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New Report Finds Solar PV, Onshore and Offshore Wind Costs Continuing to Fall, Making Virginia’s Transition to 100% Clean Power a Glaringly Obvious Call

Offshore wind costs down 48% in 10 years; utility-scale solar PV costs down 85% between 2010 and 2020...and falling.

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A few weeks ago, I posted about a new report, by independent think tank “RethinkX,” which found that “by the 2030s, the [levelized cost] of a newly-built solar PV will be less than 1/20th that of any newly-built coal, gas, nuclear, or hydro power plant,” and which strongly implied that the Virginia Clean Economy Act’s 2045/2050 timeframe is at least a decade too slow. On a related note, we also recently learned that Dominion Energy’s offshore wind turbines have been producing “more power than expected” and are “up and ready to turn 98% of the time.” A few more recent stories regarding Virginia’s clean energy transition include:

Now, a new report by IRENA (The International Renewable Energy Agency) is out – highlights are below – which strongly reinforces everything noted above. A few key findings relevant to Virginia include the following:

  • Clean, renewable electricity “levelized costs” continued to fall in 2020, with onshore wind dropping yet another 13%, offshore wind down another 9% and solar photovoltaics (PV) down another 7%. Which means that there is absolutely no excuse for Dominion Energy to continue with its plans for new natural gas-fired power generation capacity or any other fossil fuel infrastructure – purely on economic grounds, not even considering the urgent need to address the climate crisis or any other environmental considerations.
  • For offshore wind, the global weighted-average LCOE of newly commissioned projects declined from USD 0.162/kWh in 2010 to USD 0.084/kWh in 2020, a reduction of 48% in 10 years. This has transformed the outlook for offshore wind, with cumulative installed capacity of offshore wind at just 34 GW at the end of 2020, which is around one-twentieth of that of onshore wind.” With the outlook for offshore wind now transformed, it’s time to go into overdrive on offshore wind power development along the Atlantic seaboard, including off of Hampton Roads here in Virginia. No excuses – get it done!
  • The auction and PPA data suggest offshore wind costs will fall within the range of USD 0.05/kWh to USD 0.10/kWh in Europe in the period up to 2023.” To put this 5-10 cents/kilowatt-hour cost into perspective, here’s what Dominion has to say on its website about how supposedly cheap its power is: “Based on rates in effect as of November 1, 2020…the typical residential customer in Virginia pays a per-kilowatt-hour rate of about 11.66 cents.” Now, you don’t have to be a math genius to note that 5-10 cents per kilowatt-hour is lower than 11.66 cents per kilowatt-hour. Of course, Dominion is talking about the price charged to a “typical residential customer,” and the offshore wind power costs cited by IRENA are from “auction and PPA data” in Europe, but still…very striking!
  • “Renewable power generation costs have fallen sharply over the past decade, driven by steadily improving technologies, economies of scale, competitive supply chains and improving developer experience. Costs for electricity from utility-scale solar PV fell 85% between 2010 and 2020.” Again, there’s no excuse not to crank up solar PV development in Virginia BIG TIME, given that its “levelized cost” in 2020 was under 6 cents per kilowatt-hour and dropping.
  • New solar and wind projects are increasingly undercutting even the cheapest and least sustainable of existing coal-fired power plants. IRENA analysis suggests 800 GW of existing coal-fired capacity has operating costs higher than new utility-scale solar PV and onshore wind, including USD 0.005/kWh for integration costs. Replacing these coal-fired plants would cut annual system costs by USD 32 billion per year and reduce annual CO2 emissions by around 3 Gigatonnes of CO2.” In short, there’s no excuse for Dominion Energy or Appalachian Power to be running coal-fired power plants anymore. Ditch ’em ASAP and replace with clean, cheap solar and wind…not to mention energy efficiency, which of course is the cheapest form of energy (that you never have to produce in the first place).
  • Not surprisingly, given these impressive cost reduction trends – both in absolute terms and relatively to fossil fuel-generated electricity – solar and wind power is growing by leaps and bounds – “Between 2000 and 2020, renewable power generation capacity worldwide increased 3.7-fold, from 754 gigawatts (GW) to 2 799 GW (IRENA, 2021a). With 261 GW of new renewable power generation capacity added in 2020, new renewable generation capacity additions were almost 50% higher than the 176 GW added in 2019 (IRENA, 2021a).” So again, there’s really no good reason to build anymore fossil fuel generation capacity in Virginia again, and a lot of reasons to quickly transition away from existing fossil fuel generation capacity to a 100% non-carbon-emitting energy economy here in Virginia.  This will benefit us tremendously – in health, environmental and economic terms – making it one of the clearest and move glaringly obvious choices our state has ever faced…

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