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Experts see cost of wind power declining by nearly 50% by 2050

April 27, 2021

by Peter Maloney
April 27, 2021

The cost of wind energy is expected to decline by as much as 35 percent by 2035 and by almost 50 percent by 2050, according to a survey conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The experts responding to the Berkeley Lab survey estimated median reductions in the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for wind power of 17 to 35 percent by 2035 and of 37 to 49 percent by 2050.

Participants in the survey focused on five core LCOE inputs: capital costs, operating expenditures, energy output (capacity factor), project life in years, and financing costs (after-tax, nominal weighted-average cost of capital).

The reductions are driven by larger and more efficient wind turbines, lower capital and operating costs, and other advancements, according to the survey findings, which were published in the journal Nature Energy.

The study summarized a global survey of 140 wind experts who considered three types of wind applications: onshore (land-based) wind, fixed-bottom offshore wind, and floating offshore wind. The anticipated future costs for all three types of wind energy were half of what experts predicted in a similar study Berkeley Lab conducted in 2015.

“Wind has experienced accelerated cost reductions in recent years, both onshore and offshore, making previous cost forecasts obsolete,” Ryan Wiser, senior scientist at Berkeley Lab, said in a statement. “The energy sector needs a current assessment.”

The Berkeley Lab survey complements other cost evaluation methods and sheds light on the uncertainties in those estimates, Wiser said. For instance, cost reductions could be relatively modest, as reflected in the lower end of the estimates, but there is also “substantial room for improvement” with reductions even greater than experts predict. There is a 10 percent chance that cost reductions will be in the 38 to 53 percent range by 2035 and in the 54 to 64 percent range by 2050, the study found.

The experts surveyed also anticipate greater absolute reductions – and more uncertainty – in the LCOE for offshore wind compared with onshore wind but see a narrowing gap between fixed-bottom and floating offshore wind.

The survey also revealed that one of the key drivers in cost reductions is improvements in wind turbine sizes. The average capacity ratings of onshore wind turbines are expected to rise to 5.5 megawatts [MW] in 2035 from 2.5 MW in 2019 as rotor diameters and hub heights also increase.

The experts said they expect offshore wind turbines to get even larger, rising to 17 MW on average in 2035, from 6 MW in 2019.

The experts also said they see floating offshore wind gaining market share, growing from its current pre-commercial state to capturing up to 25% of new offshore wind projects by 2035.

“All else being equal, these trends will enable wind to play a larger role in global energy supply than previously thought while facilitating energy-sector decarbonization,” Joachim Seel with Berkeley Lab and a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Berkeley Lab took the lead in the study, which was conducted under the auspices of the IEA Wind Technology Collaboration Programme with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.