Investments: Renewables Outstrip Fossil Fuels – 2/9/16

In recent years, investment in renewable energy has exploded. Wind and solar energy power is set to continue coming online in significantly greater numbers than coal and even natural gas-fired power plants. According to analysis presented at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance annual summit, in 2013, the world installed 143 GW of renewable electricity capacity versus 141 GW of fossil fuel installations. From that point, the shift to cleaner electricity has only accelerated.

Research done by the US Energy Information Administration, saw the scheduled net changes to electricity generation capacity fall primarily to the following: wind (+9,811 MW), natural gas (+4,318 MW), and solar (+2,235 MW), all at the expense of coal (-12,922 MW). The same study found wind gains focused the Plains states, California and North Carolina dominating solar additions at 73% of total non-residential additions, and natural gas additions spread throughout the nation though Texas installed about 1/4 of the additional capacity. Increasing regulatory burden and falling costs for wind, gas, and solar will continue to put pressure on coal.

Investment in renewable energy continues to pick up momentum as even utilities, historically opposed the strain of shifting to new energy sources, are beginning to see the benefits of zero-emissions electricity sources. According to Minnesota Star Tribune, regional VP for Xcel Energy, Laura McCarten, has said “Xcel’s analysis of the strategy, which speeds up wind and solar investment in this decade, shows it to be a cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2030 — likely beyond Minnesota’s requirements under the Clean Power Plan.” Xcel Energy is planning for $3 billion in wind and solar investment for Minnesota by 2030 based on increasing cost-effectiveness and the long-term policy certainty created by a multi-year extension of the Production Tax Credit in late 2015. US clean-energy investments rose to $56 billion in 2015, a 7.5% increase from 2014, going mostly to solar ($30.2 billion), wind ($11.6 billion), and $11.1 billion going to technology meant to improve grids, efficiency, storage systems, and power usage management.

Both solar and wind have benefited from massive decreases in costs as the last 6 years saw wind’s $/MWh ratio decline 61% and solar’s decline 82%. The magnitude of the fall in costs has led to wind providing around 5% of US electricity demand in 2015 and projections raising that share to 10% by 2020 and 20% by 2030.


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