In many locations, solar power is already the lowest-cost renewable energy alternative available. Some of the advantage stems from advancements made in manufacturing processes and economies of scale that solar companies have captured. Operating costs also factor into the equation—solar’s operating costs are minimal while operating expenses for wind power are more substantial.
Still, Brendan Duval, CEO of the Glenfarne Group, suggested the gap between wind and solar costs could widen. “The cost curve for solar has probably got some room to run. Wind is sort of, you know, plateauing out now,” he said as a guest on The POWER Podcast.
The Glenfarne Group is a New York-based energy and infrastructure assets owner that develops, constructs, and operates projects across the investment-grade Americas, including in Chile, Panama, and Columbia. Duval said the Glenfarne Group has two distinct business units: a power unit, and a midstream oil and gas unit. Each of the business units are also separated into two different segments. The legs of the midstream unit are divided between a gas gathering business and a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export development project in Texas. On the power side, there is a renewables arm and a backup power arm.
“Backup power plants—we think—are really important in the energy transition process,” Duval said. “As more and more renewables come online, having [a] well-run, well-put-together backup power plant network in any country is really important. And we’ve got a long-term vision for that,” he said.
But the Glenfarne Group isn’t just backing up renewable energy projects, it’s also investing in them. Duval said his team focuses on run-of-river hydro projects rather than dam hydro because they are generally smaller and face fewer hurdles during the development process. There is often political pressure surrounding dams, and navigating interactions with the local community, government agencies, agricultural entities, and environmental groups can be daunting.
In run-of-river projects, the water is taken out of the river for a kilometer or two, and then it’s returned to the stream, so the disruption is much less extreme. “The run-of-river hydro is just [an] easier asset for us to manage within the community,” Duval said.
Duval noted that run-of-river hydro development has really slowed down in Latin America for a number of reasons. For one, the best sites have already been taken. The permitting process has also become more difficult. And finally, power prices have decreased significantly.
“When governments are now looking for renewable opportunities, they’re looking for a lower price point. And they can achieve that lower price point with renewable sources by looking at solar and to some extent wind,” said Duval. “So, if you look at the dollars per megawatt invested, solar is the most cost-effective, then wind, and then run-of-river hydro. And the cutoff point now is really in that capital cost between wind and run-of-river hydro.”
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—Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).