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ATB Approach and Methodology, 2022

The Electricity 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, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (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 (natural gas and coal) generation plants, the ATB data and website include:

  • Base Year estimates for parameters that include primary cost and performance metrics:
    • Capital expenditures (total overnight costs)
    • Fixed and variable operating expenditures
    • Operating range (expected availability, minimum emissions compliant load)
    • Full load design emissions rates for carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and mercury
  • Three scenarios for future technology innovation, and their associated parameter values
  • Descriptions of the resource, cost and performance estimation methodology, and data sources.

For nuclear generation plants, the ATB:

  • Relies on U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) representation of base year plant cost estimates and for plant cost projections through 2050 from AEO2022 (EIA, 2022)
  • Relies on EIA scenarios for fuel price projections through 2050 from AEO2022 (EIA, 2022); future work may include national laboratory projections for these technologies.

For biopower plants, the ATB:

  • Relies on EIA representation of future plant cost estimates through 2050 from AEO2022 (EIA, 2022)
  • Represents the average biopower feedstock price based on the U.S. Billion Ton Update study (DOE, 2011) through 2030
  • Holds the biopower feedstock price at 2030 levels through 2050.

Base Year (2020) Costs in the ATB

Base year (2020) costs in the ATB are from the following sources:

Sources of Base Year Costs

Land-based wind power plantsCapital 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. The operation and maintenance (O&M) cost of $43/kW-yr is estimated in the 2020 Cost of Wind Energy Review (Stehly and Duffy, 2022); no variation of fixed operation and maintenance expenses with wind speed class is assumed. Capacity factors align with performance in Wind Speed Classes 2–7, where most installations are located.
Offshore wind power plantsBase year estimates are derived from a combination of bottom-up techno-economic cost modeling (Beiter et al., 2016) and experiential learning effects with economies of size and scale from higher turbine and plant ratings (Beiter et al., 2020).
Distributed wind power plantsBase year costs and performances estimates are data obtained from NREL’s 2020 Cost of Wind Energy study (Stehly and Duffy, 2022)
Utility, commercial, and residential photovoltaic (PV) plantsCAPEX for 2020 are based on bottom-up cost modeling and market data from (Feldman et al., 2021). O&M costs are based on modeled pricing for PV systems (Feldman et al., 2021).
Concentrating solar power (CSP) plantsBased on recent assessment of the industry in 2022 and bottom-up CSP cost analysis for heliostat components (Kurup et al., 2022) that are available in Version 2021.12.02 of the System Advisor Model (SAM).
Geothermal plantsBottom-up cost modeling using Geothermal Electricity Technology Evaluation Model (GETEM) and inputs from the GeoVision Business-as-Usual scenario (DOE, 2019)(Augustine et al., 2019).
Hydropower plantsNon-powered dam (NPD) data are based on the bottom-up new 2020 cost analysis (Oladosu, G. et al., 2021). New stream-reach development (NSD) data are retained from previous years and are based on Hydropower Vision study (DOE, 2016), with bottom-up cost modeling from the Hydropower Baseline Cost Modeling report (O'Connor et al., 2015).
Utility-scale PV-plus-battery CAPEX assumptions for utility-scale PV-plus-battery are based on new bottom-up cost modeling and market data from (Ramasamy et al., 2021) and reflect a 100-MWAC utility-scale PV-plus-battery system comprising 130-MWDC one-axis tracking PV, coupled with 71.5-MWDC battery storage with 4-hour duration. O&M costs are based on modeled pricing and include discounted battery replacement costs after 10 and 20 years of operations. When accounting for state-of-charge and roundtrip efficiency constraints, the usable stored energy for the battery component is roughly half of the inverter capacity, which is consistent with common relative battery sizing in recent and proposed utility-scale PV-plus-battery projects (Bolinger et al., 2021). Capacity factors and tax credits assume 75% of the energy used to charge the battery component is derived from the coupled PV (on an annual basis).
Utility-scale, commercial, and residential battery storage2021 costs for utility-scale battery energy storage systems (BESS) are based on a bottom-up cost model using the data and methodology for utility-scale BESS in (Ramasamy et al., 2021).
Pumped storage hydropower plants (PSH)Resource characterizations and capital costs are from (Rosenlieb et al., 2022), which describes a national closed-loop PSH resource assessment. O&M costs are from (Mongird et al., 2020).
Natural gas and coalEstimates of performance and costs for currently available fossil-fueled electricity generating technologies are representative of current commercial offerings and/or projects that began commercial service within the past ten years (James III et al., 2019).
Nuclear and biopower plantsThese are Annual Energy Outlook  (EIA, 2022) 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 for each technology. 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 they only include innovations that directly impact cost and performance.

Technology Innovations

Land-Based Wind

rotor, nacelle assembly


science-based modeling

Offshore Wind

turbine size

supply chain learning

size-agnostic technology innovations

Distributed Wind

rotor, nacelle assembly


specific power reduction

tower erection innovations

material efficient turbine foundations

standardized zoning, permitting, interconnection, and incentives

higher volume of turbine manufacturing leading to lower overhead charged per turbine

Solar Photovoltaics

module efficiency

inverter power electronics

installation efficiencies

energy yield gain

Concentrating Solar Power

power block


thermal storage

solar field


drilling advancements

enhanced geothermal system (EGS) development

reduced permitting time


learning by doing


new materials


new turbines, eco-friendly turbines

Utility-Scale PV-Plus-BatterySee Solar Photovoltaics and Battery Storage rows.
Battery Storage

significant market demand (across electricity, electric vehicle, and consumer electronics sectors)

improvements in chemistry 

supply chain development

Pumped Storage Hydropower


new materials

innovative closed-loop concepts

eco-friendly pumps and turbines

Natural Gas and Coal

second generation technologies available by 2025 

transformational technologies become available by 2030

post-combustion carbon capture technologies

advanced natural gas fuel cell systems

advanced ultra-supercritical pulverized coal plants


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

Kurup, Parthiv, Sertac Akar, Stephen Glynn, Chad Augustine, and Patrick Davenport. “Cost Update: Commercial and Advanced Heliostat Collectors.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2022.

Stehly, Tyler, and Patrick Duffy. “2020 Cost of Wind Energy Review.” Technical Report. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), January 2022.

DOE. “GeoVision: Harnessing the Heat Beneath Our Feet.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, May 2019.

Bolinger, Mark, Will Gorman, Joe Rand, Ryan Wiser, Seongeun Jeong, Joachim Seel, Cody Warner, and Ben Paulos. “Hybrid Power Plants: Status of Installed and Proposed Projects.” Berkeley, CA: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, July 2021.

Feldman, David, Vignesh Ramasamy, Ran Fu, Ashwin Ramdas, Jal Desai, and Robert Margolis. “U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System and Energy Storage Cost Benchmark: Q1 2020.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, January 27, 2021.

James III, Robert E., Dale Kearins, Marc Turner, Mark Woods, Norma Kuehn, and Alexander Zoelle. “Cost and Performance Baseline for Fossil Energy Plants Volume 1: Bituminous Coal and Natural Gas to Electricity.” National Energy Technology Laboratory, September 24, 2019.

O’Connor, Patrick W., Scott T. DeNeale, Dol Raj Chalise, Emma Centurion, and Abigail Maloof. “Hydropower Baseline Cost Modeling, Version 2.” Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2015.

DOE. “Hydropower Vision: A New Chapter for America’s Renewable Electricity Source.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, 2016.

Augustine, Chad, Jonathan Ho, and Nate Blair. “GeoVision Analysis Supporting Task Force Report: Electric Sector Potential to Penetration.” Technical Report. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2019.

Beiter, Philipp, Walter Musial, Aaron Smith, Levi Kilcher, Rick Damiani, Michael Maness, Senu Sirnivas, et al. “A Spatial-Economic Cost-Reduction Pathway Analysis for U.S. Offshore Wind Energy Development from 2015-2030.” Technical Report. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2016.

Mongird, Kendall, Vilayanur Viswanathan, Jan Alam, Charlie Vartanian, Vincent Sprenkle, and Richard Baxter. “2020 Grid Energy Storage Technology Cost and Performance Assessment.” Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Energy, December 2020.

DOE. “U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry.” Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, August 2011.

EIA. “Annual Energy Outlook 2022.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Energy Information Administration, March 2022.

Beiter, Philipp, Walt Musial, Patrick Duffy, Aubryn Cooperman, Matt Shields, Donna Heimiller, and Mike Optis. “The Cost of Floating Offshore Wind Energy in California between 2019 and 2032.” NREL Technical Report. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, November 2020.

Rosenlieb, Evan, Donna Heimiller, and Stuart Cohen. “Closed-Loop Pumped Storage Hydropower Resource Assessment for the United States.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2022.

Ramasamy, Vignesh, David Feldman, Jal Desai, and Robert Margolis. “U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System and Energy Storage Cost Benchmarks: Q1 2021.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2021.

Oladosu, G., George, L., and Wells, J. “2020 Cost Analysis of Hydropower Options at Non-Powered Dams.” Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2021.

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