In many parts of the world, wind power is cheap. That is particularly true in the U.S., where onshore wind already rivals the cost of natural gas in some regions.
But wind power will likely get even cheaper, according to new research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published in Nature Energy, with contributions from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, University of Massachusetts, and participants in the International Energy Agency Wind Technology Collaboration Program.
The study surveyed more than 160 wind experts across the globe. Many had deep expertise in very specific regions, but the overall findings were similar: The cost of wind will continue to come down through 2030.
There are significant variations in the current costs for wind by region, but researchers "found a considerable amount of agreement” in overall reductions as a percentage of that total cost, said lead author Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist at Berkeley Lab.
The percentage of cost decline was similar for both onshore and offshore through 2030 (about 25 percent), but the absolute cost reductions will be more substantial for offshore wind since it is starting from a far higher price point. Floating offshore wind, which has yet to see any substantial commercial development so far, was also included.
When looking at scenarios for high-, low- and medium-cost scenarios, there was far more variation. The low-cost scenarios saw wind power coming down more than 40 percent by 2030, although under a high-cost scenario, prices remain largely unchanged in the same time frame.
“One way of interpreting this is that there’s no new information,” said Wiser. “But the more relevant way is that it is very reflective of the deep uncertainties that exist here.”
The survey focused on five major factors driving cost reductions -- which are not always rooted in capital expenditures, as many forecasts have assumed in the past.
For onshore wind, experts say capacity factors are the most important driver. The same is true of floating offshore wind, which can be moved around to maximize capacity.
Wind energy, of course, is not built in a vacuum. Instead, the drivers for investment in future R&D are the result of political decisions and influenced by the cost of other sources of electricity generation. In a quickly changing energy landscape, 2030 is very far away.
“It is absolutely fair to say there’s an enormous amount of uncertainty in not only wind energy,” said Wiser, “but any energy.”