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Updated Baseline Cost and Performance Data for Electricity Generation Technologies

July 12, 2018

The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released the 2018 Annual Technology Baseline (ATB), updating a key source of reliable electricity generation technology cost and performance data used to support and inform electric sector analysis in the United States. Now in its fourth year, the ATB documents technology-specific information on a broad spectrum of electricity-generation technologies, including wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, biopower, coal, natural gas, and nuclear.

The ATB integrates current and projected data from various sources into a highly accessible and widely referenced resource for energy analysts. The 2018 ATB is available at atb.nrel.gov and will be featured in a webinar on July 26.

“The Annual Technology Baseline synthesizes key sources of current and projected cost and performance data. It emphasizes development of projections for wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal technologies, and also includes biopower, coal, natural gas, and nuclear,” said Laura Vimmerstedt, NREL energy analyst. “Energy analysts turn to the ATB to understand the status, the trends, and the range of potential futures.”

New this year, the ATB includes financing assumptions that are specific to each technology and change over time. The different financing cases illustrate the distinction between technological and financial effects on the key metrics. The ATB provides three different levels of future technology cost and performance through 2050 to support analysis of future U.S. electric sector scenarios.

A chart showing CAPEX historical trends, current estimates, and future projections for utility PV.

This sample figure shows capital cost expenditure projections for 2016-2030 as estimated in the ATB for utility-scale solar photovoltaic technology. The historical costs are shown, along with three technology cost scenarios for constant, mid-range, and low technology cost projections. This figure uses financial assumptions that take into account R&D but do not take into account market factors.

The ATB, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, incorporates NREL and ORNL analysis, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and information from a variety of published reports into two primary products for energy analysts.

  1. The ATB spreadsheet documents detailed current and projected cost and performance data for electricity generation technologies.
  2. The website describes each of the technologies and provides additional context for their treatment in the spreadsheet. For each technology, the website provides:
    • Historical trends, current estimates, and future projections of three primary cost and performance factors: capital expenditures, capacity factor, and operations and maintenance cost
    • Documentation of the methodology and assumptions used to develop the projections of future cost and performance under constant-, mid-, and low-cost cases
    • Calculations of levelized cost of energy to illustrate the combined effect of the primary cost and performance factors, using three different sets of financing assumptions.

This work is part of a broader framework introduced by NREL in 2015 to improve the robustness and comparability of electric sector analysis by the laboratory, academia, and other entities in the energy analysis community. The ATB provides inputs for NREL’s Standard Scenarios modeling of the electric sector, which explores a diverse set of potential pathways for U.S. electric sector evolution over time, based on different assumptions about fuel prices, policies and other variables.

The Annual Technology Baseline, which is supported by hundreds of literature citations, will be highlighted in a webinar on July 26, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. MDT (1-3 p.m. EDT). Presenters will describe analytical products in detail, share examples of how they have been used, and provide an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. Register for the webinar.