The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many unusual environmental benefits: cleaner air, reduced carbon emissions, a rest for wildlife. Now the big question is whether we can capitalize on this moment. The ecological transition seems to be quietly taking place, but we still have a long way to go. Indeed, coal remains the primary source of electricity generation worldwide, whether among developing or western countries. The figure below from the International Energy Agency (IEA) on global electricity production by different energy sources shows how slow renewable energies are part of our energy mix. Currently, almost 75% of the world’s electricity is produced by non-renewable energy sources.
However, the IEA mentions that since 2009 investments in renewable energy sources have been greater than those in fossil fuels. The figure below shows it, investments in renewable energies being in green and those in fossil fuels in dark blue. It is hoped that the trend will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The figure below of the IEA shows the evolution of the distribution of investments in the different renewable energy sources from 2004 to 2016. Among these investments, the vast majority of these are intended for the solar sector (in dark green) while the wind industry occupies second place (light green).
One of the main reasons for the increase in these investments is undoubtedly the constant fall in the price of solar panels in recent decades. In this regard, the image below shows the evolution of the price of photovoltaic solar panels in US dollars per watt installed from 1977 to 2015. Since 2010, the price has dropped from $ 1.41 to $ 0.30 per watt, a decrease of 78%! Although the price reduction was more pronounced at the very beginning of the marketing of the product, it remained in constant decrease. The payback time of a solar energy system is therefore becoming increasingly short, to the point where it will very soon exceed that of fossil fuels.
Concerning the growth of renewable energies, the IEA forecasts by 2024 an increase of 50% of their installed power. This growth is driven by China and the European Union, which are constantly investing in alternative energy sources. The figure below from the economic analysis firm Bloomberg shows the origin of the main capital investments in renewable energies from 2010 until the second quarter of 2019. China and the European Union alone account for almost 90% of total investments. History will tell us whether the current COVID-19 pandemic will affect the scale of future investments.
It is however important to mention that although China is the world solar leader, and even the world leader in any renewable energy source, China is also the largest consumer of fossil fuels. 70% of Chinese electricity is still produced from coal. Let us hope that they continue to invest massively in renewable energies since they have a very great influence on the future of the solar sector.
Good news! The latest report from the IEA found that renewables are becoming more and more comparable to fossil fuels on price, with solar projects setting record prices at government auctions. The figure below shows the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of the different energy sources, this cost being the total cost of energy over the lifetime of the equipment that produces it. Predictions are that within 10 years, the LCOE of wind and solar power stations will be lower than any other type of non-renewable energy source.
That said, all the figures shown above show that the future lies in renewable energy sources, especially in solar energy. Let us hope that we will be able to capitalize on the environmental benefits offered by the COVID-19 pandemic and that we will continue to move forward rather than move backward.