Falling costs in renewables generation driving global sector growth

07 December 2018 Consulting.us 5 min. read

Renewable energy is a key part of the transition away from fossil fuel generation and their negative effects. Current trends in the renewables market show that both solar and wind are competitive with fossil fuels, while net grid technologies and techniques mean that concerns around intermittency are progressively being addressed.

Renewable energy is a key aspect of shifts in the global economy towards sustainability. As it stands, a rapid shift to renewable sources of energy are needed to meet the Paris Climate accord targets of no more than 2.0C warming by 2100. However, while the targets create impetus for change, tough-to-enact government policy and changes in production and consumption behaviour are required to meet the target.

Though across-the-board cooperation at a global level is needed to tackle the major issue, different sectors of the economy have different sorts of changes. Electricity generation remains a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, with many plants still based on fossil fuel combustion. Coal-fired power plants are particularly harmful to the environment, generating considerable emissions as well as other pollutants, while gas plants also have considerable emission profile issues. A new Deloitte report, titled ‘Global Renewable Energy Trends’, explores conditions.Top renewable energy marketsSustainable energy technologies, such as wind and solar, are key sources of future generation that have low emission profiles. The technologies are rapidly maturing, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for onshore wind stands at $30-60 per MWh, while LCOE for solar is $43-53 MWh; coal, meanwhile, sits between $60-140 MWh. As such, some renewable technologies have developed to be cost-competitive with at least coal-fired power.

The relatively low costs of renewables – and the projection of decreasing costs as the technologies scale and storage and other grid technologies improve – mean that solar and wind are set to become among the cheapest forms of generation.

The story is more complex than just scale economics, as it is not merely large-scale sustainable energy programmes that are bringing strong returns on investment. Distributed energy, particularly rooftop solar, as well as city-focused production projects, are set to change who the producers are, as well as how the grid functions across various countries/states.

According to the Deloitte, the trend towards the use of renewables in distributed energy systems, as well as at scale by generation companies, reflects a maturing technology landscape and changes to market conditions – including evolving sentiment among consumers, governments, states, and businesses.Top onshore and solar generators in 2017Overall adoption of sustainable energy technology is relatively broad across the globe. A number of countries, particularly in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly adopting sustainable energy technologies and have mature markets in place. France, Spain, Canada and Brazil for instance, are strong in wind farms, while the US, the UK and Germany have both strong wind and solar investments. In Asia, China and India are heavily developing sustainable energy infrastructure: China has scrapped a large number of coal plants while India plans to generate the majority of its energy needs from sustainable sources by 2030.

The increase in competitive sustainable energy and wider shifts to more sustainable forms of energy production have seen an increases in generation capacity across the globe. In total there was 419 GW of installed wind across 121 countries in 2017. Installed solar capacity meanwhile came in at 385 GW, across 187 countries globally.

When it comes to total capacity, China is the frontrunner by a significant margin in both solar and wind capacity – at 130 GW and 161 GW respectively. The US takes the number two spot in wind at 87 GW, and the number four spot in solar. Japan, meanwhile, which boasts a highly developed solar panel manufacturing industry, grabs the second spot in solar. Germany has both a well-developed solar and wind market, at 42 and 50 GW respectively.Enabling trendsThe study also notes that concerns about the intermittency of wind and solar on the stability of the grid is overstated. As it stands, minor development of the grid itself is able to absorb intermittency in production, while new technologies around storage are able to further improve any negative grid impacts. Large interconnected networks, particularly in Europe and the US, are able to further mitigate negative impacts on the grid from intermittencies.

Future claims about the lack of ability for intermittent sources to create grid stability may be increasingly muted as new technologies, such as smart grid interconnectivity, smart inverters, storage, and distributed systems close the gap on supply unevenness.
Low prices noted in strong wind and solar US statesWind and solar are also having positive impacts on consumer electricity prices. The technologies, once installed, have low maintenance costs, while older projects tend to create downward pressure on overall prices as their return on investment is reached. States with high quotients of sustainable energy in their mixes tend to have lower overall prices, with solar facilitating lower day-time costs – when cooling is needed – while wind is able to generate during the night, resulting in lower night-time costs.

The future of the market also looks positive, with further development in smart meters, more efficient forms of solar, larger turbines, and new forms of grid integration and production likely to create stronger incentives away from fossil fuels. Given the scale of the required changes from the Paris agreement targets, as well as a wider focus on pollution reduction, the fossil fuel-powered electricity generation segment seems likely to shrink further.