Video: New Study Finds Huge Potential Cost Reductions Ahead for Onshore, Offshore Wind Power

The following video has two Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) researchers, Ryan Wiser and Joachim Seel, presenting their research findings on future wind power costs and cost drivers to the International Energy Agency in September. Also see their article in Nature Energy, which explains the results of a survey of “163 of the world’s foremost wind experts, aimed at better understanding future costs and technology advancement possibilities” for wind power. The bottom line findings are impressive: a median forecast of 24%-30% reductions in wind power costs by 2030 and 35%-41% reductions by 2050; with even greater reductions possible — possibly more than 50% by 2050 — in the most optimistic scenario.

The following presentation is an excellent overview of the LBNL research; also see here for the full report PDF, a summary, webinar slides and fact sheets. With regard to offshore wind, the factsheet finds that “after many years of delays and cost increases, there are signs of progress,” with a recent “350 MW near-shore project off the coast of Denmark [coming] in at a record-low of just $67 per MWh.”  The factsheet explains that what’s driving lower costs for offshore wind are: “Most importantly, turbine size: bigger generators, taller towers, and longer blades,” with further growth likely, “to an average of 11 MW by 2030, featuring 125 meter towers and 190 meter rotor diameters.”

With regard to land-based wind power, this factsheet explains that “some energy planners, analysts, and policymakers may be underestimating both the potential for and uncertainty in wind energy cost reductions.” The new LBNL study finds that “wind power sales prices now average roughly $20/MWh in the large interior wind-belt, lower than the 20-year levelized expected cost of burning fuel in a natural-gas power plant.” Even more encouraging, the LBNL study is highly optimistic about future onshore wind power cost reductions — “24% by 2030 and 35% by 2050 under a median or ‘best guess’ scenario,” and even greater under more favorable assumptions.

The bottom line is that wind power, as the authors of the study explain at Utility Dive, is already “being sold at rock-bottom prices,” and may actually have even greater potential than is widely believed.  Perhaps most eye-catching is the finding that “the wind sector’s most knowledgeable and senior leaders” are actually the most optimistic regarding wind power’s future, “expecting [Levelized Cost of Energy — LCOE] to decline by 27% by 2030 and 48% by 2050 in the median scenario, and by 57% and 66% in the low scenario.”

If these experts are correct, the LBNL authors conclude, “then we might not only be underappreciating the uncertainty in future outcomes, but also understating the potential role of wind in the future energy system and the contribution of R&D in enabling that future by moving us towards lower-cost scenarios.” In sum, bright times ahead for the wind power industry certainly appear likely, particularly with a supportive policy environment to push it ahead as rapidly as possible.