Solar To Equal Fossil Fuel Cost Within Decade?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 1, 2010 3:17 pm

Picture 13For a while, I’ve been hearing that the cost of renewables will soon be equal to that of traditional fuels, with solar leading the way. Meanwhile, renewable prices have continued to decrease while oil, coal, and nuclear have risen consistently.  So it’s interesting to see this article at Bloomberg:

The cost of generating power by capturing the sun’s energy will fall about 10 percent a year in the next decade until it equals the expense of producing electricity by burning fossil fuels, a BP Plc official said.

As conventional fuel prices rise and solar power falls, generation costs may reach parity in as little as five years for some fossil energy sources, Vahid Fotuhi, Middle East director of BP Solar, said at a conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Solar power costs about 20 cents a kilowatt-hour now, he said.

* * * *

Solar power expenses are declining as technology improves, the speakers said. Fossil fuel costs may climb with oil prices that are expected to rise to an average of $94.50 a barrel in 2012 and to $102.13 a barrel in 2013, according to the weighted average of estimates from 35 analysts compiled by Bloomberg.

Neat, no? Read the full article at here.


Comments (5)

  1. Good stuff Sheril, thanks for pointing this out.

    My big beef with these kinds of calculations is that cost estimates focus only on the actual dollar value of energy production. They do not incorporate the hidden secondary costs. The cost of fossil fuels goes way beyond the cost of extraction, transportation, oil company profits and Middle East Swiss bank accounts.

    What of the environmental cost of continuing to pump vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, not to mention the infrastructure to keep the whole thing going as well as the cost of environmental catastrophes such as the BP oil spill? And what of the cost of keeping the oil flowing from politically hostile countries?

    I suspect if you incorporated those additional costs, then solar energy would be highly competitive with fossil fuels. Hopefully there’s a brave ecological economist that will do this accounting and force governments to acknowledge the real cost of fossil fuels.

  2. ThomasL


    Don’t you think there are comparable costs for the production of all that “green” machinery? Windmills don’t just appear on the landscape, and neither do solar panels.

    While I agree we ought not kid ourselves about all those hidden costs (environmental, ecological, social) it’s not as one sided as your post seems to indicate.

  3. William Furr

    These projections don’t take into account increases in supply and manufacturing costs of renewable power sources due to more expensive fossil fuels.

    The vast majority of our industrial infrastructure, including manufacturing solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear power plants is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

    Converting the entire infrastructure from oil, coal, and gas to a renewable power system is a much, much bigger problem than just waiting for the costs to come in line. Without a wholesale changeover in the underlying infrastructure, renewables will *never* be cheaper than fossil fuels.

  4. I agree with your post, the explaination was spot on. I’m going to visit again to read more of posts.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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