Renewables Are Now Cheaper Than Gas
Renewable energy – even without subsidies – is now routinely the lowest-cost source for new electricity generation, according to leading industry observers such as Lazard, the world’s largest investment bank.
BloombergNEF projects that wind and solar are getting so cheap that new renewable generation is undercutting the marginal cost of running existing fossil fueled plants everywhere -- and as a result global power generation from coal likely peaked in 2018 and gas in 2019. In fact, a landmark Rocky Mountain Institute report found that 90% of all currently proposed gas plants across the United States are already more costly than an equivalent clean alternative.
Gas Isn’t Needed For a Reliable Grid
Rapidly advancing battery storage technology provides an important partner for variable wind and solar generation. Indeed, renewables plus batteries are quickly overtaking the market for gas peaker plants, which run only when needed to meet high electricity demand.
No particular fuel source, including gas, is necessary for maintaining power system reliability, and renewable generators, packaged with storage, energy efficiency, and demand response, can reliably and cost-effectively replace gas plants.
Eliminating Pollution From Gas-Fired Power is Essential
Emissions from fossil fuel use, including gas-fired power plants, must be cut dramatically to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Gas has overtaken coal as the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. power sector and, due in large part to surging gas use, America is currently on track to have higher carbon emissions in 2050 than it did in 2020.
The Power Sector Transition Is Underway
The U.S. is likely to generate more power from renewable sources than coal in 2020, and electric utilities across the U.S. are embracing the clean energy transition with a wave of ambitious new decarbonization goals – encouraged by falling prices of solar, wind, and battery storage.
Several utilities now have serious plans to move beyond gas and transition to entirely carbon-free electric generation.
Rooftop Solar Provides Another Alternative to Gas
Rooftop solar installations allow homeowners and businesses to slash their energy bills, while also benefiting all energy customers that still depend on the electric grid – in part by reducing the need to generate power from costly fossil-fueled plants.
Distributed solar, paired with batteries and advanced controls, can also scale to replace gas plants. Leading residential solar company Sunrun proved this in 2019 by underbidding gas-fueled competitors to win a contract in the New England power market. Under this bid, Sunrun is building a “virtual power plant” – relying on rooftop solar and batteries to deliver clean energy and compete with the services provided by traditional power plants.
Clean Energy is an Economic Engine
The clean energy sector has become a significant part of the American economy, and before the coronavirus pandemic (which caused layoffs across the energy sector) clean jobs outnumbered fossil fuel jobs nearly three to one.
New wind or solar farms benefit rural communities through outsized jobs impacts, direct lease payments to landowners and tax payments to local governments and school districts. The wind industry in 2019 alone paid $912 million in state and local tax payments and $706 million in landowner lease payments.
100% Clean Electricity Is Within Our Reach
Because of the sharply declining costs for renewable energy and battery storage technology, the United States, with modest market and regulatory changes, could reliably deliver 90% clean electricity nationwide by 2035 at no additional cost to consumers, according to new reports from researchers at UC Berkeley and Energy Innovation.
This finding shows 100% clean electricity is well within reach – and can be achieved if we act with more ambition.