Wind/Solar Expansion Will Require Perpetual Subsidies
- Wind/solar advocates point to continued cost reductions due to technological learning.
- Wind/solar opponents point to continued value declines due to intermittency.
- It tuns out that these two effects cancel out fairly evenly.
- Wind and solar will thus remain as subsidy-dependent as they are today.
There can be no doubt that wind and solar power will be important players in the energy system of the future. Over the past decade or so, these sources have grown almost as fast as nuclear power did in the seventies (see below). Since 2010, wind and solar have achieved an almost perfectly linear expansion of about 5.5% of global electricity production per decade (2.3% of global primary energy per decade).
Although wind and solar are settled as important energy players, the magnitude of their contribution to the future energy system is a topic of vigorous debate. The advocate camp points to the continued cost declines of these technologies, often claiming that wind/solar power will soon achieve competitiveness without subsidies, spelling the end of conventional power sources. The following graphs from IRENA for wind and solar illustrate this argument.