Emerging markets are set to eclipse developed nations next year in their capacity to generate wind and solar power as equipment costs fall and the energy market approaches “peak coal”, according to Moody’s, the credit rating agency.
While developed countries have long been leaders in renewable power generation, emerging economies are close to overtaking them, bringing their total installed capacity of wind and solar to 307GW and 272GW — respectively 51 per cent and 53 per cent of global capacity, according to Moody’s calculations.
China accounts for the lion’s share of the upsurge. But Middle East and north African countries are scheduled to have installed 14GW in solar plants by the end of 2018 — a seven-fold increase from 2015. Central and South America are also expected to reach 14GW, nearly five times more than in 2015, while India is set to hit 28GW, a jump of nearly six times.
“Everyone knows the cost of installing solar and wind energy has been coming down, but recently we have seen prices hitting extreme lows in places such as Mexico, Chile, India and Abu Dhabi,” said Swami Venkataraman, senior vice-president at Moody’s Investors Service.
“This fall in costs is definitely changing the calculus of [emerging market] governments, allowing them to pursue renewables much more aggressively,” he added.
Another factor is the onset of “peak coal” in the energy market. In 2013, the US Energy Information Administration projected that world coal demand would rise 39 per cent by 2040. Now it is expecting growth of just 1 per cent.
The attractiveness of wind and solar power derives mainly from technological advances that are slashing costs and erasing the need for subsidies, with the trend seen as by no means over.
“Numerous key markets recently reached an inflection point where renewables have become the cheapest form of new power generation, a dynamic we see spreading to nearly every country we cover by 2020,” said a recent report by Morgan Stanley, the investment bank.
“The price of solar panels has fallen 50 per cent in less than two years. All-in costs for wind power in countries with favourable wind conditions can be as low as one-half to one-third that of coal-fired or natural gas-fired power plants, and wind turbine output will increase exponentially as wind blade lengths continue to increase,” the bank added.
The popularity of solar power in emerging markets is growing more quickly than that of wind. By the end of 2019, Moody’s estimates, emerging markets will host 353GW of solar capacity — a 2.6-fold increase over 2015 levels — eclipsing an estimated 349GW of wind power, a level 1.5 times higher than in 2015.
The cost of storing power in batteries, a shortcoming that has hampered adoption of renewable energy, is also declining rapidly, with benchmarks that had been projected for 2020 being reached over the past two years, Mr Venkataraman said.
Cheaper storage should not only help resolve the intermittent generation problems of wind and solar plants but could also cut the price of electric cars, giving them mass-market appeal within a few years, Mr Venkataraman added.