Solar photovoltaics (PV) has seen the sharpest cost decline of any electricity technology over the last decade.
A new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that between 2010-2019, the cost of solar PV globally dropped by 82%. Across the board the cost of renewables have fallen, with concentrated solar power also seeing a drop of 47%, while onshore wind costs fell 40% and offshore wind 29%.
In 2019 alone, the cost of electricity from solar fell by 13% to just over five pence per kilowatt-hour. This means that by next year globally, there will be up to 1,200GW of existing coal capacity that will cost more to operate than it would to install new solar PV capacity.
This drop now means that costly 500GW coal plants could now be replaced with solar and wind power, and result in an annual saving of £18.6 billion. Additionally, this would reduce global CO2 emissions by 5% based on figures from 2019.
Francesco La Camera, the director-general of IRENA said the new figures show we have reached an important turning point for the energy transition.
“The case for new and much of the existing coal power generation, is both environmentally and economically unjustifiable.
“Renewable energy is increasingly the cheapest source of new electricity, offering tremendous potential to stimulate the global economy and get people back to work. Renewable investments are stable, cost-effective and attractive offering consistent and predictable returns while delivering benefits to the wider economy."
The falling cost of solar PV means that while in 2010, for £794,990 you could build 213kW, by 2019, for the same amount you could build 1,005kW, according to IRENA. This trend is set to continued in 2020, based on auction results and power purchase agreements.
In the UK, the fall in solar prices has allowed the subsidy-free market to emerge. More large scale solar sites are now progressing, such as the largest ever UK solar site Cleve Hill Solar Park, which was approved last week.
There is concern that COVID-19 will hamper investment into renewable energy projects in the short term, but large scale solar is expected to bounce back quickly.
The full report Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019 can be found here.