DOE Wind Report Reveals Falling Costs, Rising Capacities

Wind power in the country took off in 2016, according to the new annual Wind Technologies Market Report prepared by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and published by the US Department of Energy this month. The US added 8,203 megawatts of wind power last year and saw $13 billion invested in new plants. Overall, wind power constituted 27% of all US generation capacity additions in 2016, the report says.

Several states came out on top for wind. Texas installed the most capacity last year — 2,611 megawatts — and reached a cumulative capacity of 20,320 megawatts. Oklahoma followed with 1,462 added megawatts, and Iowa came in third with 707 megawatts. Iowa also topped the list of states with the highest percentage of wind for in-state generation in 2016 at 36.6%. South Dakota came in second with 30.3% and Kansas was a close third at 29.6%.

Project Performance on the Rise

Bigger turbines enhance wind project performance, according to the report. Last year, rotor size increased 13% over the previous five-year average, and the generating capacity of newly installed wind turbines reached 2.15 megawatts on average. Hub height also inched up 1% over the past five-year average.

“Turbines originally designed for lower wind speeds are now regularly deployed in higher wind speed sites, boosting project performance,” the report says. “Increased rotor diameters, in particular, have begun to dramatically increase wind project capacity factors.”

Despite the trend toward larger wind turbines, small-scale wind energy projects have found a foothold in some areas. Businesses in Ohio that installed such projects helped boost the state’s wind capacity last year. Honda has two turbines at its transmission plant in Russells Point and Whirlpool has wind turbines that help power its dishwasher factory in Findlay, the Associated Press reported.

Costs Take a Dive

Wind turbine equipment prices have been falling since their highs several years ago. The average installed cost of wind projects in 2016 was $1,590 per kilowatt, down $780 per kilowatt from the peak in 2009 and 2010, the report found.

Aggressive wind power pricing is being driven by lower installed project costs and improvements in capacity factors. “After topping out at nearly 7 cents per kilowatt hour in 2009, the average levelized long-term price from wind power sales agreements has dropped to around 2 cents per kilowatt hour,” the DOE report says, noting that the nationwide average is dominated by low-priced projects in the central US.

Recently signed wind energy contracts compare favorably to projections for the fuel costs of gas-fired generation, spurring demand for wind energy from non-utility purchasers, the DOE says. Wind energy prices, especially in the central part of the country, are at all-time lows, according to the report. As a result, corporate buyers are selecting wind as the low-cost option, a Berkeley Lab senior scientist said in a public statement.

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