Solar’s Cheaper Than Coal — Great, So We’ve Beaten Climate Change Then, Right?
By Tim Worstall
It’s not necessary for us to actually agree with the following statement in order for us to derive a logical conclusion from it. After all, we might demur a little about whether solar really is cheaper than coal, or ponder on whether simple cost per watt is quite the right way to measure between continuous and variable electricity sources. However, if we do take this seriously then we are able to derive a useful logical conclusion from it:
Building new solar power projects would generate cheaper electricity than running most of the world’s existing coal power plants, according to a global renewable energy report.
New figures have revealed that more than half of the world’s coal plants could be undercut by the falling cost of new large-scale solar projects, which are now more than 80% cheaper to build than in 2010.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) has found that up to 1,200 gigawatts of the world’s existing coal capacity could cost more to run than the cost of new utility-scale solar plants.
If energy companies replaced only their most expensive coal plants with new solar power projects or onshore wind farms, totalling 500 GW globally, they could save up to $23bn (£18bn) every year and wipe out 5% of last year’s total global carbon emissions, according to Irena.
Excellent, we’ve beaten climate change then.
For recall what the original prognosis was. That we’d carry on fuelling an ever growing industrialised society through the use of fossil fuels. More, in the worst scenario (what is now RCP8.5) we’d run out of conventional oil and gas and so turn back to the more emmittive coal. Now we’re being told that we’re simply not going to do that. Solar is cheaper. So, logically enough, people are going to install solar. Why wouldn’t people install the cheaper option?
This logic goes on to tell us that what we needed to do in order to beat climate change was get the cost of non-fossil energy sources down below those of fossil. Which, as above, we’ve done. We can now sit back and allow normal human greed to drive the rest of the process. After all, there is no one at all who favours fossil because they love clouds of black smoke now, is there?
Future energy installations will be solar, driven by pure capitalistic greed, and we’re done. We don’t have to overturn industrial society – or capitalism – itself. We’ve solved the problem without doing that.
Which leads to two further pieces of logical deduction. There are those who insist that we must still overturn that capitalism, that industrial society to beat climate change. Even though we’ve already, as the figures above show, solved the problem. A possible deduction from this is that they don’t believe the above numbers and our response to that must be, but, but, don’t you believe the science, deniers? The other would be that they’re – as they have been all along – just looking for a reason to over turn capitalism and any old thing will do there. For it really is true. If we’ve made non-fossil fuel energy generation cheaper than fossil then we really have already beaten climate change. No more need be done.