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Renewable Sources of Electricity Are Coming Into Their Own

The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2016 more electricity will come from renewables than from natural gas.
June 28, 2013

Wind and solar power keep getting cheaper, and that’s encouraging their adoption even as government subsidies falter, a new report from the International Energy Agency concludes. In just a few years, more power will come from renewables than from natural gas, the report said.

“As their costs continue to fall, renewable power sources are increasingly standing on their own merits versus new fossil-fuel generation,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in an IEA press release. The IEA notes that wind is now competitive with fossil fuels in places such as Brazil and New Zealand. Solar competes with fossil fuels for peak electricity production.

But here’s some context: while renewable energy use is growing, so is the use of coal, which means that so far, carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise (see “Renewables Can’t Keep Up with the Growth in Coal Use Worldwide”). Coal is attractive because it’s cheap, and because it produces electricity on demand—it’s not subject to the time of day or the weather.

Can the balance shift? Solar and wind power need to continue getting cheaper  (and they are), and utilities need to demonstrate technological solutions to the intermittency of renewable energy. Development of base load sources of renewable power like hydropower and geothermal can also help.

The U.S. Energy Information Adminstration has a helpful chart showing the relative costs of various electricity generating technologies, including wind, solar, nuclear, coal and natural gas (it’s here). 

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