February 27, 2017
The Future of Wind Energy: How Low Can Costs Go?
Wind energy costs have—historically—declined dramatically. But will they continue to? One of America’s preeminent renewable technology and policy experts Ryan Wiser answered this question and more at an EPIC seminar on February 22.
The rapid growth of wind energy has caused costs to decline over the last several decades—meaning fewer emissions that lead to climate change. But, will the trend continue? Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, answered this question and more at an EPIC seminar on February 22.
In order to understand the possible future growth of the wind sector, Wiser began by looking back at the past. The last several years have seen an increase of roughly 50 gigawatts of additional capacity each year. Nevertheless, wind remains a modest contributor, representing only around 4 percent of the entire global supply of energy. In the U.S., however, wind makes up about 5 percent of the electricity supply, with states like Iowa and Kansas having a much higher penetration.
“The United States really is extraordinarily endowed with open, windy area,” explained Wiser. “You don’t see capacity factors globally approaching the capacity factors you see in the U.S.”
A production tax credit and state-based renewable portfolio standards further encourage the development of wind energy in the U.S. Such state policies have played a significant role in the growth of the wind energy market, but so has the advancement of technology. When compared to the turbines of the 1980s and 1990s, the turbines of today are enormous machines with a huge rotor diameter. These technological improvement have helped lead to a decline in the costs of projects.
Will the advancement of technology, and declining costs, continue? Wiser and his colleagues have spent the last couple of years surveying experts to help answer that question.
The survey, which was the largest expert elicitation survey ever conducted on a single technology, was aimed at estimating the magnitude of future cost reduction potential to try to understand the sources of cost reduction and the conditions that might be necessary in order to achieve lower costs. The median expert surveyed anticipated on-shore wind energy would see cost reductions of about 10 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2050.
“Further advancements are on the horizon,” Wiser said. “Experts anticipate a wide range of advancements that will increase project performance, extend project design lives, and lower operational expenses.”