Renewables within striking distance of being cost-competitive

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Photo: wind turbinesJust 17 percent of Colorado’s electricity comes from renewable energy sources — like the sun and wind. But renewables are growing fast, and while there's still a way to go, there are indications that prices are starting to level with fossil fuels.

Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo., says the prices of solar and wind power have dropped much faster than his wildest expectations over the last 10 years. The cost of wind has dropped by about 50 percent and solar has decreased by as much as 66 percent in a decade.

Wind is the most competitive renewable energy source in today's market. Arvizu says the levelized cost of energy of wind, or the price a consumer is likely to pay to a utility provider, is between 4 and 7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) as compared to 14 cents per kwh in 2004.

Arvizu says the levelized price of solar ranges between 7 and 16 cents per kwh as compared to between 25 and 35 cents per kwh in 2004. The price varies depending on how windy or sunny it is. However, he says the price of coal (3 cents per kwh) is still the cheapest form of energy on the market.

Arvizu expects the amount of energy derived from renewables to surpass fossil fuels by 2030. However, he says truly greening the grid will require advancements in storage, transmission and reliability.