When Building New Power Plants, Wind Can Be Cheaper Than Coal

In Australia, wind power is now cheaper than coal

A turbine at the Waterloo Wind Farm in Southern Australia. Photo: David Clarke

The price disparity between renewable and fossil fuel energy sources—the cost that has long put investments in green energy into the realm of “conscious decision” rather than “economic no-brainer”—is starting to fade. In Australia, says a new study by the market research group Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the cost of building and operating a new wind farm has now dipped below the price of generating electricity with a new coal- or natural gas-fired power plant. Even when carbon taxes are ignored (Australia charges $23 per ton of carbon emissions), says New Scientist, generating a megawatt hour of electricity from wind can now cost as little as $80 as compared to coal’s $126 per megawatt hour.

Coal itself is quite cheap, says New Scientist, so “existing coal-fired power plants remain cheap to run.” Wind only wins out when it comes to building new power plants.

Wind is seen as a safer long-term investment, says Turner. “Investors are nervous about building a new coal plant.” While renewable sources are increasingly favoured by governments, fossil fuels face an uncertain future as countries try to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

According to The Guardian, the global capacity to generate power through the wind increased by 20 percent last year, with the majority of this growth taking place in China, the United States, India, Germany and the United Kingdom. The U.S. has the second-largest installed capacity for wind energy production at 60 gigawatts. The Bloomberg report also suggests that solar energy will also be cheaper than coal and gas by 2020.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Island Nation Now Runs Entirely On Solar Power
Scientists Save Bats and Birds from Wind Turbine Slaughter
Saudi Arabia, World’s Largest Oil Exporter, Pushes for Solar at Home

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