Fossil fuels have been an integral part of the industrialized world since it began 250 years ago.

While renewable, carbon-free energy sources have long been viewed as the ideal solution, they were always more expensive than pumping carbon into the air.

That may now have changed, according to a new analysis from Lazard published today and reported in the Financial Times (subscription required).

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Specifically, large wind-turbine farms and huge industrial-scale solar arrays are now cost-competitive in the U.S. with natural gas, the preferred fuel for new electric power generation.

And most importantly, they are competitive without any government subsidies, tax breaks, rebates, or other incentives.

wind farm

wind farm

The Lazard report notes that rooftop solar panels are not yet cost-competitive, however, without incentives.

Without any subsidies, Lazard calculated that large-scale wind farms cost more than $100 per megawatt-hour of generating capacity back in 2009. Today, it says, that number is just $37/MWh.

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Similarly, a large photovoltaic solar plant has gone from $323 to $72 per megawatt-hour over the same period,

Meanwhile, the newest and most efficient natural-gas generating plants cost $61 to $87 per MWh.

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

"We used to say some day solar and wind power would be competitive with conventional generation," said Lazard's global head of power, energy, and infrastructure, George Bilicic, in the Financial Times article.

Today is some day, he concluded.

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Historically, the price to users of coal, oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels did not reflect the external costs of air pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change.

Now, it appears possible that in fact those externalities may be approaching elimination--by the power of free-market technology advances.

Which may turn the world's electric-utility industries upside-down, but will clearly benefit consumers, the environment they live in, and the planet at large.


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