With the huge global hydro resource, renewable energy has always provided a significant portion of global electricity. Indeed, hydro alone provides about 16% of the world's electricity.
Now with wind energy reaching 300,000 megawatts of capacity this year and solar taking off, renewable energy is growing rapidly around the world. Renewable energy already has 1,693,000 megawatts of installed capacity and will exceed 2,000,000 megawatts by 2016. By 2018, it will provide as much as one quarter of the world's electricity, and only coal will generate more, according to the International Energy Agency's 2013 Mid-Term Renewable Energy Market Report.
Here is what the IEA says about wind's competitiveness with coal and natural gas:
"In some markets with good resources, the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) for onshore wind is competitive or close to competitiveness versus new coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. In Brazil, onshore wind competes well with new gas-fired plants and other historically less expensive renewable sources, such as hydropower and bioenergy. In Australia, wind is competitive versus the generation costs of new coal- and gas-fired plants with carbon pricing, and the best wind sites can compete without carbon pricing. In Turkey and New Zealand, onshore wind has been competing well in the wholesale electricity market for several years. With long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs), onshore wind costs are approaching that of new coal-fired plants in South Africa. In Chile and Mexico, onshore wind competes – or is close to competing – with new gas-fired plants. In the United States, although onshore wind remains more expensive than new gas-fired generation, long-term PPAs for wind power can provide cost-effective hedges against rising fuel prices over the long term, even without federal tax incentives."
Wind is a bit ahead of solar in reaching economic parity with coal and gas. Make no mistake, renewable energy's explosive global growth is rooted in its increasingly competitive economics.
The International Energy Agency projects that renewable energy will provide globally two times as much electricity as nuclear power and more power than natural gas by 2016. Impressive!