United States

United States

Cost of wind could be halved by 2030, report suggests

UNITED STATES: The unsubsidised cost of wind energy could be halved by 2030, according to a report by the Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Engineers and analysts from the NREL and Allegheny Science and Technology co-authored the report, ‘Enabling the SMART Wind Power Plant of the Future Through Science-Based Innovation’ (pic credit: NREL)
Engineers and analysts from the NREL and Allegheny Science and Technology co-authored the report, ‘Enabling the SMART Wind Power Plant of the Future Through Science-Based Innovation’ (pic credit: NREL)

Scientific advances and the commercialisation of new technologies are expected to create unsubsidised wind costs of $23/MWh and below, analysts and engineers from NREL and Allegheny Science and Technology predicted.

This would provide consumers with wind energy at  costs competitive with or lower than other new and existing generation resources.

But this cost reduction would depend on scientific advances being made to enable wind farms to produce more power, use materials more efficiently, lower operation and maintenance (O&M) costs, have longer lifespans, and utilise an array of grid control and reliability features, the report said. 

The DOE describes the strategies and new technologies required for this change as SMART — "System Management of Atmospheric Resource through Technology".

If SMART strategies are properly utilised and the 50% cost reduction is realised, installed wind capacity in the United States could exceed 200GW by 2030 and 500GW by 2050, the report’s authors stated.

The NREL and Allegheny report, ‘Enabling the SMART Wind Power Plant of the Future Through Science-Based Innovation’, cites "uncertainty in the science around wind plant physics" as a key obstacle to advancing the next generation of wind technology.

The stated aim of the DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office’s Atmosphere to Electrons (A2e) applied research program is to "ensure future wind plants are sited, built, and operated in a way that produces the most cost-effective, usable electric power".

The program’s researchers hope to do this by developing "an improved understanding of the complex physics governing electricity generation by wind plants".

In 2016, an estimated $14 billion was invested, while wind energy supplied more than 5.5% of US electricity generation, the DOE stated.

NREL engineer Katherine Dykes, lead author of the report, said: "Our research indicates that, if the United States continues to invest in wind research and development, wind energy can achieve costs competitive with the fuel-only cost of natural gas-fired electricity generation in less than 15 years."

By 2030, wind farms in the United States would no longer be subsidised — at least by the federal government — as at the end of 2015, the Republican-led Congress voted to extend and phase out production tax credits (PTC) for wind projects by 2020.

The phase-out means the amount wind producers can claim fell from $0.023/kWH in 2016 to zero by 2020, with 20%, 40% and 60% reductions from the 2016 rate in 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively.

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