The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently published its 2018 Wind Technologies Market Report, highlighting a wind industry continuing to experience steady growth driven by improving technologies and declining costs. The report finds 7,588 megawatts (MW) of new wind capacity added in the U.S. last year, representing 21 percent of all capacity additions and $11 billion in new investment. Cumulative U.S. wind power capacity grew to 96,433 MW.
The report also highlights how historically low wind energy prices are a major driver of these additions. In 2018, the national average price of wind power purchase agreements (PPAs) dropped to below 2 cents per kilowatt hour. The report also demonstrates that the levelized cost of wind energy (LCOE) in the U.S. hit a record low in 2018, averaging $36 per megawatt hour. LCOE measures the average cost of electricity over the life of a project, including the costs of capital, operations, and financing.
Another major highlight of the report is the increased average capacity factor for new wind projects. The capacity factor among projects built from 2014 to 2017 was 41.9 percent, as compared to an average of 30.8 percent among projects built from 2004 to 2011. This improvement was influenced by several factors, including project location and turbine scaling and design.
The report also shows an upward trend in turbine capacity, with the average rated nameplate capacity of turbines in 2018 at 2.43 MW, up 5 percent from the previous year and 239 percent since 1998−1999. Towers are also continuing to increase in height, with more than 40 percent of new permit applications in early 2019 for towers that are over 500 feet. Taller and more powerful turbines will continue to allow the industry to expand into new regions, as well as allow developers to re-power existing sites to generate greater output.
One challenge facing the wind industry is the increase in the amount of wind projects entering transmission interconnection queues across the country. According to the DOE, there were 232 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity in the interconnection queue at the end of 2018, a sizable increase from the 180 GW in the same queues a year earlier. In fact, a record level 92 GW of wind power capacity entered the queues in 2018, representing 36 percent of all generating capacity in the reviewed queues. This record level of capacity awaiting interconnection demonstrates the continued need for transmission expansion projects to integrate new wind capacity and help deliver the clean and economic electricity to consumers.