The case for renewable energy continues to improve, with a new report finding that more than half of the renewable capacity added in 2019 achieved lower power costs than the cheapest new coal-fired plants.

It also found that on average, new solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind power cost less than keeping many existing coal plants in operation.

READ: Solar threatens existing coal power in Australia: BloombergNEF

The ‘Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2019’ report, by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), found that replacing the costliest 500 gigawatts (GW) of coal with solar PV and onshore wind next year would slash power system costs by up to $US23bn ($33.1bn).

It would also reduce annual emissions by 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or about 5 per cent of total emissions in 2019.

IRENA director general Francesco La Camera says that we have reached an important point in the energy transition with the case for new and much of existing coal power generation becoming both environmentally and economically unjustifiable.

“Renewable energy is increasingly the cheapest source of new electricity, offering tremendous potential to stimulate the global economy and get people back to work,” he added.

“Renewables offer a way to align short-term policy action with medium- and long-term energy and climate goals. Renewables must be the backbone of national efforts to restart economies in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“With the right policies in place, falling renewable power costs, can shift markets and contribute greatly towards a green recovery.”

Renewable electricity costs have fallen sharply over the past decade due to improving technology, economies of scale, increasingly competitive supply chains and growing developer experience.

Since 2010, utility-scale solar PV has experienced an 82 per cent decline in cost to about US6.8c per kilowatt hour (kWh) while the cost of onshore wind has fallen by 39 per cent to US5.3c per kWh.

IRENA forecasts that solar PV prices based on competitive procurement could average US3.9c per kWh for projects commissioned in 2021, down 42 per cent from 2019 and more than a fifth less than coal, the cheapest fossil fuel competitor.

The report comes as Australian general insurer QBE completes its divestment of thermal coal and starts a gradual reduction in its investments in other fossil fuels, while developers of a 500 megawatt wind farm off the French coast have kicked off the construction process.

QBE told The Australian Financial Review that it had no interest in owning assets that would lose value, such as thermal coal.

Chief investment officer Gary Brader says bond issuers are increasingly interested in issuing bonds for a specific social or environmental purpose, backing a report by the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia, which showed that the social impact investment market had almost quadrupled in the last two years to about $20bn.

Meanwhile, EDF Renewables and Canada-based Enbridge have awarded the wind turbine supply contract to Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy for the French offshore wind power project.

The Fecamp wind park is expected to be commissioned in 2023.

READ: ‘Complex transition’: 4 experts weigh in on Australia’s path to a clean energy future