Benchmarking Wind Power Operating Costs in the United States: Results from a Survey of Wind Industry Experts

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This paper draws on a survey of wind industry professionals to clarify trends in the operational expenditures (OpEx) of U.S. land-based wind power plants. The paper also highlights key drivers of those trends. We find that average all-in lifetime OpEx has declined from approximately $80/kW-yr (~$35/MWh) for projects built in the late 1990s to a level that is approaching $40/kW-yr (~$11/MWh) for projects under construction in 2018. Turbine operations and maintenance (O&M) costs—inclusive of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance—represent the single largest component of overall OpEx and the primary source of cost reductions over the last decade. We observe wide ranges of OpEx over time; for example, survey respondents cite a range in average expected costs for projects commissioned between 2015 and 2018 from $33/kW-yr to $59/kW-yr. Notably, these broad ranges include high levels of variability in both turbine O&M costs and non-turbine OpEx. Potential technical and strategic drivers of this variability are highlighted. We also use historical OpEx learning rates, showing a 9% OpEx reduction for each doubling of global installed wind capacity, to project a further $5–$8/kW-yr (12%–18%) OpEx reduction from 2018 to 2040. When compared with the broader literature, these findings suggest that continued OpEx reductions may contribute 10% or more of the expected reductions in land-based wind’s levelized cost of energy. Moreover, these estimates may understate the importance of OpEx owing to the multiplicative effects through which operational advancements influence not only O&M costs but also component reliability, performance, and plant-level availability—thereby affecting levelized costs though OpEx reduction and by enhancing annual energy production and plant lifetimes. Given the limited quantity and comparability of previously available OpEx data, the data and trends reported here may usefully inform OpEx assumptions used by electric system planners, analysts, modelers, and research and development managers. The results may also provide useful benchmarks to the wind industry, helping developers and asset owners compare their OpEx expectations with historical experience and other industry projections. 

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A journal article published in Renewable Energy Focus based on this research titled Assessing wind power operating costs in the United States: Results from a survey of wind industry experts can be found here.


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