Wind Power Costs Could See Another 50% Reduction by 2030
By John Hensley
Fresh off the first-ever American Wind Week, the Department of Energy (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a new report finding wind energy cost reductions of 50 percent are possible by 2030. That's on top of the 66 percent cost reduction since 2009.
Envisioning the wind plant of the near-future—a "collection of intelligent and innovative machines operating in a highly coordinated way"—NREL expects advancements in wind turbine design, materials and controls to unlock major performance improvements and cost reductions.
Advanced turbines will produce significantly more electricity, allowing wind to provide the lowest-cost form of electricity in many states and regions, without any policy incentives. NREL's findings demonstrate how the federal wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) is successfully driving economies of scale and efficiency improvements, and address concerns that wind power deployment will drop as the PTC phases down.
Wind Cost Projections
Prior to NREL's report, the most recent evidence foreshadowing further wind power cost reduction came from a 2016 study funded by the DOE. Surveying experts around the world, that study found anticipated cost reductions ranged from 24 to 30 percent by 2030. Under more aggressive circumstances, experts predicted cost reductions as high as 40 percent as research and development programs and technology learning lead to additional efficiencies, as shown below.
Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory
Building on these projections, NREL predicts a "SMART" wind plant of the future will be able to achieve even further cost reductions—up to 50 percent by 2030. The wind turbine of the future will be much larger, sit atop a taller tower, use next generation blades, and incorporate intelligent controls and remote monitors. Towers reaching 135 meters will access more consistent wind resources, while next-generation blades stretching more than 70 meters will help the wind turbine capture more of that resource as efficiently as possible. This will enable capacity factors more than 50 percent, all while the installed cost per kilowatt falls and plant life expectancy grows.
On an unsubsidized basis, these improvements and cost reductions will drive the levelized cost of wind energy from roughly $55/megawatt hour (MWh) in 2015 to $31/MWh in 2030.
Capital Stack Shifts to Enable Further Cost Reductions
Improvements in wind project financing structures will enable further cost reductions. Shifting away from equity to debt and using innovative financing mechanisms like yieldcos will reduce financing costs and the bottom-line cost of wind energy.
Recognizing this eventual shift to higher debt-to-equity rations, NREL estimates that the cheaper capital stack will unlock a further $8/MWh reduction in wind energy costs (falling from $31/MWh to $23/MWh on an unsubsidized basis) by 2030, as indicated below.
Comparison to Other Findings
A number of presentations and market analyses this year confirm that the cost reductions NREL projects are achievable—and, in a few cases, too conservative.
Let's begin with the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. In a recent report, the investment bank concludes that "the U.S. power sector already appears in the early stages of a technological mix revolution given a combination of political, technological and now social tailwinds driving improved economics and demand for renewables." Goldman predicts new wind and solar capacity of more than 200 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, primarily driven by economics.
Confirming the economic tailwinds for wind energy, Pattern Energy CEO Mike Garland forecasts wind energy prices will settle between $30-$40/MWh as the PTC phases out and into the long term. The company is already seeing significant improvements in energy production and cost for wind projects the company is bidding for delivery post-2020.
Most tellingly, NextEra Energy Resources anticipates even more aggressive wind cost reductions. The largest owner of wind power capacity in the U.S. expects wind power to be the lowest cost energy resource in the post-2020 period on an unsubsidized basis, ranging from $20-$30/MWh.
This aggressive cost trajectory is consistent with the industry's history of beating even the most aggressive cost projections. In 2008, DOE predicted (page 148, converted to 2016 dollars) that the U.S. wind industry could reduce wind costs to $1,850/kW by 2030. By 2016, the industry had already beaten that projection and driven costs down to $1,587/kW. That 2008 DOE study also estimated that the best wind sites could reach capacity factors of 36 percent by 2015 and 38 percent by 2030. Wind projects installed in 2014 and 2015 have an average capacity factor of 42.6 percent, beating DOE's 2030 target by a wide margin 15 years early.
Progress towards the wind power plant of the future is predicted to unlock substantial additional cost reductions. In 2030, NREL expects unsubsidized LCOEs to range from $19/MWh to $32/MWh, with the central expectation at $23/MWh. At these cost levels, wind energy will be competitive with all other energy sources across much of the U.S., providing a win-win for consumers and public health.
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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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