Although a recent story from Spectrum IEEE said Google researchers gave up on a project to produce electricity from renewables more cheaply than electricity from coal, a story in the New York Times says some renewable electricity is already cost competitive with coal.
The story cites a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, which finds the cost of utility-scale solar is as low as 5.6 cents per kWh, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents, while natural gas comes in at 6.1 cents and coal at 6.6 cents. However, solar and wind benefit from subsidies. But without subsidies, Lazard finds solar would cost about 7.2 cents per kWh and wind would cost 3.7 cents, both still cheaper than coal or natural gas.
In Texas, Austin Energy signed a deal this spring for 20 years of output from a solar farm at less than 5 cents per kWh. In September, the Grand River Dam Authority in Oklahoma announced its approval of a new agreement to buy power from a new wind farm expected to be completed next year. Grand River estimated the deal would save its customers roughly $50 million from the project, says the NY Times.
The article also mentions the “hidden costs” of both renewables and fossil fuels. Solar and wind produce power intermittently, which requires backup systems. And of course, traditional fossil-fuel power plants emit carbon, which results in environmental costs.