New Study Finds that the Price of Wind Energy in the United States Is at an All-Time Low, and the Competitiveness of Wind Has Improved

Wind energy pricing is at an all-time low, according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Energy and prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). The prices offered by wind projects to utility purchasers averaged just $25/MWh for projects negotiating contracts in 2013, spurring demand for wind energy.

“Wind energy prices—particularly in the central United States— are at an all-time low, with utilities selecting wind as the low cost option,” Berkeley Lab Staff Scientist Ryan Wiser said. “This is especially notable because, enabled by technology advancements, wind projects have increasingly been built in lower wind speed areas.”

Key findings from the U.S. Department of Energy’s latest “Wind Technologies Market Report” include:

  • Wind is a credible source of new generation in the United States.  Though wind power additions slowed in 2013, with just 1.1 gigawatts (GW) added, wind power has comprised 33% of all new U.S. electric capacity additions since 2007. Wind power currently contributes more than 4% of the nation’s electricity supply, more than 12% of total electricity generation in nine states, and more than 25% in two states.
  • Turbine scaling is boosting wind project performance.   Since 1998-99, the average nameplate capacity of wind turbines installed in the United States has increased by 162% (to 1.87 MW in 2013), the average turbine hub height has increased by 45% (to 80 meters), and the average rotor diameter has increased by 103% (to 97 meters).  This substantial scaling has enabled wind project developers to economically build projects in lower wind-speed sites, and is driving capacity factors higher for projects located in given wind resource regimes. Moreover, turbines originally designed for lower wind speeds are now regularly employed in higher wind speed sites, further boosting expected capacity factors.
  • Low wind turbine pricing continues to push down installed project costs.  Wind turbine prices have fallen 20 to 40% from their highs back in 2008, and these declines are pushing project-level costs down.  Based on the small sample of 2013 wind projects, installed costs averaged $1,630/kW last year, down more than $600/kW from the apparent peak in 2009 and 2010.  Among a larger sample of projects currently under construction, average costs are $1,750/kW.

• Wind energy prices have reached all-time lows, improving the relative competitiveness of wind. Lower wind turbine prices and installed project costs, along with improvements in expected capacity factors, are enabling aggressive wind power pricing.  After topping out at nearly $70/MWh in 2009, the average levelized long-term price from wind power sales agreements signed in 2013 fell to around $25/MWh.  This level is lower than the previous lows set back in the 2000-2005 period, which is notable given that wind projects have increasingly been sited in lower wind-speed areas.  Wind energy prices are generally lowest in the central portion of the country. The continued decline in average wind prices, along with a bit of a rebound in wholesale power prices, put wind back at the bottom of the range of nationwide wholesale power prices in 2013.  Wind energy contracts executed in 2013 also compare very favorably to a range of projections of the fuel costs of gas-fired generation extending out through 2040.

• The manufacturing supply chain has experienced substantial growing pains in recent years, but a growing percentage of the equipment used in U.S. wind projects has been sourced domestically since 2006-2007. The profitability of turbine suppliers rebounded in 2013, after a number of years in decline. Five of the 10 turbine suppliers with the largest share of the U.S. market have one or more manufacturing facilities in the United States. Nonetheless, more domestic wind manufacturing facilities closed in 2013 than opened. Additionally, the entire wind energy sector employed 50,500 full-time workers in the United States at the end of 2013, a deep reduction from the 80,700 jobs reported for 2012.Despite these challenges,trade data show that a decreasing percentage of the equipment used in wind projects has been imported, when focusing on selected trade categories. When presented as a fraction of total equipment-related wind turbine costs, the combined import share of selected wind equipment tracked by trade codes (i.e., blades, towers, generators, gearboxes, and wind-powered generating sets) is estimated to have declined from nearly 80% in 2006–2007 to approximately 30% in 2012-2013; the overall import fraction is higher when considering equipment not tracked in wind-specific trade codes. Domestic content has increased and is high for blades, towers, and nacelle assembly; domestic content is considerably lower for much of the equipment internal to the nacelle.

  • Looking ahead, projections are for solid growth in 2014 and 2015, with uncertain prospects in 2016 and beyond.  The availability of federal incentives for wind projects that began construction at the end of 2013 has helped restart the domestic market, with significant new builds anticipated in 2014 and 2015. However, as noted by Mark Bolinger, Research Scientist at Berkeley Lab, “Projections for 2016 and beyond are much less certain. Despite the attractive price of wind energy, federal policy uncertainty—in concert with continued low natural gas prices and modest electricity demand growth — may put a damper on medium-term market growth.”

Berkeley Lab’s contributions to this report were funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Additional Information:

The full report (“2013 Wind Technologies Market Report”), a presentation slide deck that summarizes the report, and an Excel workbook that contains much of the data presented in the report, can all be downloaded from:

http://emp.lbl.gov/publications/2013-wind-technologies-market-report

The Department of Energy’s release on this study is available at:

http://energy.gov/articles/energy-department-reports-highlight-strength-us-wind-energy-industry

Ryan Wiser (510) 486-5474, RHWiser@lbl.gov (technical contact)

Mark Bolinger (603) 795-4937, MABolinger@lbl.gov (technical contact)

Optimizing Residential Ventilation with RIVEC

Tighter housing envelopes help homeowners maintain thermal comfort but also require continuous mechanical ventilation to maintain healthy indoor air quality. While that tighter envelope can reduce homeowners’ heating and cooling energy use and costs, the required mechanical ventilation and the need to condition air brought in from outside cuts into those savings.

Three maxims are key to designing a superior mechanical residential ventilation strategy: use minimal energy, avoid peak electricity costs, and minimize infiltration of outdoor pollutants. To ensure an economical ventilation system that provides healthy indoor air quality and occupant comfort under the residential ventilation rates recommended by the widely used ASHRAE 62.2 standard, all of these factors must be addressed. Energy recovery ventilators can help, but they can be expensive and installation can be complicated.

For years, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers Iain Walker, Darryl Dickerhoff, and Max Sherman have focused their attention on the problem, to simplify the solutions and reduce costs. The result is the Residential Integrated Ventilation Controller (RIVEC)—a control algorithm that is incorporated into heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) controls to optimize fan energy use, costs, and indoor air quality. This work has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research Program (PIER).
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Researchers Will Advance Hybrid Energy Modeling in New Department of Energy-Funded Project 

The U.S. Department of Energy is funding research aimed at improving the accuracy of building energy simulation through an approach known as hybrid modeling.

“Traditional physics-based energy modeling for existing buildings relies on user inputs among which some are unknown or difficult to measure, such as air infiltration rate and interior thermal mass that can vary significantly by time and by buildings,” says Tianzhen Hong, a Computational Research Scientist in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

The inaccuracy of these inputs is a major reason for the uncertainty in building simulation models of energy use. In the newly funded research, Hong and team members will develop a new hybrid approach to energy modeling that will avoid using difficult-to-measure parameters. Instead, they will use the measured data of space temperature as new inputs, and reformulate the EnergyPlus model’s space heat balance equations to improve the accuracy of simulation results.

EnergyPlus is DOE’s flagship whole-building energy simulation engine. It takes a physical description of a building’s geometry, construction materials, HVAC systems, operations and control schemes, occupancy schedules, and prevailing weather conditions and calculates the energy and water used to maintain occupant thermal and visual comfort. The model is widely used by architects and engineers to design comfortable, energy-efficient buildings, and demonstrate buildings’ compliance with codes and standards. The research team will incorporate the new modeling algorithm into EnergyPlus by 2017.

Download EnergyPlus for free at:

www.energyplus.gov

 

 

New research assesses energy balance of large-scale photoelectrochemical hydrogen production

In the search for clean energy solutions to displace greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels, few technological options are as alluring as directly producing hydrogen from sunlight. If hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, could be produced on earth economically and with a minimum overall environmental impact, it could provide energy to both stationary and transportation applications with very low overall carbon footprint and climate impact. For example, hydrogen could be the fuel input in fuel cells to generate electricity, or feedstock for producing liquid transportation fuels.

Today however, the most economical way to make hydrogen is by reforming fossil fuels such as natural gas—with the nearly same negative impact to the climate as direct combustion. Hydrogen production via electrolysis—splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity—can in principle use renewable electricity, but it is currently much more expensive.

Scientists are pursuing a promising pathway to generating large-scale amounts of hydrogen for clean energy production directly by splitting water using sunlight, a process called photoelectrochemical (PEC) production. Instead of splitting off the hydrogen from hydrocarbons and being left with carbon, which is typically oxidized and emitted into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, photoelectrochemical production splits off hydrogen from water, leaving clean oxygen gas.  Researchers have accomplished PEC on a small scale in laboratories, but scaling up the process into hydrogen generating plants capable of supplying enough to meet the needs of industrial societies requires considerably more research and technology development.
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EETD Microgrids Researchers to Collaborate with MIT and IIT-Comillas University

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) announces the signature of a collaboration license with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and IIT-Comillas University (Madrid) for the Utility of the Future Program. DER-CAM, software developed in the Microgrids Group at the Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD), will play a key-role in this project, which is part of the MIT Energy Initiative.

Greater utilization of local energy resources, increasing use of natural gas (NG), and integration of renewables (solar photovoltaic and wind) into electricity supply are prominent in contemporary discussions of energy policy both in the European Union and the U.S. The deployment of distributed generation (DG) and renewable energy sources is expected to grow in coming years, and significant impacts on the operation and planning of distribution grids and, more generally, the sustainability of energy systems, are expected.
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Department of Energy’s FLEXLAB Opens Test Beds to Drive Dramatic Increase In Building Efficiency

Berkeley, Calif. – July 10, 2014 – The world’s most advanced energy efficiency test bed for buildings is open for business, launched today by U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman. DOE’s FLEXLAB at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is already signing up companies determined to reduce their energy use by testing and deploying the most energy efficient technologies as integrated systems under real-world conditions. The facility includes a rotating test bed to track and test sun exposure impacts, and other high-tech features.

In addition to Deputy Secretary Poneman, University of California President Janet Napolitano, Genentech Vice President Carla Boragno, Webcor CEO Jes Pederson, and PG&E Vice President Laurie Giammona joined event host Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos to speak about the power and potential of this facility to help California, the nation and the world reduce energy use, curb greenhouse gas emissions and save money.

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Lignin’s role in reducing life-cycle carbon emissions explored in new research paper

Cellulosic biofuels are the focus of intense research aimed at developing transportation fuels that are significantly lower in carbon intensity than those derived from petroleum. Biofuels have the potential to reduce the impact of the transportation sector on the climate—cellulosic ethanol, by some estimates, may reduce the carbon emissions relative to gasoline by up to 80 percent. While researchers have developed technologies capable of converting many components of wood and other plant material into liquid fuels, lignin, a chemical in plants that gives their cells rigidity, has proven difficult to break down.

Current models of the refining process for biomass-to-transportation fuels assume that the lignin component is burned onsite to meet the plant’s process heat and power needs. Onsite combustion offsets some of the plant’s energy costs, and provides the plant with offset credits for greenhouse gas emissions.
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2014 ITRI-Rosenfeld Fellowship Winners Announced

Zhenhua Liu and Chinmayee Subban were recently announced as the winners of the 2014 ITRI-Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellowship. The fellowship honors the contributions of Arthur H. Rosenfeld, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD), for his work toward the advancement of energy efficiency on a global scale. The selection process includes scrutiny of the applications by a selection committee, presentations by the finalists, and panel interviews. The award enables the applicants to engage in innovative research that leads to new energy-efficiency technologies or policies, as well as the reduction of adverse energy-related environmental impacts. It is made possible through a gift from the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan (ITRI) and with EETD support.

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EETD Scientist Participates in Energy Efficiency Standardization Roadmap

The following press release is from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Energy Efficiency Standardization Coordination Collaborative (EESCC), a group chaired by the U.S. Department of Energy and the private sector. William Miller of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division, and, formerly, a longtime energy efficiency manager at Pacific Gas & Electric, participated in the development of this document.

For information on downloading the Roadmap document, see the links below.

New Energy Efficiency Standardization Roadmap Establishes National Framework for ActionRoadmap Details 125 Recommendations to Advance Energy Efficiency Standardization in the Built Environment

With the release today of the Standardization Roadmap: Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment, U.S. industry, government, standards developing organizations (SDOs) and other energy efficiency stakeholders now have a national framework for action and coordination on future energy efficiency standardization. Developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)Energy Efficiency Standardization Coordination Collaborative (EESCC) – a cross-sector group chaired by representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Schneider Electric – the roadmap charts 125 recommendations to advance energy efficiency within the built environment.

According to the DOE, our nation’s buildings account for more than 70 percent of total U.S. electricity use and 40 percent of the nation’s total energy bill, at a cost of $400 billion dollars per year. With 20 percent or more of this energy wasted, comparable reductions in energy have the potential to save an estimated $80 billion annually. Standards, codes, and conformity assessment programs offer significant opportunities for energy and cost savings and improved energy efficiency capabilities for the nation’s buildings. The roadmap identifies many such opportunities, detailing recommendations and timelines for action across five interrelated areas of focus:

  • Chapter One: Building Energy and Water Assessment and Performance Standards outlines 46 recommendations to address identified standardization gaps in these areas
  • Chapter Two: System Integration and Systems Communications details 9 gaps and recommendations examining how building subsystems could be integrated in order to manage the energy use of a building or campus of buildings for maximum efficiency
  • Chapter Three: Building Energy Rating, Labeling, and Simulation outlines 22 recommendations to address identified standardization gaps
  • Chapter Four: Evaluation, Measurement, and Verification (EM&V) details 32 gaps and recommendations to advance the field of EM&V
  • Chapter Five: Workforce Credentialing puts forth 16 overarching recommendations to advance workforce credentialing for the energy efficiency field

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-energy-efficiency-standardization-roadmap-establishes-national-framework-for-action-264282771.html

http://www.ansi.org/standards_activities/standards_boards_panels/eescc/overview.aspx?menuid=3

Lev Ruzer, EETD Affiliate and Editor of the Aerosol Handbook, Passes Away at Age 92

Dr. Lev Ruzer, who worked as an affiliate with the Environmental Energy Technologies Division’s Indoor Environment Group for 24 years, has passed away. During his tenure at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Ruzer, worked without financial support; purely for the love of science.

Ruzer was born in the Soviet Union, where he studied nuclear physics at Moscow University but was unable to work as a scientist upon graduation for political reasons. Once the political tides turned, he worked as a researcher, assessing dosages to animals exposed to radon and its decay products—work that would earn him an equivalent to a PhD in 1961. He founded and chaired the Aerosol Laboratory at the Institute of Physico-Technical and Radiotechnical Measurements in Moscow from 1961 to 1979, and in 1968 published a book on radioactive aerosols. In 1970 he became a doctor of technical sciences, and in 1977, became a professor. However, in 1979, with another political shift, he was discharged, and was unable to work for eight years.

In 1987, he emigrated to the United States, and he began to work as an affiliate at Berkeley Lab in 1989. He published papers in the emerging field of dosimetry of nanoparticles, as well as a book on radioactive aerosols; all in all, he authored more than 130 publications and was granted three patents. He also served as editor of Aerosol Handbook: Measurement, Dosimetry, and Health Effects. The expanded and updated 2nd edition was published in 2012, when Ruzer was 92 years old.

Lev was always friendly, with a great sense of humor. He enjoyed telling stories of his life in the Soviet Union, and when asked how he was doing, would often say, “Not as good as yesterday…but better than tomorrow!”—an example, he said, of Russian optimism. His commitment to science was unwavering, and watching him taught one the value of persistence; even in his nineties, when typing became a challenge, he produced long, detailed papers.

Berkeley Lab was fortunate to have hosted Lev and his research for more than two decades. “We will miss Lev,” says William Fisk, Head of the Indoor Environment Group. “I am happy that we could serve as his host for these many years.”

Mark Wilson