Multiple studies are now reporting that wind and solar power are the cheapest way to make electricity in a growing number of places around the world. A thorough analysis of the levelized cost of energy – which considers every cost component from capital expenditures to operating and maintenance costs over a lifetime – shows that solar and wind power are winning the day.
Given this fact, it would seem like renewable energy should rapidly take over and prevent the worst effects of climate change while simultaneously yielding great economic benefits. So why isn’t this quite what is happening?
There are some barriers to overcome. Some of the best wind and solar resources are in remote locations, far from large cities with lots of power demand. Siting and installing new transmission lines faces bureaucratic, financial, and sometimes political obstacles, particularly in places where the fossil fuel industry has a lot of influence.
There is still misguided if not deliberately misleading alarmism about the reliability of renewables. And there is a fair amount of misinformation about the costs and complexities of running the grid with more renewables. These things take time to overcome. Outdated policies leave us unprepared to take full advantage of the plunging prices of renewable energy.
But free markets now favor solar and wind power. As an example, gas-rich Texas now has three times more wind capacity than any other state and solar power there is expected to grow 400% in the next five years.
Changing the direction of the energy system is like turning a battleship. It takes time, but it can be done.
Photo, posted October 1, 2011, courtesy of Steve Rainwater via Flickr.