Assessing Wind Power Operating Costs in the United States: Results from a Survey of Wind Industry Experts

Ryan Wiser, Mark Bolinger, Eric Lantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus Citations


This paper draws on a survey of wind industry professionals to clarify trends in the operational expenditures (OpEx) of U.S. land-based wind power plants. We find that average all-in lifetime OpEx has declined from approximately $80/kW-yr (∼$35/MWh) for projects built in the late 1990s to a level approaching $40/kW-yr (∼$11/MWh) for projects built in 2018. Turbine operations and maintenance costs represent the single largest component of overall OpEx and the primary source of cost reductions. We observe wide ranges of OpEx over time; respondents cite a range in average expected costs for recently commissioned projects from $33/kW-yr to $59/kW-yr. We also use historical OpEx learning rates, showing a 9% OpEx reduction for each doubling of global wind capacity, to project a further $5–$8/kW-yr reduction from 2018 to 2040. These findings suggest that continued OpEx reductions may contribute 10% or more of the expected reductions in land-based wind's levelized cost of energy. Moreover, these estimates understate the importance of OpEx owing to the multiplicative effects through which operational advancements influence not only operations and maintenance costs but also component reliability, performance, and plant-level availability—thereby also affecting levelized costs by enhancing annual energy production and plant lifetimes. Given the limited quantity and comparability of previously available OpEx data, the trends reported here may inform OpEx assumptions used by electric planners, analysts, and modelers. The results may also provide useful benchmarks to the wind industry, helping developers and asset owners compare their expectations with historical experience and other industry projections.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)46-57
Number of pages12
JournalRenewable Energy Focus
StatePublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5000-74017


  • learning curves
  • levelized cost of energy
  • maintenance
  • operational expenditures
  • operations
  • wind power


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