“It’s the Economy, Stupid”: Fossil Fuel Energy Also Can’t Compete and is Losing to Clean Energy
Fossil fuels have been our main source of energy for 100 years, but all reputable sources of information on global energy agree: the transition away from fossil fuels is happening. Costs of renewable energy have fallen drastically and states, including Illinois, have been taking the lead on getting to 100% renewable energy. While challenges remain to overcome the obstacles such a massive change entails, human ingenuity will prevail.
Solar keeps getting used more, and prices keep going down. In terms of cost, Lazard’s levelized cost of electricity studies provided the following information for 2020:
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.
Besides the falling costs of renewables, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has done a “lifecycle analysis” of solar energy to coal:
“LCA can help determine environmental burdens from ‘cradle to grave’ and facilitate comparisons of energy technologies. Comparing life cycle stages and proportions of GHG emissions from each stage for PV and coal shows that, for coal-fired power plants, fuel combustion during operation emits the vast majority of GHGs. For PV power plants, the majority of GHG emissions are upstream of operation in materials and module manufacturing.”
The analysis shows that the greenhouse gas emissions over the total lifecycle of solar are far lower than coal, by a measure of 40 to 1000:
This massive waste associated with coal energy is beyond astounding, and makes clear why a transition is so obviously necessary. We know there is a better way.