As we become more reliant on wind and solar power, we drive down the cost of the technology

It’s been a good week on the science front. Vaccines are ready to be jabbed into us and artificial intelligence has solved the mystery of protein structures. I got further cheer to counter 2020’s gloom from our friends at Our World in Data, who work tirelessly to make data on the world’s biggest challenges accessible. Their deep dive into the costs of producing electricity examines why renewable energy has become so cheap, so fast. The relative cheapness of electricity generated from fossil fuels has stopped us reducing our reliance on them (coal/oil/gas still account for 79% of world energy production).

But in the past decade, renewable prices have plummeted: onshore wind down 70%, solar by 89%. Why? Because while the cost of fossil fuel-generated electricity depends on the cost of those fuels, the renewable costs are all about the cost of the technology – costs that come down fast as we use more of them. Offshore wind is still costly, but the good news for those of us in island-bound Britain is that its costs should fall too.

This is fortunate because we’ll need more electricity as cars and homes switch to it. Plus, further learning-by-doing from our renewable use will drive down costs for low- and middle-income countries consuming more energy in the years ahead. As with vaccines, so with renewables: they are invented somewhere but can help everywhere.