Experts anticipate significant continued reductions in wind energy costs

September 13, 2016, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Figure 1. Summary of expert survey findings. Credit: Berkeley Lab

Technology advancements are expected to continue to drive down the cost of wind energy, according to a survey of the world's foremost wind power experts led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Experts anticipate cost reductions of 24%-30% by 2030 and 35%-41% by 2050, under a median or 'best guess' scenario, driven by bigger and more efficient turbines, lower capital and operating costs, and other advancements (see Figure 1).

The findings are described in an article in the journal Nature Energy. The study was led by Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist at Berkeley Lab, and included contributions from other staff from Berkeley Lab, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, University of Massachusetts, and participants in the International Energy Agency Wind (IEA) Wind Technology Collaboration Programme Task 26.

The study summarizes a global survey of 163 wind energy experts to gain insight into the possible magnitude of future wind energy cost reductions, the sources of those reductions, and the enabling conditions needed to realize continued innovation and lower costs. Three wind applications were covered: onshore (land-based) wind, fixed-bottom offshore wind, and floating offshore wind.

"Wind energy costs have declined dramatically in recent years, leading to substantial growth in deployment. But we wanted to know about the prospects for continued technology advancements and cost reductions," said Wiser. "Our 'expert elicitation' survey complements other methods for evaluating cost-reduction potential by shedding light on how cost reductions might be realized and by clarifying the important uncertainties in these estimates."

Figure 2. Expert estimates of median-scenario LCOE. Credit: Berkeley Lab
Significant opportunities for, but uncertainty in, cost reductions

Under a 'best guess' (or median) scenario, experts anticipate 24%-30% reductions in the levelized cost of energy by 2030 and 35%-41% reductions by 2050 across the three wind applications studied, relative to 2014 baseline values (Figure 1). In absolute terms, onshore wind is expected to remain less expensive than offshore, at least for typical projects—and fixed-bottom offshore wind less expensive than floating wind plants (see Figure 2). However, there are greater absolute reductions (and more uncertainty) in the levelized cost of energy for offshore wind compared with onshore wind, and a narrowing gap between fixed-bottom and floating offshore wind.

There is substantial room for improvement, and costs could be even lower: experts predict a 10% chance that reductions will be more than 40% by 2030 and more than 50% by 2050. Learning with market growth and aggressive R&D are noted as two key factors that might lead to this 'low cost' scenario. At the same time, there is substantial uncertainty in these cost projections, illustrated by the range in expert views and by the 'high cost' scenario in which cost reductions are modest or non-existent.

Figure 3. Estimated change in LCOE over time across all three scenarios. Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Multiple drivers for cost reduction; larger turbines on the horizon

There are five key components that impact the cost of energy: up-front capital cost (CapEx), ongoing operating costs (OpEx), cost of financing (WACC), performance (capacity factor), and project design life. Recent years have seen significant reductions in the up-front cost of wind projects as well as increases in wind project performance, as measured by the capacity factor of wind facilities. Experts anticipate continued improvements in these two overall cost drivers, as well as reduced operating costs, longer project design lives, and reductions in the cost of finance, with the relative impact of each driver dependent on the wind application in question (Figure 1).

A key change will be in the size of wind turbines, according to experts (Figure 1). For onshore wind, growth is expected not only in generator ratings (to 3.25 MW on average in 2030) but also in two factors that increase capacity factors—rotor diameters (135 meters in 2030) and hub heights (115 meters in 2030). Fixed-bottom offshore wind turbines are expected to get even bigger, to 11 MW on average in 2030, helping to reduce up-front installed costs. A wide array of other advancement opportunities were also identified, with the top-five impact categories for each wind application listed in Figure 1.

Figure 4. Historical and forecasted onshore wind levelized cost of energy and learning rates (LRs). Credit: Berkeley Lab
Comparison to other estimates of wind energy costs

Expert views on the future overall levelized cost of onshore wind are consistent with the level of historically-observed improvements (Figure 4).

However, a comparison of survey results to the broader wind forecasting literature shows that experts are, in general, more bullish on the prospects for further cost declines for onshore wind than the broader literature. One possible reason for this discrepancy is that the pre-existing literature for onshore wind sometimes focuses primarily on reductions in the up-front cost of wind projects, while expert survey results demonstrate that such improvements are only one means of achieving overall levelized cost of energy reductions. The existing literature may therefore understate the opportunity for further cost reductions for onshore wind.

"Onshore wind technology is fairly mature, but further advancements are on the horizon—and not only in reduced up-front costs," says Wiser. "Experts anticipate a wide range of advancements that will increase project performance, extend project design lives, and lower operational expenses. Offshore wind has even-greater opportunities for cost reduction, though there are larger uncertainties in the degree of that reduction."

"Though expert surveys are not without weaknesses, these results can inform policy discussions, R&D decisions, and industry strategy development while improving the representation of wind energy in energy-sector and integrated-assessment models," concludes Wiser.

Explore further: Massive wind harvesting project to go up in Iowa

More information: Expert elicitation survey on future wind energy costs, Nature Energy, DOI: 10.1038/nenergy.2016.135

Related Stories

Massive wind harvesting project to go up in Iowa

September 2, 2016

(Tech Xplore)—MidAmerican Energy has announced that the State of Iowa's Utility Board has approved plans for installation of its 2 GW Wind XI project, the largest ever undertaken in the U.S.. The project will involve installing ...

Extending the lifespan of wind turbines

September 1, 2016

The Spanish technology centre Cener gives an overview of the first results coming from the testing phase on wind turbine software, the blade configurations and the control strategies developed during the European Windtrust ...

How does the wind blow?

August 15, 2016

If wind were a steady, constant stream, wind energy production would be a snap. Trapping its capricious nature requires complex calculations and expert engineering. Predicting wind power requires additional twists and turns.

Reducing the cost of wind energy for a renewable future

April 22, 2016

A 100 percent renewable energy scenario is possible in Europe, but to achieve it, we need to make offshore wind more competitive and start redesigning our energy systems, says world expert Brian Vad Mathiesen

Eight-MW giant makes offshore wind power cheaper

September 5, 2016

A new offshore wind turbine from Siemens is set to lower the cost of wind power generated on the high seas. Siemens believes it is well on the way to reaching its goal of producing offshore wind energy at a total cost of ...

Recommended for you

After a reset, Сuriosity is operating normally

February 23, 2019

NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential ...

Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters

February 23, 2019

When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the ensuing debate took traditional and social media by storm. University of Kansas researchers have ...

Solving the jet/cocoon riddle of a gravitational wave event

February 22, 2019

An international research team including astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has combined radio telescopes from five continents to prove the existence of a narrow stream of material, ...

8 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Lord_jag
5 / 5 (2) Sep 13, 2016
Now we just need Willie to tell us about the bird choppers... Willie is this you?

https://www.youtu...Y6Z-maAU
Edenlegaia
5 / 5 (1) Sep 14, 2016
I wonder how things would be calculated with Vortex Wind Turbines. Those things seems nice as well.
rrrander
1 / 5 (5) Sep 14, 2016
Eyesores with poor energy generating power for their size. All they do is spoil views, kill birds/bats and drop land values.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Sep 14, 2016
poor energy generating power for their size.

What kind of an idiotic metric is that.

Eyesores

Ever seen one? Know how great a feeling you get when you see them turning and pumping out clean energy?
By comparison: have you looked at what a coal or uranium mining operation, a coal powerplant or a nuclear powerplant looks like? I'll take windfarms over that any day of the week.

kill birds/bats

Since windfarms cause only a fraction of the mortalities amongst birds and bats compared to any conventional power source you should be cheering every windfarm on that replaces a coal, gas, oil (or even a nuclear) powerplant.

But I get it: You don't care about the birds and bats at all. You just want to post BS. Well done.
*slow clap*
Lord_jag
5 / 5 (2) Sep 14, 2016
kill bats/birds


I don't see anyone here complaining about domestic or ferile cats. Each cat will kill more birds every night than a wind turbine will kill in a month. There's a lot of cats out there. Where's the anti-cat rally?

Oh... antialias_physorg figured you out all too well.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (4) Sep 14, 2016
Guy_Underbridge
5 / 5 (4) Sep 14, 2016
Antigorite: The Daily Caller? Why not something directly from the ExxonMobile PR office? Too liberal?
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Sep 14, 2016
RetardedGuy, why not grow a brain and tell us what's false in that article.
Or, you rather get your facts from the IPCC.
Claims Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035 were false, says UN scientist-- https://www.thegu...lse-ipcc

NASA Study Showing Massive Ice Growth Debunks UN Claims--http://www.thenew...n-claims

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.