Content displaying: Overview

Land-Based Wind

The 2019 ATB characterization for land-based wind updates the Base Year and future wind technology cost and performance estimates from years past to align with current expectations for wind energy costs over the coming decades. This year's ATB characterization for land-based wind relies on a new bottoms-up engineering approach for 2030 turbine and plant technology that is used to inform cost and performance characterizations through 2030. This new approach was developed based on persistent feedback since the release of the Wind Vision report (DOE & NREL, 2015) and the System Management of Atmospheric Resource through Technology (SMART) strategies wind plant analysis (Dykes et al., 2017), from the wind industry original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and stakeholder community that noted the wind ATB mid case assumptions to be overly conservative. Based on this feedback and observations of substantial technology gains in recently commercialized turbine offerings an array of industry experts now anticipate wind energy LCOEs of 2-2.5 cent/kWh by the mid-2020s, depending on specific financing terms and conditions. In terms of technology gains, the most noteworthy has been the substantial and rapid scaling of wind turbines from the 2-MW to 4-MW with increases in rotor size from approximately 100 m to 150 m. These gains in scale are allowing modern technology to capture turbine level economies of scale and balance of plant efficiencies while placing the turbine in better resource regimes at greater heights above ground level.

To better align with the OEM and industry stakeholder cost reduction expectations NREL redefined the methodology used for estimating future energy costs. Specifically, for this year's ATB NREL used expert input to define one of many potential turbine technology pathways for a Mid and Low scenario in 2030. Bottom-up engineering cost and performance analysis were then executed to obtain the future cost reduction trajectories (Stehly, Beiter, Heimiller, & Scott, forthcoming). Although this method has resulted in a cost reduction pathway that maintains and could even accelerate recent significant cost reduction gains, these results are believed to be more in line with wind industry analyst and OEM expectations. There is substantial focus throughout the global wind industry on driving down costs and increasing performance due to fierce competition from within as well as among several power generation technologies including solar PV and natural gas-fired generation.

Representative Technology

Representative technologies for land-based wind for the base year (2017) and 2030 assume a 50-MW to 100-MW facility, consistent with current project sizes (Wiser & Bolinger, 2018). Our base year characterization is extracted from wind turbines installed in the United States in 2017 which were, on average, 2.3-MW turbines with rotor diameters of 113 m and hub heights of 86 m (Wiser & Bolinger, 2018). Our 2030 representative technology assumes a 4.5-MW turbine with a rotor diameter of 167 m and a hub height of 110 m. Notably turbines that are nearly of this scale (i.e., 4-MW, 150 m rotor and 80-m to 110-m hub height are commercially available today and expected to be installed in facilities in the U.S. in the early 2020s.

Resource Potential

Wind resource is prevalent throughout the United States but is concentrated in the central states. Total land-based wind technical potential exceeds 10,000 GW (almost tenfold current total U.S. electricity generation capacity), which would use the wind resource on 3.5 million km2 of land area but would disrupt or exclude other uses from a fraction of that area. This technical potential does not include standard exclusions-lands such as federally protected areas, urban areas, and water. Resource potential has been expanded from approximately 6,000 GW (DOE & NREL, 2015) by including locations with lower wind speeds to provide more comprehensive coverage of U.S. land areas where future technology may improve economic potential.

Renewable energy technical potential, as defined by Lopez et al. (2012), represents the achievable energy generation of a particular technology given system performance, topographic limitations and environmental and land-use constraints. The primary benefit of assessing technical potential is that it establishes an upper-boundary estimate of development potential. It is important to understand that there are multiple types of potential, including resource, technical, economic, and market potential (see NREL: "Renewable Energy Technical Potential").

The resource potential is calculated by using more than 130,000 distinct areas for wind plant deployment that cover more than 3.5 million km2. The potential capacity is estimated to total more than 10,000 GW if a power density of 3 MW/km2 is assumed.

Map of the land-based wind resource in the contiguous United States
Source: NREL (2012)

Base Year and Future Year Projections Overview

For each of the 130,000 distinct areas, an LCOE is estimated taking into consideration site-specific hourly wind profiles. Representative wind turbines derived from annual installation statistics are associated with a range of average annual wind speed based on actual historical wind plant installations. This method is described by Moné (2017) and summarized below:

  • Capital expenditures (CAPEX) associated with wind plants installed in the interior of the country are used to characterize CAPEX for hypothetical wind plants with average annual wind speeds that correspond with the median conditions for recently installed wind facilities.
  • Capacity factor is determined for each unique location using the site-specific hourly wind profile and a power curve that corresponds with the representative wind turbine defined to represent the annual average wind speed for each site.
  • Average annual operations and maintenance (O&M) costs are assumed to be equivalent at all geographic locations.
  • LCOE is calculated for each area based on the CAPEX and capacity factor estimated for each area.

For representation in the ATB, the full resource potential, reflecting the 130,000 individual areas, was divided into 10 techno-resource groups (TRGs). The capacity-weighted average CAPEX, O&M, and capacity factor for each group is presented in the ATB. ATB Base Year costs for land-based wind are calibrated to NREL's 2017 Cost of Wind Energy Review(Stehly, Beiter, (Stehly, Beiter, Heimiller, & Scott, forthcoming) Heimiller, & Scott, 2018).

Focusing on future costs, this year's ATB characterization represents an update relative to years past in order to realign with current expectations for costs over the next decade. Three different projections were developed for scenario modeling as bounding levels:

  • Constant Technology Cost Scenario: no change in CAPEX, O&M, or capacity factor from 2017 to 2050; consistent across all renewable energy technologies in the ATB
  • Mid Technology Cost Scenario: 2030 cost estimates for the Mid scenario are estimated (1) using NREL's Cost and Scaling Model (CSM) and inputs from analyst-predicted turbine and plant technology in 2030 specific to the Mid case (Stehly et al., forthcoming) and (2) applying technology-specific cost adjustments for factors such as construction contingencies and transportation. Beyond 2030, costs and performance were derived from an estimated change in LCOE from 2030 to 2050 based on historical land-based wind LCOE and single-factor learning rates ranging from 10.5% to 18.6%, meaning LCOE declines by this amount for each doubling of global cumulative wind capacity (Wiser et al., 2016). NREL's Cost and Scaling applies component level scaling relationships (e.g., for the blades, hub, generator, and tower) that reflect the component-specific and often nonlinear relationship between size and cost (Christopher Moné et al., 2017).
  • Low Technology Cost Scenario: 2030 cost estimates for the Low scenario are estimated using NREL's CSM and inputs from the analyst-predicted turbine technology in 2030 specific to the Low case (Stehly et al., forthcoming) and applying technology-specific cost adjustments; beyond 2030, the costs were derived using the same learning rate methodology as for the Mid case but assuming an increase in global cumulative capacity.

In last year's ATB, the mid case cost projections were informed by the expert survey that reported expected LCOE changes in percentage terms relative to 2014 baseline values (Wiser et al., 2016). Prior mid case projections were estimated using the entire sample size from the survey work (163 experts) which included strategic, system-level thought leaders with wind technology, costs, and/or market expertise. However, the survey also identified a smaller group – deemed "leading experts" through a deliberative process by a core group of International Energy Agency (IEA) Wind Task 26 members. This leading experts group (22 leading experts) generally expected more aggressive wind energy cost reductions. Recent wind industry data focused on price points more than 3-5 years into the future indicate that costs are falling more quickly than the full sample predicted and more in line with the leading Experts predictions. This year's ATB mid case is informed both by this leading group of experts' predictions as well as the expert input and bottom-up engineering pathways analysis referenced previously.

The Low case is primarily informed by the wind program's Atmosphere to Electrons (A2e) applied research initiative that advances the fundamental science necessary to drive innovation and the realization of the SMART wind power plant of the future (Dykes et al., 2017). This research in addition to ongoing Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) projects including Big Adaptive Rotors (DOE, 2018), Lightweight Drivetrains (DOE EERE, 2019), and Tall Towers (2019 Wind Energy Technologies Office Funding Opportunity Announcement, 2019) support the wind industry's ongoing scaling activities and manufacturing improvements and were combined to assess additional potential pathways and related projected cost impacts for each LCOE component.

As done in the expert survey work (Wiser et al., 2016) historical LCOE estimates were compared to the LCOE projections of the Mid and Low scenarios. The LCOE projections were found to require continued sizable cost reductions consistent with and potentially somewhat greater than the historical LCOE trends. Possible justifications for maintaining recent rates of high cost reduction and potentially even going beyond long-term historical LCOE learning include stiff competition from around the globe as well as a highly capitalized industry with annual expenditures on the order of $100 billion. Accordingly, the revised Mid scenario is now considered representative of the reference case for land-based wind. The Low cost scenario projections are derived from the same methodology as the Mid case but applying additional cost reduction potentials from a collection of intelligent and novel technologies that comprise next-generation wind turbine and plant technology and characterized as System Management of Atmospheric Resource through Technology, or SMART strategies (Dykes et al., 2017). In both scenarios, the overall LCOE reductions resulting from these analyses were used as the basis for the ATB projections. Accordingly, all three cost elements – CAPEX, O&M, and capacity factor – should be considered together; individual cost element projections are derived.


References are specific to this page, see all references page for all references.

2019 Wind Energy Technologies Office Funding Opportunity Announcement. (2019, April). U.S. Department of Energy, EERE.

AWS. (2012). Wind Resource of the United States: Mean Annual Wind Speed at 200m Resolution. Retrieved from

DOE EERE. (2019, February). Advanced Next-Generation High Efficiency Lightweight Wind Turbine Generator. U.S. Department of Energy, EERE.

DOE, & NREL. (2015). Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States (Technical Report No. DOE/GO-102015-4557). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Energy website:

DOE. (2018, May 8). Pathways to Success for Next-Generation Supersized Wind Turbine Blades. U.S. Department of Energy, EERE.

Dykes, K., Hand, M., Stehly, T., Veers, P., Robinson, M., Lantz, E., & Tusing, R. (2017). Enabling the SMART Wind Power Plant of the Future Through Science-Based Innovation (No. NREL/TP-5000-68123).

Lopez, A., Roberts, B., Heimiller, D., Blair, N., & Porro, G. (2012). U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS-Based Analysis (Technical Report No. NREL/TP-6A20-51946).

Moné, Christopher, Hand, M., Bolinger, M., Rand, J., Heimiller, D., & Ho, J. (2017). 2015 Cost of Wind Energy Review (No. NREL/TP-6A20-66861).

Stehly, T., Beiter, P., Heimiller, D., & Scott, G. (forthcoming). 2018 Cost of Wind Energy Review [Technical Report]. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Wiser, R., & Bolinger, M. (2018). 2017 Wind Technologies Market Report (No. DOE/EE-1798).

Wiser, R., Jenni, K., Seel, J., Baker, E., Hand, M., Lantz, E., & Smith, A. (2016). Forecasting Wind Energy Costs and Cost Drivers: The Views of the World's Leading Experts (No. LBNL-1005717; p. 87 pp.). Retrieved from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory website: