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2023 ATB Approach and Methodology

The 2023 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 the 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 except biopower, 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 plant cost projections through 2050 from the AEO2023 (EIA, 2023)
  • Relies on EIA scenarios for fuel price projections through 2050 from the AEO2023 (EIA, 2023); 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 the AEO2023 (EIA, 2023)
  • 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 (2021) Costs in the ATB

Base year (2021) costs in the 2023 ATB are from the sources in the following table.

Sources of Base Year Costs

Land-based wind power plantsCapital expenditures (CAPEX) associated with the four representative technologies are estimated using bottom-up engineering models for hypothetical wind plants installed in 2021 (Wiser and Bolinger, 2022). The Base Year value for each wind speed class is dependent on the selected representative technology. The all-in OPEX (O&M) cost for each representative technology is informed by recent literature (Liu and Garcia da Fonseca, 2021) and (Wiser et al., 2019). The Base Year cost is different for each representative technology because O&M costs are expected to vary by wind turbine rating, with projections showing lower fix O&M costs as turbine rating increases. 
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)(Shields et al., 2022).
Distributed wind power projectsCAPEX are estimated using bottom-up engineering models and empirical data for hypothetical wind projects installed in 2021 (Stehly and Duffy, 2022). OPEX estimates are informed by historical data and are reported in (Stehly and Duffy, 2022)
Utility, commercial, and residential photovoltaic (PV) plantsCAPEX for 2021 are based on bottom-up cost modeling and market data from (Ramasamy et al., 2021). O&M costs are based on modeled pricing for PV systems (Ramasamy et al., 2021).
Concentrating solar power (CSP) plantsCAPEX for 2021 is for a representative power tower with 10 hours of storage and a solar multiple of 2.4. This is based on recent assessment of the industry in 2022 and updated CSP systems costs, including a bottom-up CSP cost analysis for heliostat components, that are available in Version 2021.12.02 of the System Advisor Model (SAM(Turchi et al., 2019) (Kurup et al., 2022).
Geothermal plantsBottom-up cost modeling uses 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 a reduced-form model estimated using data from a 2020 cost analysis (Oladosu et al., 2021). New stream-reach development (NSD) data are retained from previous years and are based on the 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., 2022) 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 a full battery replacement after 15 years of operation. When accounting for state-of-charge and roundtrip efficiency constraints, the usable stored energy for the battery component is roughly half 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 a national closed-loop PSH resource assessment documented by (Rosenlieb et al., 2022), and subsequent updates are described in "Closed-Loop Pumped Storage Hydropower Supply Curves" (NREL). 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 10 years for both new plants and retrofits (Schmitt et al., 2022) , (Buchheit et al., 2023)(Schmitt and Homsy, 2023).
Nuclear and biopower plantsThese costs are based on the Annual Energy Outlook (EIA, 2023) reported costs. Because the projections in the Annual Energy Outlook typically begin two years after the ATB base year, costs for the missing years (including the base year) are backward-extrapolated from the Annual Energy Outlook projection.

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 the technology innovation table 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
  • Site-specific diversification of wind turbine technology 
  • Manufacturing and design efficiencies
  • Improved installation, operation, and maintenance 
  • Adoption of advanced wind turbine controls
Offshore Wind
  • Turbine size
  • Supply chain learning
  • Size-agnostic technology innovations
Distributed Wind
  • Rotor, nacelle assembly
  • Tower
  • 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
  • Receiver
  • Thermal storage
  • Solar field
  • Learning-by-doing
  • Drilling advancements
  • Enhanced geothermal system (EGS) development
  • Multistage stimulation success
  • Well productivity/injectivity improvement
  • Learning-by-doing
  • Modularity
  • New materials
  • Automation/digitalization
  • New turbines, eco-friendly turbines
Utility-Scale PV-Plus-BatterySee the solar photovoltaics and battery storage rows above and below in this table.
Battery Storage
  • Significant market demand (across electricity, electric vehicle, and consumer electronics sectors)
  • Improvements in chemistry 
  • Supply chain development
Pumped Storage Hydropower
  • Modularity
  • New materials
  • Innovative closed-loop concepts
  • Eco-friendly pumps and turbines
Natural Gas and Coal
  • Improvements in Brayton and Rankine power cycles
  • Post-combustion carbon capture technologies with lower capture system energy demand
  • 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.

EIA. “Annual Energy Outlook 2023.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Energy Information Administration, March 2023.

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

Wiser, Ryan, and Mark Bolinger. “Land-Based Wind Market Report: 2022 Edition.” Technical. U.S. Department of Energy, August 2022.

Liu, Daniel, and Leila Garcia da Fonseca. “2021 O&M Economics and Cost Data for Onshore Wind Power Markets.” Wood Mackenzie, May 2021.

Wiser, Ryan, Mark Bolinger, and Eric Lantz. “Assessing Wind Power Operating Costs in the United States: Results from a Survey of Wind Industry Experts.” Renewable Energy Focus 30, no. September 2019 (2019): 46–57.

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.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2016.

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.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, November 2020.

Shields, Matt, Philipp Beiter, and Jake Nunemaker. “A Systematic Framework for Projecting the Future Cost of Offshore Wind Energy.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2022.

Stehly, Tyler, and Patrick Duffy. “2020 Cost of Wind Energy Review.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, January 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.

Turchi, Craig, Matthew Boyd, Devon Kesseli, Parthiv Kurup, Mark Mehos, Ty Neises, Prashant Sharan, Michael Wagner, and Timothy Wendelin. “CSP Systems Analysis: Final Project Report.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, May 2019.

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

Ramasamy, Vignesh, Jarett Zuboy, Eric O’Shaughnessy, David Feldman, Jal Desai, Michael Woodhouse, Paul Basore, and Robert Margolis. “U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System and Energy Storage Cost Benchmarks, With Minimum Sustainable Price Analysis: Q1 2022.” Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2022.

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.

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.

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.

Schmitt, Tommy, Sarah Leptinsky, Marc Turner, Alex Zoelle, Chuck White, Sydney Hughes, Sally Homsy, et al. “Cost And Performance Baseline for Fossil Energy Plants Volume 1: Bituminous Coal and Natural Gas to Electricity.” Pittsburgh, PA: National Energy Technology Laboratory, October 14, 2022.

Buchheit, Kyle L., Alex Zoelle, Eric Lewis, Marc Turner, Tommy Schmitt, Norma Kuehn, Sally Homsy, et al. “Eliminating the Derate of Carbon Capture Retrofits - Revision 2.” National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), Pittsburgh, PA, Morgantown, WV, and Albany, OR (United States), March 31, 2023.

Schmitt, Tommy, and Sally Homsy. “Cost and Performance of Retrofitting NGCC Units for Carbon Capture – Revision 3.” National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), Pittsburgh, PA, Morgantown, WV, and Albany, OR (United States), March 17, 2023.

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