state, plus Canada, China & 14 other nations

The cost of solar power has dropped 90 percent over the last two decades, and will likely fall another 15 percent to 25 percent in the decade to come. And according to a new report by Wood Mackenzie, by 2030, solar will become the cheapest source of new power in every US state, plus Canada, China, and 14 other nations.

The report ‘Total Eclipse: How Falling Costs will Secure Solar’s Dominance in Power’ calls for the solar power industry “highly investible” due to its growing ability to meet both economic and policy goals.

Wood Mackenzie research director Ravi Manghani said “as the world strives to recover from the economic slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and simultaneously meet the climate and environmental goals of the Paris Agreement, solar is uniquely placed to advance efforts towards a low-carbon, sustainable future.”

The report adds that solar is already the cheapest form of new electricity generation in 16 US states, plus Spain, Italy and India. Even with the pandemic raging, global installations exceeded 115 gigawatts (GW) in 2020, compared to 1.5 GW in 2006. While the growth of solar to this scale was driven partially by government subsidies and environmental goals, solar generation is now attractive based on price alone.

“Solar is becoming so competitive that not only is it a means of decarbonisation for corporate buyers, but also a way to lower the cost of energy for their businesses,” Manghani added.

In the next decade, Wood Mackenzie expects more cost reduction to be driven by growth and development in several technologies:

  • Bifacial panels. New solar cell technology allows both sides of a panel to generate power – as much as 15 percent more.
  • Larger solar modules. This allows more of each panel’s surface area to generate power, leading to big gains in output.
  • Trackers. More solar installations include motorised systems that track the sun’s movement and change the alignment of the panels to increase energy capture.

It further adds that operating costs are expected to drop as well over the next decade. Technologies that are already widely in use by the wind power industry, such as using drones and thermal imaging for inspections, will make operations more efficient, as will developing technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The report cautions that the sector, despite all the gains, is not without risk for some players. Solar investors could pay a price for the technology’s success. As costs drop and installed solar capacity increases, wholesale prices may decline as well, reducing profitability. Still, falling prices should allow solar to displace coal and other more expensive technologies and increase its markets share.

Previously, the pace of solar penetrating the market was constrained by the level of subsidies available, other forms of public policy support or corporate buyers looking to decarbonise their businesses. Now, with solar becoming the lowest cost source of new power generation supplies and more competitive than other technologies, the limiting factors will be investor willingness to take on market price risk, electric transmission capacity, and the development of battery technologies.  

Battery storage is becoming a larger part of the solar development equation because solar only generates power when the sun shines. Peak-price hours for electricity still coincide with solar generation hours in most markets.  But both developers and utilities are preparing for potential changes in demand by including storage in their plans.

Manghani said “once a niche technology in the off-grid space, solar is now one of the cheapest, most efficient and easily deployable means of generating electricity.”

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Ayush Verma

Ayush Verma

Ayush is a staff writer at saurenergy.com and writes on renewable energy with a special focus on solar and wind. Prior to this, as an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he worked as a correspondent for iamrenew.com.

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