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Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani is a veteran finance writer, investor, engineer and researcher for Safehaven.com. 

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Is Big Solar Beating Big Oil in 2024?

  • Bloomberg: The seven largest solar companies, all based in China, now supply more energy than the top seven fossil fuel producers.
  • Ernst and Young: solar remains the cheapest source of new-build electricity despite persistent inflationary pressures.
  • EY has predicted that solar and wind are on track to become the global baseload electricity source.
Solar Energy

Some of the world’s biggest and oldest oil & gas companies aka Big Oil are credited with powering the Second Industrial Revolution that kicked off in the late 19th century and ushered in the modern tech era as we know it. Oil accelerated industrial production and reshaped networks by allowing faster transportation thanks to being cheaper and packing a much higher energy density than other fuels. However, solar energy could become the primary power source of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, thanks to its simplicity, longevity, low cost, and overall efficiency. Indeed, Bloomberg has revealed that the seven largest solar companies--all located in China--already are supplying more energy to the world than the seven biggest fossil fuel producers.

According to Bloomberg, the biggest solar panel manufacturers consisting of TongweiGCL Technology Holdings (OTCPK:GCPEF), Xinte EnergyLongi Green Energy TechnologyTrina SolarJA Solar Technology, and Jinko Solar (NYSE:JKS) produce enough panels to generate 5 exajoules of electricity every year. In comparison, the seven oil giants including Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM), Chevron Corp.  (NYSE:CVX), Shell Plc (NYSE:SHEL), TotalEnergies (NYSE:TTE), BP Plc (NYSE:BP), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), and Eni S.p.A (NYSE:E) extract around 40 exajoules of petroleum energy from the ground per year, or just shy of 18 million barrels per day. 

At first glance, it appears that Big Oil has got Big Solar easily beat; however, that conclusion fails to take into account several important factors. First off, only about a quarter of the energy coming out of an oil company’s wells gets turned into useful power with the vast majority lost as heat. Electric motors convert over 85 percent of electrical energy into mechanical energy compared to less than 40 percent for a gas combustion engine. According to the EPA, the average electric car is two to three times as efficient as the average conventional car with an internal combustion engine. Second, the majority of solar panels carry 25 year warranties whereas fossil fuels are mostly used up in a matter of months. If you look at the long-term flow of energy into the global economy with each solar cell produced, solar companies come out well ahead if you consider oil reserves owned by these oil companies as well as taking into account what each sector can produce without major additional investments.

On a company basis, Bloomberg estimates that Tongwei–the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer– will soon provide over 9 exajoules of energy annually when its 400,000 ton polysilicon plant in Inner Mongolia comes online, surpassing Exxon’s 8.3 exajoules.

Cheaper Than Oil And Gas

Last year,  the International Energy Association predicted that the amount of capital investment flowing into the solar sector would overtake the amount of investment going into oil production for the first time ever in 2023. Speaking to CNBC, the IEA’s executive director Faith Birol said there was a “growing gap between the investment in fossil energy and investment [in] clean energy. Clean energy is moving fast--faster than many people realize. This is clear in the investment trends, where clean technologies are pulling away from fossil fuels. For every dollar invested in fossil fuels, about 1.7 dollars are now going into clean energy.”

A big reason for the rapid growth being witnessed by the solar sector is the dramatic fall in costs. Last year, a report from Ernst & Young (EY) showed that solar remains the cheapest source of new-build electricity despite persistent inflationary pressures. According to the report, the global weighted average levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for PV is now 29% lower than the cheapest fossil fuel alternative. Solar LCOE has rapidly fallen in average globally, from more than $400/MWh in the early 2010s to about $49/MWh in 2022, a huge 88% decline. Wind power LCOE has fallen roughly 60% over the same period.

Source: EY

EY has predicted that solar and wind are on track to become the global baseload electricity source. According to the experts, the two traditional renewables are expected to represent 38% of the global energy mix in 2030, with the figure hitting 62% of the energy mix by 2050. China, Europe and the United States will drive a 53% increase in solar and wind generation, producing over 57% of global solar and wind output by 2050, EY has forecast. 

It’s going to be interesting to see how these predictions unfold considering that oil and gas currently supply nearly 70% of the United States’ primary energy with renewable energy including solar, wind, biomass, biofuels, wood and hydroelectric supplying just 13%.

By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • DoRight Deikins on June 18 2024 said:
    Uh-hunh. According to your article, electricity prices should also be falling rapidly since the production costs have dropped by a huge percentage: «Solar LCOE has rapidly fallen in average globally, from more than $400/MWh in the early 2010s to about $49/MWh in 2022, a huge 88% decline. Wind power LCOE has fallen roughly 60% over the same period.»

    So why have electricity prices gone up?
  • Mamdouh Salameh on June 19 2024 said:
    It is a good thing if the seven largest solar companies, all based in China, now supply more electricity than the top seven fossil fuel producers. Moreover, it is equally good that solar and wind are on track to become the global baseload electricity source.

    A rational strategic energy policy should encourage both fossil fuels and renewables to coexist and work together diligently to satisfy the global demand for energy. The higher the contribution of solar and wind energy to global electricity generation the less coal and natural gas to use.

    Therefore, the dynamics of global energy will mean that solar and wind energy will become the main supplier of global electricity while oil will continue to drive the global economy well into the future. This is a fair distribution of work.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert
  • George Kamburoff on June 20 2024 said:
    We stopped paying for electricity and gasoline when we got PV solar and electric cars.

Leave a comment




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