Unsubsidized solar power costs are beginning to outperform coal and natural gas and new solar energy projects in emerging markets cost less to build than wind turbines, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
The study, which includes the average cost of new wind and solar from 58 emerging-market economies, including China, India, and Brazil, determined that even though the cost of solar had been expected to eventually fall below wind, steeper price declines spurred that to happen far faster than analysts thought possible.
Steep solar equipment cost drops are driving growth in new solar installations, BNEF's latest edition of Climatescope concluded; investment in utility-scale solar in the 58 emerging nations rose 43% to $71.8 (billion) in 2015.
By the end of 2016, the total amount of solar power installations added globally will likely exceed that of wind for the first time, the report concluded. BNEF's projections estimate that 70 gigawatts (GW) of new solar photovoltaic power will be installed in 2016 compared with 59GW of wind power.
"Solar investment has gone from nothing -- literally nothing -- like five years ago to quite a lot," Ethan Zindler, head of U.S. policy analysis at BNEF, said in a statement. "A huge part of this story is China, which has been rapidly deploying solar" and helping other countries finance their own projects.
Climatescope is a clean energy country competitiveness index supported by the U.S. and U.K. governments. It offers an overall portrait of clean energy activity in 58 emerging markets in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. The group includes major developing nations such as China, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa as well as dozens of others.
In 2015, the emerging economy nations in Climascope's report set a new record for clean energy installations with 69.8 gigawatts (GW) of new energy, up 30% from the 48.4GW added in 2014. The 2015 total represents 10.6GW more than the 59.2GW of clean energy built in a group of countries that includes the world's wealthiest nations, such as the U.S., the U.K and Germany.
It marked the first time emerging market nations invested more in solar power than that of developed nations, BNEF said.
Since 2010, photovoltaic investment in Climatescope countries has grown more than 11-fold. And from 2014 to 2015, investment in solar power in those countries grew 16% to reach $154 billion. In addition, the investment in new clean energy generation in Climatescope nations last year topped global investment in thermal power generation worldwide as recorded by the International Energy Agency.
"Solar and onshore wind have historically accounted for the majority of clean energy investment globally and their shares have grown substantially in recent years. Together, these technologies accounted for 65% of new clean energy investment in 2011. By 2015, that had risen to 94%," BNEF said.
Solar saw the largest investment growth, from 8% in 2011 to just over 46% in 2015, the report said.
Throughout emerging markets, when private energy companies competed for massive contracts to provide electricity, new records were set for cheap solar power.
In January, for example, one massive contract in India set the per megawatt-hour price in India at $64. In August, another utility contract set the price at $29.10 per megawatt hour in Chile, according to BNEF.
"That's record-cheap electricity -- roughly half the price of competing coal power," BNEF stated in a statement.
"Renewables are robustly entering the era of undercutting" fossil fuel prices, BNEF chairman Michael Liebreich said in a note to clients this week.