Aug 8, 2022

A Soaring Industry: Recent Advancements in Wind Technology

Industry Insights
Energy Transition
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Wind energy continues to see strong growth, solid performance, and attractive costing in the United States, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"Wind energy prices— particularly in the central United States, and supported by federal tax incentives— remain low even with ongoing supply chain pressures, with utilities and corporate buyers selecting wind as a low-cost option," said Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist in Berkeley Lab's Energy Technologies Area. "Considering the health and climate benefits of wind energy makes the economics even better," he added.

With levelized costs just shy over $30 per megawatt-hour (MWh) for newly built projects, the cost of wind is well below its grid-system, health, and climate benefits. Some key findings from the annual "Land-Based Wind Market Report" are as follows.

Wind comprises a growing share of electricity supply.

U.S. wind power capacity grew at a strong pace in 2021, with 13.4 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity added representing a $20 billion investment and 32% of all U.S. capacity additions. Wind energy output rose to account for more than 9% of the entire nation's electricity supply.

Wind project performance has increased over the decades.

The average capacity factor, which is a measure of project performance, among recently completed projects was nearly 40%. This figure is considerably higher than projects built earlier, with the highest capacity factors seen in the interior of the country.

Turbines continue to get larger.

In 2011, no turbines employed blades that were 115 meters in diameter or larger, but in 2021, 89% of newly installed turbines featured such rotors. Improved plant performance has been driven by larger turbines mounted on taller towers and featuring longer blades. Proposed projects indicate that total turbine height will only continue to rise.

Low wind turbine pricing has pushed down installed project costs over the last decade.

Wind turbine prices averaged $800 to $950/kilowatt (kW) in 2021, a 5% to 10% increase from the prior year but substantially lower than in 2010. The average installed cost of wind projects in 2021 was $1,500/kW, down more than 40% since the peak in 2010, with the lowest costs in Texas.

Wind energy prices have risen, but remain low, around $20/MWh in the interior "wind belt" of the country.

After topping out at $75/MWh for power purchase agreements executed in 2009, the national average price of wind has dropped -- though supply-chain pressures have resulted in increased prices in recent years. In the interior "wind belt" of the country, recent pricing is around $20/MWh. In the West and East, prices tend to average above $30/MWh. These prices, which are possible in part due to federal tax support, fall below the projected future fuel costs of gas-fired generation.

Wind prices are often attractive compared to wind's grid-system market value.

The value of wind energy sold in wholesale power markets is affected by the location of wind plants, their hourly output profiles, and how those characteristics correlate with real-time electricity prices and capacity markets. The market value of wind increased in 2021 and varied regionally from below $20/MWh to over $40/MWh, a range roughly consistent with recent wind energy prices.

The average levelized cost of wind energy was $32/MWh for plants built in 2021.

Levelized costs vary across time and geography, but the national average stood at $32/MWh in 2021, which is down substantially historically, though consistent with the previous three years.

The health and climate benefits of wind in 2021 were larger than its grid-system value.

Wind generation reduces power-sector emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxides. These reductions, in turn, provide public health and climate benefits that vary regionally, but together are economically valued at an average of over $90/MWh-wind for plants built in 2021.

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