Clean Power

Published on January 26th, 2016 | by Joshua S Hill


IRENA Considers Onshore Wind As Cheap As Coal

January 26th, 2016 by  

According to an analyst from the International Renewable Energy Agency, onshore wind has dropped in cost to the level of coal-fired production.

Michael Taylor, an energy analyst and renewable energy expert at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), has recently analyzed the cost of onshore wind power, and found that it has dropped to the level of coal-fired generation — and that’s even without including the cost of health and environmental effects caused by coal.

wind farm germany“If the environmental and health costs of fossil fuels were properly priced at realistic levels, the situation would be even more favourable for wind,” said Michael Taylor.

According to the new study published by Taylor and IRENA, 1 KWh of electricity produced by an onshore wind farm could cost in the realm of €0.05, and the same amount of electricity produced by an average coal-fired plant is only €0.001 cheaper. This brings onshore wind to within spitting-distance of coal, and as Taylor hinted at, when the cost of coal’s impact on society is included — i.e., the cost of global warming on countries, health impacts, and other similar impacts — onshore wind makes a strong case for ending the day as cheaper than coal.

Incidentally, gas-fired electricity generation did better than both, coming in at €0.041/KWh.

However, what is most interesting from this study, is that this sudden drop in onshore wind’s cost compared to that of fossil fuels has happened so quickly, society hasn’t followed the news.

“Renewable power generation technologies can now provide electricity at very competitive levels,” Taylor said. “Yet despite these facts, many of the world’s decision-makers have yet to grasp how competitive renewables have become. Often, vested interests lead to propagation of the myth of ‘costly’ renewable energy. In other cases, the change has simply come so fast, and so unexpectedly, that public information has yet to catch up.”

Between 1988 and 2014, the levelized cost of onshore wind-generated electricity has dropped by 65%, thanks in large part to the growth of the industry which has allowed the economics of scale and maturation of technology to drop the cost.

IRENA data provided courtesy of The Institution of Engineering and Technology

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  • The costprice of power from a shared windfarm is 2 cents per kWh, so any group of citizens can build their OWN windfarm.
    Its subsidy for investors only that blocks this

  • CapitalistRoader

    This really is fantastic news. In the US it means we can scrap the Wind Production Tax Credit, which is costing taxpayers about $15 billion per year.

    Hurry for financially sustainable wind power! We should be extremely proud that wind power can compete on a equal footing with coal. Now let’s scrap the WPTC.

    • eveee

      Not so. Off by a lot.
      “According to the bill summary, the PTC extension would cost $10.5 billion over 10 years.”
      If you want to save money, end FF subsidies. Wind saves ratepayers money. FF subsidies don’t lower fuel costs.

      • CapitalistRoader

        It’s a deal. Remove all subsidies. Looks like wind generates 2% of the electricity in the US but consumes 45% of the energy subsidies. Coal generates 45% of electricity yet consumes 10% of the energy subsidies.

        Let’s get rid of all of the subsidies. Besides, the really big PTC bucks go to a relatively few big corporations: Iberdrola, NextEra Energy, NRG Energy, Southern Company and Summit Power, all of which have received more than $1 billion in federal benefits. Big Wind in turn gives back a chunk of that pork to the politicians who voted for the subsidies.
        Campaign coffers don’t fill themselves. There’s a reason only two of the big table presidential contenders—Ted Cruz and Rand Paul—have advocated ending ethanol subsidies. All of the other candidates—including Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton—are whores for Big Ethanol.
        But, really, it’s us taxpayers who are being screwed.

        • eveee

          Simplistic. Paul is from the coal belt. Don’t look for him to end coal subsidies. Subsidies are good if they go to techs that help us and they make improvements. Solar and wind make jobs, clean environment, and get cheaper and improve rapidly. Coal is going away, losing jobs, and kills us. Oil creates pollution, and we still are dependent on the behavior of foreign countries. Oil subsidies don’t improve anything. Nuclear has a negative learning curve, and well Fukushima. Keep solar and wind subsidies and dump the rest. There was no PTC last year. And the rest have absorbed far more subsidies, if you look at more than one year.

        • Bob_Wallace

          You’re doing some good concern trolling, but you need to improve your game a bit.

          Don’t pick out one year of subsidies and only subsidies. Look at the larger picture. We’ve been subsidizing nuclear for 60 years and the price keeps going up. We’re spending between $140 billion and $242 billion a year just on the health costs of coal That’s where taxpayers are getting screwed. We’ve been screwed over and over by nuclear and fossil fuels.

          We’ve subsidized wind and solar only modest amounts compared to nuclear and fossil fuels and we’ve brought their prices down to the point that they are now the least expensive ways to bring new capacity online.

          We are phasing out direct subsidies for wind and solar. That’s a done deal. You see any sign of taxpayer supports for nuclear and fossil fuels under threat? Of course you don’t.

          Don’t try your ‘remove subsidies for all’ BS here. We know people like you aren’t serious about cutting subsidies for anything but renewable energy.

  • archaeopteryxgr

    isn’t IRENA a wind industry lobby subsidiary?

    • eveee

      The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is an intergovernmental organisation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, and serves as the principal platform for international co-operation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy. IRENA promotes the widespread adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, including bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind energy, in the pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, energy security and low-carbon economic growth and prosperity.

      • archaeopteryxgr

        Right; thanks

  • Roland

    Not directly related to this, but the EIA electric power monthly came out today with data for November of last year. You might find it interesting what happened in Iowa. It was a mild, but somewhat windy, month.

    • Rick Thurman

      Even the US-wide figures have some interesting horse races: coal vs. natgas, neck and neck; plus wind has been pacing right along side hydro for a couple months this fall; and the various solar sectors have been edging up and surpassing geothermal and the biomass sectors.
      And in Oklahoma in November, looks like wind finally outproduced coal, at least for one month.

      • Roland

        Wind outproduced coal in Iowa as well. But in Iowa, coal is normally the top source. Nuclear generally comes in distant third.

  • Ross

    What about transportation costs? Not every coal plant is built beside a lignite strip mine.

    • neroden

      Transportation costs are dominant. This is using *average* transportation costs, so the coal plants right next to the mine are still cheaper than wind, but the ones way far away from the mine are totally uncompetitive.

      Now you know. 🙂

    • eveee

      Indeed. The coal trains in Wyoming stretch for seeming miles. Some head to four corners, others east.,_2006.jpg

  • Zorba

    I’d like to see other factors mentioned alongside the price. For example, the amount of water used by coal plants which wind power saves. I’m in South Africa at the moment and there is a serious drought, yet coal plants are using huge amounts of water and there is speculation some of them will run into problems if the drought continues (and meanwhile farms and consumers are already cutting back on water use)

    • Martin

      What is more pressing for a human to survive, water and food, of power?
      I will take water and food over power any day.

    • Roland

      It’s already happened in parts of the U.S. where coal plants have had to be shut down for a time because of lack of water for cooling.

      • Matt

        They get closed during heat waves because they can’t cool the water back down enough. Not always just because of lack of water.

        • archaeopteryxgr

          And what may I ask is providing power on a balmy, damp, calm evening, when “cooling towers cannot function”?

  • sault

    Good luck trying to get a new coal plant to deliver kWh for that price, unless it’s the old-n’-dirty kind of plant.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Spitting distance? 0.001 euros is within sweating distance.

    • JamesWimberley

      A difference like this is not significant and far within the margin of error, even of a highly reliable measurement process like a census. The finding should have been presented as “costs the same”.

  • vensonata

    What has not been taken into account with natural gas is the necessary cost of stopping methane leaks in the system. This is going to add expense but it must be done, otherwise the net carbon advantage of gas over coal is lost. Natural gas has half the carbon contribution of coal but not when methane leaks are added. We have to be careful about this because it is a talking point in favor of coal…which is the last thing we need. At the same time we still require natural gas as a transitional fuel while wind and solar fill in the blanks. Storage is on the verge of stardom as well.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I wonder how much of the cost of preventing leaks would be recovered via the extra gas sold?

      • Ronald Brakels

        The amount of methane lost to leaks has massively decreased in Australia over the past year. I don’t even need to look it up to know this. How can I be so sure? Because the price of natural gas has massively increased over the past year. Leaks now cost more and so more effort will go into preventing them and when they do occur they will fix them sooner. It’s the power of money. In the past when Australia had the cheapest gas in the developed world they would just let a pipe leak in the middle of nowhere spew methane for months. If United States companies were fined for leaking gas then you’d find they’d miraculously have less gas leaks too. Best would be a carbon price applied when gas enters a pipeline, not leaves it, and to best estimates of fugitive emissions from fields and wells.

        • vensonata

          Yes, the price of natural gas will increase if stringent non leak infrastructure rules are in place. EPA where are you? But again, we need to tip toe around a bit because the least excuse could cause the coal monster to awaken, thrash around and knock over a bunch of wind turbines.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Apparently new NG regs are working their way through the EPA.

          • vensonata

            No that is good news. I’m not used to it.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The Environment Protection Agency is proposing a new rule that would reduce methane emissions from oil and natural-gas drilling by 40 to 45 percent of 2012 levels by 2025.

            The rules would also amend existing regulations and be applicable throughout the oil and natural gas industry, including in production, processing, transmission and storage, the EPA said.”

          • Ronald Brakels

            Very little leakage occurs due to electricity production. (Assuming mild competance.) It is the domestic side where most of the leakage occurs. If companies were charged $1,000 per tonne of leaked methane (roughly equal to a $50 a tonne carbon price) then with a leakage rate of 1% that would increase the cost of methane by around 3%. If a third of the cost of gas generation is capital in the US that comes to a price increase of around 2%. Of course there should also be a price on CO2 emissions from power stations and that would hurt coal more.

          • neroden

            The heavy leakage comes from fracking, actually.

          • Ronald Brakels

            And that’s why companies need to be charged for fugitive emissions from fields, otherwise they have no incentive not to frack where methane can escape through the ground into the atmosphere.

    • dRanger

      “We have to be careful…” What is often overlooked in this discussion is that coal mines generate a lot of methane too. When a proper accounting is made, I don’t think coal is likely to surge due solely to methane leaks. Natural gas companies have determined that it is cheaper to ignore leaks than to fix them and as in the past, it will take the EPA to motivate them to recalculate.

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