Solar and wind are the most affordable sources of electricity, period, according to the most recent Levelized Cost of Energy comparison, released by Lazard.
The report is comprised of comparative levelized cost of energy (LCOE) analysis for various generation technologies on a $/MWh basis, including sensitivities for U.S. federal tax subsidies, fuel prices, carbon pricing and costs of capital. The cost isn’t represented by one concrete price, but rather a range of estimated prices given the circumstance applied.
In a base comparison, without taking into account subsidies, fuel prices or carbon pricing, utility-scale solar, both thin-film and crystalline silicon, as well as wind have the lowest LCOE of all sources considered. Utility-scale crystalline silicon PV comes in anywhere from $42 to $31/MWh, while utility-scale thin-film PV ranges from $38 to $29 and utility-scale wind registers the lowest possible LCOE over the largest range, from $54 to $26/MWh.
For comparison, under these same criteria, gas peaking comes in at $198 to $151/MWh, nuclear is $198 to $129/MWh, coal is $159 to $65/MWh and gas combined cycle is $73 to $ 44/MWh.
Outside of utility-scale, residential, commercial and industrial (C&I) and community solar all register much higher ranges, yet it’s misleading to look at these base figures. This is due partly to the fact that these types of facilities aren’t being built at the same scale as utility-scale solar or fossil generations assets, meaning that construction and customer acquisition costs are going to be much higher per MWh. Additionally, these projects are more reliant on the ITC to be built in the first place so their generation cost without this factored-in is not that meaningful.
When factoring in federal tax subsidies, rooftop PV comes in at $205 to $135/MWh, rooftop C&I follows at $161 to $66/MWh and community registers at $90 to $60, which is actually not that much lower than the subsidy free LCOE of $94 to $63.
Cost of operation
The really telling figures come from the comparisons between the cost of construction of new renewable energy facilities vs. operating existing fossil and nuclear resources. The only type of new renewable generation asset to have a higher per-MWh LCOE than operating existing coal is unsubsidized onshore wind, which isn’t even telling the whole story. The range of LCOE for unsubsidized onshore wind is higher at its peak than the maximum LCOE for operating existing coal, but the lowest end of the ranges favor wind, which comes in at a lowest-possible LCOE of $26/MWh, as compared to $34/MWh for coal.
As for solar, new, unsubsidized utility-scale projects come in at a LCOE range of $38 to $29/MWh, beating out coal, though coming in slighlty higher than the LCOE of operating nuclear or combined cycle gas plants, which range from $32 to 25/MWh and $32 to $23/MWh, respectively. Once subsidies are factored in, utility-scale solar becomes much more competitive, at $32 to $24/MWh.
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Cost is not the only selection criterion. What about availability?
Some context is in order. For where, on Earth, is this calculation made?
And what are the details of the calculation? Any subsidies? Taxes? Carbon credits?
Comparing the cost of intermittent solar energy to the cost of high-availability fossil fueled and nuclear energy is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Energy which is supplied as needed is fundamentally much more valuable than energy which is supplied intermittently without regard to the need for it.
The bottom line is that no amount of solar & wind energy, by itself, will keep you from freezing in the dark on windless winter nights.
At this point, there are no proven storage technologies which can feasibly solve that problem. For instance, the Tesla Powerwall 2, which uses lithium batteries, and costs about $11,500 installed, is warranted for only 37.8 MWh aggregate throughput. That makes the cost per kWh stored $11,500 / 37,800 kWh = $0.304 / kWh.
That’s just the storage cost. It doesn’t include the PV system to actually generate the power.
For comparison, the RETAIL cost of power where I live is about $0.11 / kWh, any time of day. Wholesale cost, of course, is much lower.
It is clear that lithium battery technologies are a very long way from being able to solve the storage problem, at reasonable cost. There are companies working on potentially cheaper battery technologies, like aqueous zinc, but they’ll have to beat the Powerwall’s price by more than a factor of ten, to have a hope of enabling PV to compete with fossil fuels and nuclear.
For now, Solar PV and wind are not competitive with coal, gas and nuclear power, because they cannot supply reliable base-load electricity.
Absolutely right, wind and solar power are not direct substitutions for base load power plants.
But… hydro reservoir capacity isn’t used up on windy nights or sunny days, it’s conserved for another day.
And combined heat and power systems are pretty flexible, so when there’s a high yield of renewables, they can switch to more electricity and less fuel.
And yes, for home use, those Tesla batteries are expensive. Rolls Surette are a lot less pricey, and there are lithium iron phosphare that are also not too bad.
Even assuming there was nothing under $0.30/KWh fir overnight storage, so what? Shift some usage to daytime if possible, and the overnight storage needed is only 1/2 a day’s usage. Also, the battery adds capability to keep power on during a grid outage.
BYD claims to either have gotten or almost gotten their battery storage technology using LiFePO4 (heavy, relatively low density, but long endurance, around 2000-12000 cycles) to 65 USD/kWh. At 5000 cycles, you’d be looking at 1.3 cents per kWh stored. And a decade ago, battery storage was around 1000 USD / kWh.
Battery storage costs may need to drop to something closer to 20 USD / kWh for solar battery to be fully competitive with legacy generators, but at present trends, we’ll reach that within a decade.
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