Cost of wind keeps dropping, and there’s little coal, nuclear can do to stop it

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A battery <a href=installation built by BYD in 2015 in LaSalle County, Illinois." src="" />

A battery installation built by BYD in 2015 in LaSalle County, Illinois. (credit: BYD)

Though a lot has changed since 2016, not much has changed for energy economics in the US. The cost of wind generation continues to fall, solar costs are falling, too, and the cost of coal-power energy has seen no movement, while the cost of building and maintaining nuclear plants has gone up. And none of those conclusions reflect subsidies and tax credits applied by the federal government.

The conclusions come from Lazard (PDF), an asset management company that publishes cost estimates for various types of electricity-generation assets each year. Lazard’s numbers reflect the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), which averages the estimated costs of construction, maintenance, and fuel for electricity-generating assets over the number of megawatt-hours that each asset is expected to produce over its lifetime. In other words, the LCOE is the lifetime cost of a turbine divided by the amount of energy that turbine will produce over its lifetime. LCOE is a good way of comparing electricity generation sources that vary dramatically in cost to build and cost to maintain.

The result, tracked over years, is one way of gauging how the US energy mix is changing and could change in the coming year. Though the new presidential administration was expected (and still is expected) to be a boon to coal and nuclear energy, those efforts are still mired in the political process. And even if they succeed, thwarting the cost advantages of wind and solar energy while propping up coal and nuclear power will require not-inconsiderable amounts of intervention from the US government.

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