2020: ATB Approach and Methodology

The ATB presents the cost and performance of typical electricity generation plants in the United States. It represents renewable electricity generation plants by either (1) reflecting the entire geographic range of resource with a few points averaging similar characteristics or (2) providing examples to demonstrate a range associated with resource potential.

Foundational to this averaging approach, NREL uses high-resolution, location-specific resource data to represent site-specific capital investment and estimated annual energy production for all potential renewable energy plants in the United States.

For each renewable technology, the ATB data and website include:

For fossil and nuclear generation plants, the ATB:

  • Relies on U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) representation of current year plant cost estimates and for plant cost projections through 2050 from AEO2020 (EIA, 2020)
  • Relies on EIA scenarios for fuel price projections through 2050 from AEO2020 (EIA, 2020); future work may include national laboratory projections for these technologies.

For biopower plants, the ATB:

  • Relies on EIA representation of current future plant cost estimates through 2050 from AEO2020 (EIA, 2020)
  • Represents the average biopower feedstock price based on the U.S. Billion Ton Update study (DOE et al., 2011) through 2030
  • Holds the biopower feedstock price at 2030 levels through 2050.

Base Year (2018) Costs in the ATB

Base year (2018) costs in the ATB are from the following sources:

Sources of Base Year Costs



Land-based wind power plants

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 (Stehly et al., 2019). The O&M of $44/kW-yr is estimated in the 2018 Cost of Wind Energy Review (Stehly et al., 2019); no variation of Fixed Operations and Maintenance Expenses (FOM) with wind speed class is assumed. Capacity factors align with performance in wind speed lasses 2–7, where most installations are located.

Offshore wind power plants

Bottom-up modeling (Beiter et al., 2016), methodology and data updated to the latest cost and technology trends observed in the U.S. and European offshore wind markets (Beiter et al., 2019), (Walter Musial et al., 2019)

Utility, commercial, and residential, PV plants

CAPEX for 2018 and 2019 based on new bottom-up cost modeling and market data from Feldman et al. (2020). O&M costs based on modeled pricing for a 100-MWDC, one-axis tracking systems Feldman et al. (Forthcoming). The 2018 the cumulative capacity-weighted average AC capacity factor for all U.S. projects installed is 25.0%.

Concentrating solar power plants

Bottom-up cost modeling from (Turchi et al., 2019) and an NREL survey of projects under construction for operation in 2018

Geothermal plants

Bottom-up cost modeling using GETEM and inputs from the GeoVision BAU scenario (DOE, 2019)

Hydropower plants

Hydropower Vision (DOE, 2016), bottom-up cost modeling from Hydropower Baseline Cost Modeling (O'Connor et al., 2015) (O'Connor et al., 2015)

Fossil, nuclear, and biopower plants

Annual Energy Outlook (EIA, 2020) reported costs

Future Cost Projections for Renewables

The ATB future projections are based primarily on expert analysis, bottom-up modeling, and literature on specific technology innovations, which are described in detail on each technology page. The categories of innovations for each technology are shown in the following table.

The innovations listed in these tables on each technology page, and summarized here, represent innovations that are assumed to drive most of the cost reductions in the ATB scenarios. These lists do not include all potential innovations, and only include innovations that directly impact cost and performance.

Technology Innovations

Land-Based Wind

Offshore Wind

Solar Photovoltaics

Concentrating Solar Power



Rotor, Nacelle Assembly

Turbine Size

Module Efficiency

Power Block

Drilling Advancements

Learning by Doing


Supply Chain

Inverter Power Electronics


EGS Development


Science-Based Modeling

Size-Agnostic Innovation

Installation Efficiencies

Thermal Storage

New Materials

Energy Yield Gain

Solar Field


Eco-Friendly Turbines


The following references are specific to this page; for all references in this ATB, see References.

Beiter, Philipp, Musial, Walter, Smith, Aaron, Kilcher, Levi, Damiani, Rick, Maness, Michael, Sirnivas, Senu, Stehly, Tyler, Gevorgian, Vahan, Mooney, Meghan, & Scott, George. (2016). A Spatial-Economic Cost-Reduction Pathway Analysis for U.S. Offshore Wind Energy Development from 2015-2030. (No. NREL/TP-6A20-66579). National Renewable Energy Laboratory. https://doi.org/10.2172/1324526

Beiter, Philipp, Spitsen, Paul, Musial, Walter, & Lantz, Eric. (2019). The Vineyard Wind Power Purchase Agreement: Insights for Estimating Costs of U.S. Offshore Wind Projects. (No. NREL/TP-5000-72981). National Renewable Energy Laboratory. https://doi.org/10.2172/1495385

DOE (2016). Hydropower Vision: A New Chapter for America's Renewable Electricity Source. (No. DOE/GO-102016-4869). U.S. Department of Energy. https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2018/02/f49/Hydropower-Vision-021518.pdf

DOE (2019). GeoVision: Harnessing the Heat Beneath Our Feet. (No. DOE/EE–1306). U.S. Department of Energy. https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2019/06/f63/GeoVision-full-report-opt.pdf

DOE, Langholtz, Matthew H., Perlack, Robert D., Turhollow Jr, Anthony F., Stokes, Bryce, & Brandt, Craig C. (2011). U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry. (No. ORNL/TM-2011/224). Oak Ridge National Laboratory. https://info.ornl.gov/sites/publications/files/Pub31057.pdf

EIA (2020). Annual Energy Outlook 2020 with Projections to 2050. (No. AEO2020). U.S. Energy Information Administration. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/AEO2020.pdf

Feldman, David, Vignesh Ramasamy, Ran Fu, Ashwin Ramdas, Jal Desai, and Robert Margolis. (Forthcoming). U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System and Energy Storage Cost Benchmark: Q1 2020. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Musial, Walter, Beiter, Philipp, Spitsen, Paul, & Nunemaker, Jake. (2019). 2018 Offshore Wind Technologies Market Report. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy20osti/74598.pdf

O'Connor, Patrick W., DeNeale, Scott T., Chalise, Dol Raj, Centurion, Emma, & Maloof, Abigail. (2015). Hydropower Baseline Cost Modeling, Version 2. (No. ORNL/TM-2015/471). Oak Ridge National Laboratory. https://info.ornl.gov/sites/publications/files/Pub58666.pdf

Stehly, Tyler, Beiter, Philipp, Heimiller, Donna, & Scott, George. (2019). 2018 Cost of Wind Energy Review. (No. NREL/TP-5000-74598). National Renewable Energy Laboratory. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy20osti/74598.pdf

Turchi, Craig, Boyd, Matthew, Kesseli, Devon, Kurup, Parthiv, Mehos, Mark, Neises, Ty, Sharan, Prashant, Wagner, Michael, & Wendelin, Timothy. (2019). CSP Systems Analysis: Final Project Report. (No. NREL/TP-5500-72856). National Renewable Energy Laboratory. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72856.pdf