NEWS: Jaw-Droppingly Low Prices for Wind and Solar; GE Builds a Bigger Turbine

Posted by Lexie Briggs on Sep 15, 2017 12:38:37 PM

Luke H. Gordon ©2017.jpg

Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island, Luke H. Gordon ©2017.

This week in advanced energy news, it’s all about bigger, better, and cheaper! First, from the U.K., offshore wind prices so low they leave people used to traditional resources slack-jawed, plus a boost for U.S. solar as it reaches a 2020 cost goal three years ahead of schedule. Finally, GE decides it’s time for a bigger onshore turbine, and Anheuser-Busch buys enough wind to power 20 billion beers. Bottoms up!

The U.K. has long been a world leader in offshore wind generation. This week, AEE member DONG Energy was awarded a contract to build what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm, a 1.4 GW capacity field of offshore turbines at Hornsea 2. In 2014 DONG began construction on the 1.2 GW capacity Hornsea 1 project nearby, with a guaranteed price of £140 per MWh. Combined, the Hornsea project will be the world’s largest single offshore wind farm. 

“World’s largest” has a nice ring to it, but we tend to see that once every few months in offshore wind. Unique this time, however, was the outcome of competitive auctions for the power generated at these offshore farms, where the prices hit record-breaking lows. Hornsea 2 and Moray, another new offshore wind construction, both came in with a price of £57.50 (USD $76.34) per MWh. A third wind farm emerged slightly higher at £74.75 (USD $99.22). These prices are nearly 50% lower than the U.K.’s last offshore wind generation auction in early 2015, and they’re so low they’re cheaper than other new forms of generation, including 35-year contracts for new nuclear power and, valued at £92.50 per MWh, and cheaper than the levelized cost of gas.

The manager for policy and innovation at The Carbon Trust, Rhodri James, told Greentech Media that “people are still trying to put their jaws back in place.” The Carbon Trust leads the U.K.’s Offshore Wind Accelerator research and development program.

Representatives of other forms of generation were quick to point out that their technologies could give offshore wind a run for its money. Rolls-Royce, which is investing in small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), pointed out that SMRs could deliver electricity at a similar cost to offshore wind once they come online. Meanwhile, Greentech Media wrote earlier this summer that the global declining cost of solar is unlikely to slow down, hitting “jaw-dropping lows around the world.”

Stateside, that rings true. Just this week, the Department of Energy announced that it would expand the successful SunShot program after it hit its cost goal three years ahead of schedule. The original goal was to get utility-scale solar costs under $1 per watt or $0.06/kWh by 2020, but it’s 2017 and, spoilers, we’re already there.

“Secretary Perry is certainly focused on improving the resiliency of the grid,” Becca Jones-Albertus, acting deputy director for the SunShot initiative, told Utility Dive. “We’re continuing to focus innovation that can drive cost reductions to meet the 2030 goal, so that includes focusing on the hardware side; on longer lifetimes and better durability.”

Under the SunShot expansion, DOE is allocating $62 million for concentrated solar technologies and $20 million for grid operation technologies that will help grid operators detect problems and defend against attacks. SunShot grant winners will have projects 80% funded, and will need to raise the remaining 20%. By 2030, the agency expects to be able to cut costs in half to $0.03/kWh for utility-scale projects, $0.04/kWh for commercial projects, and $0.05/kWh for residential solar. Which will be great – that is, unless petitioners in the ongoing solar trade dispute get their proposed tariff of $0.40/watt and a floor price of $0.78/watt for imported solar panels.

Back in the world of wind, another AEE member is going big. GE announced plans to commercialize the world’s biggest onshore wind turbine, targeting a European market hungry for bigger and better wind turbines. The giant 4.8 MW turbine has a rotor the diameter of 158 meters. It will be the biggest on the market but, as Greentech Media points out, probably not for long.

“This new class of 4-megawatt turbines has really just hit the market over the last year-and-a-half,” said Aaron Barr, a senior consultant with MAKE Consulting (now, along with GTM, owned by Wood Mackenzie), in an interview with Greentech Media. “They’re so new that very few of them have been prototyped to date, but every turbine manufacturer is rushing toward this space.” 

Finally, in June we brought you stories of bricks (of the LEGO variety), breakfast (cereals), and banks that were all choosing advanced energy. This week you can add another B to that list: beer! Anheuser-Busch, the company behind Budweiser, has announced a virtual PPA deal with Enel Green Power to purchase RECs and electricity delivered to the grid that will amount to 152.2 MW of output from the Thunder Ranch wind farm in Oklahoma.

Earlier this year, the company announced that it would be transitioning entirely to advanced energy by 2025. João Castro Neves, president and CEO of Anheuser-Busch, said in a statement that the move is “a strategic business move as we strive for long-term sustainability.”

This proves it, beer and advanced energy really do go hand in hand. Crack one open for us.

Last year, AEE worked with other groups to track the advances in corporate energy choice. In 2016 Corporate Advanced Energy Commitments, AEE reports that 71 Fortune 100 companies have set renewable energy or sustainability targets, up from 60 just two years ago. Download that report, along with Private Procurement, Public Benefit: Integrating Corporate Renewable Energy Purchases with Utility Resource Planning, free at the link below.


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