The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has launched a new tool that can help utilities, institutions, state, and local policymakers, and the public get better answers about the changing economics of today’s power sector.
The NRDC tool improves upon existing methods to compare, on an apples-to-apples basis, the cost of producing power from different technologies in each state and region of the country. They include onshore wind farms, large solar facilities, as well as gas, coal, and nuclear plants.
“This tool will provide important additional data to help shape the planning process for meeting our energy needs on a local, state, or regional level,” said NRDC Power Sector Director Sheryl Carter. “At a time when cities, states, universities, and utilities are considering aggressive climate goals, this knowledge is essential to establishing informed emissions-reduction targets and renewable portfolio standards.”
For each power source, the tool calculates the levelized cost of the electricity (LCOE), which is the minimum price that electricity must be sold at in order for the energy project generating it to break even. This includes factors such as the cost of building and operating it, as well as how often and how long it will run over its lifetime.
Additional site-specific costs are not traditionally included in the LCOE since they vary based on a number of factors such as transmission need or fuel price fluctuations, but it is the preferred method to compare resources.
Along with the current generation mix in each state, the tool developed by NRDC allows users to see exactly how the levelized costs for different technologies are expected to change annually through 2030 for their state and across the country. That can help with making planning decisions to ensure customer electricity needs are met with the cheapest and cleanest resources.
“Solar and wind are already among the least-cost sources of electricity generation across the entire country, and they are expected to become increasingly competitive in the coming years,” Carter said. “Our tool helps make planning for those changes easier.”
Users simply open the tool, select the state they would like to examine, and compare the cost of generating electricity from various technologies. Those looking to dive deeper can modify several cost and performance assumptions, as well as policies such as a price on carbon, to see how the resulting electricity costs change.
The publicly available tool improves upon other LCOE calculators by using the most up-to-date cost assumptions, and by relying on measured electricity output for recently built solar and wind installations on a state-by-state basis.
A detailed blog about the tool by NRDC Schneider Fellow Madhur Boloor can be found here.
NRDC will hold a webinar on the new tool from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24. Register here.