This paper draws on a survey of wind industry professionals to clarify trends in the expected useful life of land-based wind power plants in the United States. The expected useful life of a project affects expectations about its profitability, the timing of possible decommissioning or repowering, and its levelized costs.
We find that most wind project developers, sponsors and long-term owners have increased project-life assumptions over time, from a typical term of ~20 years in the early 2000s to ~25 years by the mid-2010s and ~30 years more recently. Current assumptions range from 25 to 40 years, with an average of 29.6 years.
The estimated average levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for new wind projects built in 2018 is $40.4/MWh (real 2018$), assuming a 20-year project life. With a 25-year useful life and no change in assumed operations and maintenance (O&M) expenditures or wind plant performance over time, LCOE declines by 10%, to $36.2/MWh, because capital costs are recovered over five additional years of production. At the now-common 30-year assumed life, levelized costs decrease another 7%, to $33.5/MWh (under the same unaltered assumptions about O&M and performance). Even longer assumed lifetimes lead to further (but diminishing) LCOE reductions—e.g., to $31.7/MWh and $30.3/MWh for 35- and 40-year lives, respectively.
The data and trends presented here may inform assumptions used by electric system planners, modelers and analysts. The results may also provide useful benchmarks to the wind industry, helping developers and assets owners to compare their expectations with those of their peers.
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