Solar projects now offer ‘some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen’

14 Oct 2020

Image: © agnormark/

The IEA has published its annual energy outlook, revealing the impact of Covid-19 and how the cost of solar power is reaching record lows.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has published its World Energy Outlook 2020 report, showing that the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted both energy demand and carbon emissions.

The report found that global energy demand is set to drop by 5pc in 2020 and energy-related CO2 emissions will fall by 7pc. Furthermore, energy investment is expected to jump by 18pc by the end of the year.

Focusing on solar energy, the IEA said that supportive policies and maturing technologies are enabling very cheap access to capital in leading markets and it is now consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas-fired power plants in most countries.

Writing in the report, the authors said that many solar projects now offer “some of the lowest-cost electricity ever seen”.

“I see solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets. Based on today’s policy settings, it is on track to set new records for deployment every year after 2022,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA executive director.

“If governments and investors step up their clean energy efforts in line with our sustainable development scenario, the growth of both solar and wind would be even more spectacular – and hugely encouraging for overcoming the world’s climate challenge.”

The ‘net-zero emissions by 2050’ outlook

For the first time, the report laid out the IEA’s ‘net-zero emissions by 2050’ outlook, an improvement on a previous outlook of achieving net-zero emissions by 2070.

In order to reach the target by 2050, there would need to be a 40pc reduction in emissions by 2030, with low-emission sources providing nearly 75pc of global electricity generation by the end of this period.

Also, half of the passenger cars sold globally would need to be electric, up from 2.5pc in 2019. The IEA projects that solar photovoltaic additions in the 2050 scenario would need to expand from 110GW in 2019 to almost 500GW by 2030, with there being no coal plants without carbon-capture infrastructure still in operation by that point.

Outside of major infrastructural changes, the IEA proposed other measures that would reduce CO2 emissions by two gigatons by 2030, most of which are in the transport sector.

“Examples include replacing flights under one hour with low-carbon alternatives, walking or cycling instead of driving by car for trips under 3km, and reducing road traffic speeds by 7kph,” the report said.

“If implemented in full today, these measures would reduce transport sector CO2 emissions by more than 20pc.”

Birol added that despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is “far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline”.

“Only faster structural changes to the way we produce and consume energy can break the emissions trend for good,” he said. “Governments have the capacity and the responsibility to take decisive actions to accelerate clean energy transitions and put the world on a path to reaching our climate goals, including net-zero emissions.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic