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