In the past, renewables faced two major barriers when it came to investment – appetite, and cost. Many investors were put off by what they perceived to be the uncertainty of renewables projects. Energy storage, and transmission and siting challenges were often listed as problems and, quite simply, backers were more comfortable with the familiarity of fossil fuels. Thankfully, change has come. These days, green finance is not only becoming routine, but research by HSBC shows that 68% of global investors are planning to increase their low carbon investments.
Capital costs for renewables sometimes seem high. However, the majority of the finance is called for at the build stage and, once up and running, plants are extremely cheap to operate. If costs are assessed over the lifespan of the facility, wind and solar offer one of the most cost-efficient options for energy generation. Add to this the fact that capital costs for hardware such as photovoltaic modules (which dropped by 80% in 10 years) have fallen solidly year on year, and the investment looks much more appealing.
Where fossil fuel technologies operate within an established array of infrastructure and skill, renewables – which tend to be smaller scale, decentralised operations – are relatively new technologies which also require connecting up to wider infrastructures. A growing army of expertise and rapid advances in equipment are overcoming these challenges and helping to make renewables a viable financial proposition.
According to a report from the World Economic Forum, solar and wind have already achieved parity with fossil fuels in more than 30 countries. Ten years ago, solar generation cost around $600 per MWh, compared with $100 for coal and natural gas. Today, solar has reduced its costs to $100, with wind at $50 – half the cost of established fossil fuels.
At some point in the 2020s, newly installed renewable projects are expected to undercut the cost of producing electricity from traditional plants, at which point there is likely to be an even faster swing to clean energy.
This could be the incentive needed to drive change in the UK which, despite making impressive inroads to carbon reduction, is still falling short of its legally-binding climate change targets.
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