Commercial Scale

Wind Energy Costs Trending Down

“More efficient turbines are generating greater amounts of wind power at lower costs.”

—Peter Asmus,
Pike Research senior analyst

Since 2008 wind turbine prices in the U.S. have fallen by nearly one-third on average, according to a new report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). "Understanding Trends in Wind Turbine Prices Over the Past Decade" examines how $-per-kW costs have declined in recent years, after having previously doubled over the period from 2002 through 2008. Berkeley Lab analyzed price data on a sampling of U.S. wind turbine transactions totaling 23,850 megawatts from 1997 through early 2011.

Wind Energy Cost Drivers

In conjunction with improvements in turbine design and performance, falling turbine prices enable the latest generation of wind power projects to profitably sell electricity at prices well below what was common several years ago. The Berkeley Lab report examines seven primary drivers of wind turbine prices in the United States, with the goal of estimating the degree to which each contributed to the recent trend:

  • Labor costs, which have historically risen during times of tight turbine supply
  • Warranty provisions, which reflect technology performance and reliability
  • Turbine manufacturer profitability, which can impact turbine prices independently of costs
  • Turbine design, which is principally manifested through increased turbine size
  • Raw materials prices, which affect the cost of inputs to the manufacturing process
  • Energy prices, which impact the cost of manufacturing and transporting turbines
  • Foreign exchange rates, which can impact the dollar amount paid for turbines and components imported into the United States

Wind Energy Outlook

The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal of obtaining 6% of U.S. electricity from wind energy by 2020. That goal is consistent with the overall rate of growth for wind in the U.S., even though the industry has been subject to boom-bust cycles from year to year. According to a new report from Pike Research, total installed wind capacity in North America will more than double over the next six years, increasing from approximately 53,000 megawatts in 2011 to almost 126,000 megawatts by 2017.

"This will be another difficult year for wind power in North America, but we do see signs of recovery," says Peter Asmus, Pike Research senior analyst. "Larger, more efficient turbines are generating greater amounts of wind power at lower costs, and both the U.S. and Canadian governments have shown strong commitment to the wind industry during this challenging economic time."

Wind energy generation costs have declined over time to a current range of 6-9 cents per kilowatt-hour with an average of 8.2 cents, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Researchers and policy-makers are looking for ways to continue to lower the kilowatt hour cost of wind energy systems for effective growth and for related economic benefits.

Wind Energy Research

Researchers at Iowa State Univesity with wind blade

Iowa State University researchers with TPI Composites turbine blade
photo: Iowa State University


One research project is finding better ways to manufacture wind turbine components in the U.S. through a joint project of Iowa State University's Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories, and TPI Composites, a blade manufacturer. The researchers are using high-precision lasers to analyze wind turbine blades for minor defects and working to improve wind blade design and fabrication techniques.

The researchers' goal is to develop new, low-cost manufacturing systems that could improve the productivity of turbine blade factories by as much as 35 percent, which would support an avearge cost reduction to 6 cents per kilowatt hour by 2020. "Manufacturing in this industry is done largely by hand," says associate professor Frank Peters. "Our goal is to find ways to automate the manufacturing."

Information Resources

Use the following links for more information from cited sources:

Berkeley Lab report - "Understanding Trends in Wind Turbine Prices Over the Past Decade"

National Renewable Energy Laboratory - Open Energy Information

Pike Research - Wind Energy Outlook for North America

Iowa State University - Wind Energy Manufacturing Lab helps Iowa State engineers improve wind power

A Visual Impact Assessment Process for Wind Energy Projects

Visual impacts associated with wind development projects are often among the issues of greatest concern for surrounding property owners and the community. A guide issued by the Clean Energy States Alliance, A Visual Impact Assessment Process for Wind Energy Projects, provides an effective and objective aesthetic impact assessment review methodology that provides clear guidance for developers, planners, and regulatory decision makers and also ensures the protection of important scenic and cultural resources.

“As wind development continues to grow throughout the United States, many state and local governments are in the process of creating or revising their evaluation processes for assessing visual impacts of wind energy projects,” states the report. “There is little consistency as to what information should be submitted by a wind developer to the relevant regulatory review body. The basis for evaluating and determining the degree of visual impacts presented by proposed wind projects is often poorly understood by regulators, developers, and the general public. Establishment of clear and consistent visual impact review processes will assist developers and regulators alike and provide greater public confidence in the integrity and fairness of regulatory decision making for wind project siting.”

A Visual Impact Assessment Process for Wind Energy Projects is available on the CESA website.

Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) is a nonprofit coalition of state clean energy funds working together to develop and promote clean energy technologies and markets. 

2010 Wind Technologies Market Report

U.S. Department of Energy logoThe U.S. Department of Energy released the  "2010 Wind Technologies Market Report,"  prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, providing a comprehensive overview of trends in the U.S. wind power market.  Despite a trying year in which wind power capacity additions declined significantly compared to both 2008 and 2009, the U.S. remained one of the fastest-growing wind power markets in the world in 2010-second only to China-according to the report.

Wind power comprised 25% of new U.S. electric capacity additions in 2010.

Wind power comprised 25% of new U.S. electric capacity additions in 2010 and represented $11 billion in new investment. Wind power contributes more than 10% of total electricity generation in four states, and provides more than 2% of total U.S. electricity supply.

2010 Wind Technologies Market Report cover

Roughly 5 GW of new wind power capacity were connected to the U.S. grid in 2010, compared to nearly 10 GW in 2009 and more than 8 GW in 2008. "The delayed impact of the global financial crisis, relatively low natural gas and wholesale electricity prices, and slumping overall demand for energy combined to slow demand for new wind power installations in 2010," said Ryan Wiser, a scientist at Berkeley Lab and one of the authors of the study.

Some key findings of the study include:

  • Due to the size and promise of the U.S. market, wind turbine manufacturers continued to localize production domestically in 2010, despite the relatively slow year.
  • A growing percentage of the equipment used in U.S. wind power projects is domestically manufactured.
  • Wind turbine prices have declined substantially since 2008.
  • Technological advancements have improved wind turbine performance, particularly at lower wind speed sites.
  • Turbine price reductions, coupled with improved turbine technology, are expected to exert downward pressure on total project costs and wind power prices over time.
  • Looking ahead, projections are for modest growth in 2011 and 2012.

Berkeley Lab's contributions to this report were funded by the Wind & Water Power Program, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the U.S. Department of Energy.  The full report ("2010 Wind Technologies Market Report"), a presentation slide deck that summarizes the report, and an Excel workbook that contains much of the data underlying the report, can all be downloaded from the Berkely Lab website.

REDI Resources

Clean Energy Project Builder

Clean Energy Project Builder (formerly REDI Resources) is an online directory of community and small wind, and solar power companies from all over the United States who serve Minnesota’s clean energy industry. The directory allows you to browse companies; to search by specific services like engineering, operations & maintenance, or legal services; to find companies near you using geographic search; and to find companies through a range of other details like service area, number of employees, or completed project capacity.

Clean Energy Project Builder is a long-term resource provided through the collaborative efforts of the Southwest Initiative Foundation, Clean Energy Resource Teams, The Minnesota Project, and Windustry.

Community Wind projects get a boost from Washington State

Washington State August 30, 2010 The State of Washington has awarded Cascade Community Wind Company (CCWC) one million dollars (30% grant 70% low interest loan) to help install up to eight community wind turbines before December 2011. According to CWCC, the funds will leverage approximately $10 million of private and federal funds.

The CCWC Blog says they were selected as one of the State’s best bets for spending the states allocation of ARRA stimulus money to further renewable energy in the state of Washington.

Of particular significance to the State Energy Program are CCWC’s ongoing efforts to remove barriers to distributed community renewable energy projects in general. Press Release

In related news, Cascade celebrated a groundbreaking, August 30, on the first Farmer Owned Community Wind turbines in Washington state.

Americans Making Power Act Proposes National Net Metering

July 2010, Washington, D.C. - Rep. Jay Inslee (WA) has introduced the Americans Making Power Act, or AMP Act, which would establish a national standard for net metering. The legislation would allow Americans to feed back into the grid excess renewable power they generate through their homes, small businesses and even places of worship. This legislation would also improve reliability of the nation's electric grid by encouraging a more diffuse means of energy production.

“Our new clean energy economy can start right at home.”

—  Rep. Jay Inslee

The AMP Act (HR 5692) addresses two main issues associated with a robust net metering policy; namely the actual net metering standard and a policy component designed to allow for the connection of a renewable energy system to the electric grid, also known as "interconnection." The AMP Act would accomplish this by modifying section 113 of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978. While some 42 states have already adopted some form of net metering and/or interconnection standards, there are many variations in policy and some states have yet to adopt net metering language at all.

The AMP Act would set a minimum in standards and procedures for net-metering including a limit on the size of machine at 2MW, but would allow states to enact their own regulations over and above this minimum. As written, the owner-generator keeps all renewable energy credits generated by the machine. Additionally, the requirement to offer this program does not apply once the utility has reached a total of 6% of its peak load in net-metered projects (or 4% of it's peak by any one qualifying net-metered technology). This is re-calculated every 12 months. Customer-generators will receive a kwh credit on their bill for any excess generation. At the end of 12 months, if there is a net excess of generation, the customer-generator recieves a payment equal to the average wholesale rate for the previous 12-month period per net excess kwh.

“Our new clean energy economy can start right at home,” said Rep. Inslee. “By empowering Americans, this legislation can help build the clean energy economy of the 21st century while saving families money. Imagine getting a credit on your bill from your utility company every month because you generated more power than you use.”

U.S. Wind Industry Can Create Tens of Thousands of Jobs

According to a report released by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), BlueGreen Alliance, and the United Steelworkers, the U.S. wind industry can create tens of thousands of additional jobs manufacturing wind turbines and components if the U.S. passes long-term policies that create a stable market for the domestic wind energy supply chain.

“Wind energy provides one of the most promising sources of new manufacturing jobs for American workers.”

— Rob Gramlich, AWEA Sr. VP
of Public Policy

Winds of Change: A Manufacturing Blueprint for the Wind Industry highlights growth for the American wind industry despite the absence of a long-term and stable market for wind energy, or policies to support wind's manufacturing sector. While the growth in wind energy manufacturing has been steady — growing from 2,500 workers in 2004 to 18,500 in 2009 — tens of thousands of additional jobs manufacturing wind turbines and components, such as towers, gearboxes, and bearings, could be created with policies that establish a long-term, stable market and support the manufacturing sector's transition to the wind industry.

“Wind energy provides one of the most promising sources of new manufacturing jobs for American workers,” said Rob Gramlich, Senior Vice President of Public Policy for AWEA. “This report shows how the right policies such as a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) will build the supply chain and create those jobs.” 

“This report represents a major alignment between our goals for energy independence and creating the clean energy jobs of the future,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “With the right policies, clean energy will help revitalize American manufacturing. We must ensure that American manufacturers have the resources they need to build clean wind energy components and by doing so, help establish America as a global leader of clean energy technologies.”

“Moving to clean energy is just one piece of the puzzle — we need to ensure that America's clean energy economy is built by U.S. workers, and creates good manufacturing jobs,” said Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers. “By including common-sense policies like a 25 percent Renewable Electricity Standard, and an extended Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit, in comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, we can build a wind energy supply chain in the U.S.”

Along with the RES, specific policies aimed at building the wind manufacturing sector include extending and strengthening the Recovery Act's convertible tax credit program (1603), fully funding the Green Jobs Act, building a transmission grid infrastructure to meet the demand for clean energy and utilizing loan guarantee programs for commercial manufacturing of clean energy.

The report recommends passing Senator Sherrod Brown's IMPACT Act, which creates a state-level revolving loan fund to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers retool for clean energy markets and adopt energy efficient manufacturing. The report also recommends extending and strengthening the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit with specific incentives and accountability provisions to maximize domestic job creation, including giving highest priority to projects that manufacture clean energy component parts.

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