Understanding Trends in Wind Turbine Prices Over the Past Decade

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Berkeley Lab has gathered price data on 81 U.S. wind turbine transactions totaling 23,850 MW announced from 1997 through early 2011. Figure ES-1 depicts these reported wind turbine transaction prices (along with the associated trend line), broken out by the size of the transaction (in MW). Figure ES-1 also presents average (global) turbine prices reported by Vestas for the years 2005 through 2010, as well as a range of reported pricing (among various turbine manufacturers) for transactions signed in 2010 and so far in 2011 (with 2011 prices generally lower than 2010 prices). After hitting a low of roughly $750/kW from 2000 to 2002, average wind turbine prices doubled through 2008, rising to an average of roughly $1,500/kW. Wind turbine prices have since declined substantially, with price quotes for transactions executed in 2010 and to date in 2011 ranging from $900-$1,400/kW depending on the manufacturer and turbine model. For example, turbines designed for lower wind speed sites – deploying higher hub heights and larger rotor diameters for a given nameplate capacity – are priced at the higher end of this range. These quotes suggest price declines of as much as 33% or more since late 2008, with an average decline closer to perhaps 20% for orders announced in 2010 (as opposed to in 2011, which has seen further price declines). These two substantial and opposing wind turbine price trends over the past decade – and particularly the doubling in prices in the 2002-2008 period – run counter to the smooth, gradually declining technology cost trajectories that are often assumed by energy analysts modeling the diffusion of new technologies, including wind power. Understanding and explaining this notable discrepancy between theory and historical reality is the primary motivation for this work. Taking a bottom-up approach, this report examines seven primary drivers of wind turbine prices in the United States, with the goal of estimating the degree to which each contributed to the doubling in turbine prices from 2002 through 2008, as well as the subsequent decline in prices through 2010 (our analysis does not extend into 2011 because several of these drivers are best gauged on a full-year basis due to seasonality issues).

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This research is in press with Energy Policy. To see the published version, please click here.


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