Levelized cost-based learning analysis of utility-scale wind and solar in the United States
Learning curves play a central role in power sector planning. We improve upon past learning curves for utility-scale wind and solar through a combination of approaches. First, we generate plant-level estimates of the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) in the United States, and then use LCOE, rather than capital costs, as the dependent variable. Second, we normalize LCOE to control for exogenous influences unrelated to learning. Third, we use segmented regression to identify change points in LCOE learning. We find full-period LCOE-based learning rates of 15% for wind and 24% for solar, and conclude that (normalized) LCOE-based learning provides a more complete view of technology advancement than afforded by much of the existing literature—particularly that which focuses solely on capital cost learning. Models that do not account for endogenous LCOE-based learning, or that focus narrowly on capital cost learning, may underestimate future LCOE reductions.