Across most of the US solar, wind and natural gas are now the cheapest sources of electric generation, that’s according to a newly updated research from the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute. Moreover, the updated report found that solar power is now the cheapest form of energy in not just the US Southwest anymore but also in much of the eastern and northern parts of the US.
To update its research, mapping energy costs in the US, researchers analyzed data on competitive sources of new electricity generation. It utilized existing studies to calculate generation costs synthesizing the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) for each energy source in a region. That included determining the costs of public health and environmental effects associated with electricity generation, which the institute said is not typically calculated in LCOE formulas, in an effort to calculate truer costs for each type of electric generation.
“We think our methodology is sound and hope it encourages constructive dialogue,” explained Joshua Rhodes, a research affiliate at the Energy Institute and lead author of the paper. “To enable this dialogue among stakeholders who disagree about the various cost factors, we’ve created tools to allow them to change the factors and observe the outcomes,” he added.
The new research updated the institute’s 2016 white paper, “New U.S. Power Costs: by County, with Environmental Externalities.” The new research covered costs of most electric generation types including coal, natural gas, solar, wind and nuclear. In the most recently updated maps, the institute updated prices for natural gas and renewables.
“The new maps present a more accurate reflection of current market conditions, including revised prices that indicate the cost of various generating technologies,” Rhodes said.
While solar shined in much of the US as the cheapest energy source, wind blew strong across the High Plains, Midwest, and Texas. In the majority of the rest of the US, natural gas was the cheapest energy source, the study found.
As part of the research, the team developed online calculators intended to facilitate the discussion about cost implications of policy actions for policymakers and others. They also produced authoritative white papers offering in-depth assessments and examinations of electric generating system options, adding to white papers created for the original study.
“These are complex, interrelated issues that warrant a cross-disciplinary examination,” said Carey King, an assistant director at the Energy Institute and a principal investigator for the study. “The new papers contained in this updated version complete the picture.”
“The LCOE calculator shows new power plant costs, but that accounts for only half of a customer’s bill,” King noted. “You can choose to include externalities, or exclude them. You then add the LCOE—with or without externalities—to the cost of operating the electric grid, plus subsidies that affect practically all energy technologies, to see how they affect the consumer.”Tweet