IRENA Reports Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2014

Competitiveness of renewable power generation technologies improve to historic levels in 2013 and 2014

This headline from Clean Technica recently caught my attention: “New Report Confirms Renewable Power Costs Less — But It’s Not What You Think”.

The first paragraph reads: “Oil price crash or no, renewable energy is still highly competitive in the global market, according to the new Renewable Power Generation Costs report from IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency. However, there’s an interesting twist to the new report. If you’re guessing a lot of the competition is coming from solar, guess again. Despite a huge drop in the cost of solar energy, solar is still not your best bet for beating fossil fuels on cost. So, where exactly does IRENA see renewables coming out ahead?”

Having touted the drastically-falling costs of solar recently, I was naturally disappointed that it was not the international winner in this report. My second guess was offshore wind, as I knew there were a number of initiatives that could make this a winner economically, despite the significant capital outlay requirements and technical considerations.

I was wrong again.

Before I tell you the result, I’d like to focus on probably the most important aspect of the IRENA report: “For 1.3 billion people worldwide without electricity, renewables are the cheapest source of energy. Renewables also offer massive gains in cost and security for islands and other isolated areas reliant on diesel.”

Boom. There it is. The gaping, wind-turbine-sized hole in the fossil fuel industries’ arguments that coal and other (artificially) cheap, dirty energy sources offer developing countries the most economical way to join the developed world.

Chart outlining the varying costs of sustainable energy sources when compared with fossil fuels.
Note: Size of the diameter of the circle represents the size of the project. The center of each circle is the value for the cost of each project on the Y axis. Real weighted average cost of capital is 7.5% in OECD countries and China; 10% in the rest of the world.

Now for the dramatic unveiling from the Clean Technica article: “According to IRENA’s figures, the big winner is onshore wind power, along with biomass for power, hydropower, and geothermal.”

Of course, solar fans are putting their own spin on the report, as well.

Solar leading falling renewable energy costs, says IRENA,” claims PV Tech.

“PV leads charge as global renewables costs tumble,” states RECHARGE magazine.

And, in the end, aren’t we all winners with clean, inexpensive, renewable energy technology?

Read the report and decide for yourself. Download a copy of the full report and executive summary from IRENA.

Kyle G. Crider (MPA, LEED AP ND) is a professional science and sustainability “story teller.” In his spare time he is pursuing his Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary (Environmental Health) Engineering and traveling the highways and by-ways of home state with his wife Beverly in search of fact, fiction, and folklore for Strange Alabama.