Survey Reveals Projections for Lower Wind Energy Costs

9.13.16

The cost of producing electricity via wind power is expected to fall 24-30 percent by 2030 and 35-41 percent by 2050, according to a survey of the world's foremost wind power experts. Cost reductions are anticipated as a function of continued advancements in wind energy technology.
These findings are detailed in new study published in the journal Nature Energy and conducted by the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), researchers at the University of Massachusetts, and participants in the International Energy Agency (IEA) Wind Technology Collaboration Programme Task 26. 
Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist at LBNL, is lead author of the study, titled Eliciting Expert Views on Future Wind Energy Costs. NREL's Maureen Hand, Eric Lantz, and Aaron Smith collaborated on the research, helping to develop the survey, recruit participants, and review the results.
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. 
Under a "best guess" (or median) scenario, experts anticipate 24-30 percent reductions in the levelized cost of energy by 2030 and 35-41 percent reductions by 2050 across the three wind applications studied, relative to 2014 baseline values. 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. 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.
Costs could be even lower: Experts predict a 10 percent chance that reductions will be more than 40 percent by 2030 and more than 50 percent by 2050. Industry learning with market growth and aggressive R&D are noted as two key factors that might drive toward 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 negligible.   
Recent years have seen significant reductions in the up-front cost of wind power 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 turbine lifetimes, and reductions in the cost of finance--with the relative impact of each driver dependent on the wind application in question. To achieve these improvements, experts predict that increasingly larger wind turbines will continue to be deployed. 
The survey was conducted under the auspices of the IEA Wind Technology Collaboration Programme (www.ieawind.org) and was funded in part by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. NREL's contributions to this report were also funded by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

More information from NREL