This report isn’t brand new, but I somehow missed it when it came out a few months ago. It’s a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which is quite a respected global organization. If anything the IEA has a history of being anti-renewables, but the new(ish) report notes that any country can reach a high share of renewable energy cost-effectively, mostly by relying on solar and wind power.
But the head of the IEA, Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven, notes that solar and wind power can’t be add-on solutions. Our entire electricity systems need to transform.
“This new IEA analysis calls for a change of perspective,” she says. “In the classical approach, variable renewables are added to an existing system without considering all available options for adapting it as a whole. This approach misses the point. Integration is not simply about adding wind and solar on top of ‘business as usual’. We need to transform the system as a whole to do this cost-effectively.”
Unfortunately, global warming and climate change are coming strong, and we aren’t acting fast enough globally. However, there are already clear leaders who have helped clear a path for the rest of us, and continue to clear an important path, a road less traveled that will hopefully be more traveled soon.
“Currently, wind and solar PV account for just about 3 percent of world electricity generation, but a few countries already feature very high shares: In Italy, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Denmark, wind and solar PV accounted respectively from around 10 to more than 30 percent of electricity generation in 2012 on an annual basis,” the IEA writes.
Wind power is actually now the cheapest option for new electricity in many if not most markets around the world, so there’s clearly an avenue open for growth there. Solar power is generally much more expensive than wind power, but even it is coming in cheaper than any other utility-scale alternatives in some regions (e.g., Austin, Texas; Minnesota; Chile). Furthermore solar power has one huge advantage. Homeowners and businesses can put solar panels on their roofs. In other words, solar power often competes with the retail price of electricity rather than the wholesale price of electricity. In many if not most regions of the world, solar power is now cheaper than electricity from the grid, or diesel power for those living off the grid.
Wind power and solar power are the future. Well, actually, they are already the present!