Wind power cost plummets to all-time low as capacity grows
Read this Aug. 10 story Ars Technica story by John Timmer on the continuing drop in the cost of wind power, as nine US states now generate more than 10% of their electricity from wind.
After years of uninterrupted success, wind power experienced a bit of a pause around the start of this decade. Prices for hardware reversed a decline and bounced upwards slightly, with installations dropping accordingly. But a new report from the Department of Energy shows that this bounce is now over. The price paid for wind-generated electricity has now reached an all-time low, and construction is bouncing back. Still, regulatory uncertainty may now be creating a boom/bust cycle for wind.
The report starts by reviewing the size of the wind market in the US. In 2014, it represented a quarter of the new additions to the US’ generating capacity, a bit down from the average of 2007-2014, when it represented a third. Just under five GigaWatts were installed by the US, placing it third, and well behind China’s 23GW. China now has nearly doubled the US 66GW of cumulative capacity.
Because of the US’ excellent wind resources, however, it led the world in generating electricity last year. As a percentage of a country’s total electricity generated by wind, the US ranked 15th, at roughly five percent. There are sharp regional differences however, with nine states generating more than double that percentage of their electricity using wind, led by Iowa, which generated 29 percent of its energy from the air.
Domestic job growth in the market went up by nearly half (from 50,500 to 73,000 jobs). A number of manufacturing plants closed, however, as the market consolidated around three companies: GE, Siemens, and Vestas had 98 percent of the US market.
Newly installed wind power continued to focus on sites with lower wind speeds. While turbine height was stable at 80m and capacity stable at 2MW, the average rotor diameter rose about 5m to 100m. (A larger rotor allows more wind to be harvested.) The use of less windy sites has partly offset improved hardware, leaving capacity factor—the fraction of a rotor’s rated generation that’s actually used—at about 33 percent.
If all these trends are somewhat ambiguous, there are two figures that are not: the costs of building wind farms and the amount the people who own them are charging for their electricity. Capacity weighted costs were about $35 per MegaWatt-hour in the 1980s; by the 2000s, this had dropped to $10/MW-hr, and it is now down to about $9. The newer hardware is also cheaper to maintain, even after adjusting for the low number of years it’s been in use.