Renewable energy, such as solar and wind energy, has become more and more important in the global energy supply. However, its long-term contribution depends on the costs and technology development.
In a study newly published in Nature Energy, researchers analyzed the results of a global survey about wind energy costs in the near future. The conclusion is that wind energy costs can be reduced dramatically in 20-30 years.
The survey used a tool called expert elicitation, which can develop credible estimates when data are lacking. It has been widely used in decision-making in private and public sectors.
In the survey, 163 wind energy experts gave their estimations about the magnitude of future wind energy cost decrease, reasons of the decrease, and efforts to achieve the decrease.
The estimations focused on two types of wind energy: onshore wind (i.e. wind moving towards the land) and offshore wind (i.e. wind moving away from the land and to the sea). For offshore wind, there are two applications: fixed-bottom offshore wind and floating offshore wind.
The results showed that under the “best guess” scenario, experts estimated 24-30% reductions by 2030, and 35-41% reductions by 2050 across all three types of wind applications.
Furthermore, experts suggested that costs could be even lower: there is a 10% chance that reductions will be more than 40% by 2030 and more than 50% by 2050.
Among the three wind applications, onshore wind power is estimated to be less expensive than offshore wind power, and fixed-bottom offshore wind power is expected to be cheaper than floating wind power.
On the other hand, offshore wind power has more absolute reductions in the levelized cost of energy (i.e. the net present value of the unit-cost of electricity over the lifetime of a wind power plant) compared with onshore wind power.
Experts listed 5 factors that can influence wind energy costs: cost of financing, performance, project design life, up-front capital costs, and ongoing operating costs. Improving performance while reducing the up-front capital costs are practical ways to lower wind energy costs.
For the technology development, experts suggested that wind turbine characteristics, including capacity, hub height, and rotor diameter, are important for performance and will be improved a lot by 2030.
Citation: Wiser R, et al. (2016). Expert elicitation survey on future wind energy costs, Nature Energy, published online. doi: 10.1038/nenergy.2016.135
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