Renewable energy is getting cheaper. A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Denver finds that if the cost of wind and solar power continues to drop, it could be just as affordable as natural gas by 2025.
Study author David Hurlbut said each state could use a different mix of renewable power and natural gas.
“So that it provides the best hedge against volatile gas prices, the best emission reductions, the least impact to wildlife, and at the same time maintains system reliability,” Hurlbut said.
He said wind power costs have already been dropping throughout the West. “In fact, some utilities have been adding wind to their portfolios beyond what’s required by [renewable portfolio standards] requirements … because the costs have been coming in at a pretty competitive level,” Hurlbut said.
The study also calculated how much wind power would cost without the production tax credit, a conflict-ridden federal subsidy that pays wind producers for how much energy they generate. Hurlbut said, surprisingly, wind power prices continued to drop without the tax credit.
He said solar power costs also continued to drop through 2025. The study authors assumed that the current three-year cost reduction trend in solar generation would continue. Hurlbut said solar is most cost-competitive with natural gas in places where it’s already working well, like California, Arizona, and Nevada.
“If you don’t have to move solar power very far, it looks like it might be competitive,” Hurlbut said. “But transmission is a big deal.”
The study looked at the best sources of renewable energy for different areas in the West. It found in 2025:
The Pacific Northwest and California could get wind power from Wyoming;
Montana could also deliver power to the Northwest, but it may be difficult to transmit power across the western portion of the state;
Idaho could develop more geothermal power.
The study was funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.