Wind Energy FAQs: Cost vs. Alternatives

Wind Cost vs. Competitors

In this post we demonstrate that on- and off-shore wind energy is cost competitive with all other forms of generation. Costs continue to fall with growing installation volumes, subsequent economies of scale and technological advances.

Choosing the metric. It can be tricky to compare different forms of energy generation as they have different construction, fuel, and operating costs as well as different operating life-spans. This problem is addressed by means of ‘Levelised Cost’ of generation which represents the cost (in real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. By compiling this cost estimate, and then dividing it by the amount of electricity generated, it is possible to calculate the the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE). This is often used as a convenient summary measure of the overall competitiveness of different generating technologies and we use it here.

Numerous entities use the LCOE however we include reference to only two – which seem to be the most widely used.

Lazard is an investment bank and annually produces an LCOE analysis for all the main generation types. Their most recent version (V12) dates from November 2018 and the following is from it,

  1. This chart does not include the tax incentives which are available to wind or solar. If they are included, the LCOE of wind drops to $14 and solar to  $32.
  2. Wind costs vary significantly from $29 in high wind areas to $56 in lower wind regions.
  3. The offshore wind cost (the gold diamond included next to the onshore LCOE) is estimated at $92/MWh.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) annually produces the ‘Annual Energy Outlook’ which contains a forward looking LCOE of different generator types. The following summary is taken from page 7 of their most recent – released in April 2019 .

A few points of note;

  1. The data exclude any tax incentives.
  2. The wind, solar and gas prices shown are capacity-weighted averages i.e. they are average levelized cost per technology, weighted by the new capacity coming online in each region.
  3. EIA quotes coal costs including 90% Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) since they assume coal in the US can no longer be built without it
  4. Quoted prices for nuclear do not include the cost of waste processing or end-of-life plant decomissioning
  5. Neither wind (nor solar) has any fuel or carbon price volatility risk: a significant advantage when compared with gas without CCS.

EUROPE AND OFFSHORE WIND

As noted, EIA estimates an offshore wind cost of $157.4/MWh. We believe this is on the high side for a number of reasons.

a) Maryland: US Wind, an Italian firm, earlier this year won a Maryland tender to build America’s first commercial-scale wind farm. The tender was awarded at a price of $131.93/MWh and US Wind is planning construction start in 2019 with commissioning in 2020.

b) Massachusetts: In December 2017, Ørsted submitted its 400-800 MW offshore proposal to Massachusetts. No specific price information was publicly released; however Ørsted’s press release revealed that the proposal would “Deliver $300 million in savings per year in lower winter power costs“. That hardly sounds like something which has a generation cost of $157.4/MWh.

c) United Kingdom: In September 2017, Ørsted (then called DONG Energy) won a U.K. contract to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm – of 1,386 MW – at a price of GBP 57.50/MWh or $77.34 at current exchange rates. It is expected to be operational in 2022.

d) Other Europe: offshore wind contracts have seen sharp falls in the last few years and just this year have started to be offered on a merchant (i.e. zero-subsidy) basis. In April 2017 Ørsted (then DONG Energy) was awarded two zero-subsidy offshore wind contracts – each of 240 MW – in the German North Sea. They will be commissioned in 2024. In December; Shell, Statoil, Vattenfall Group and others were among companies which submitted zero-subsidy bids to build a 700 MW wind project offshore Holland by 2022.

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