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Baker’s Research as Part of Wind Energy Team Attracts National Attention

Erin Baker

Erin Baker

The research of Erin Baker, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, and a team of multidisciplinary researchers, has been attracting national attention from the Washington Post and many other media outlets. In a study designed by UMass Amherst’s Baker and others, a panel of international wind power experts says technological advancements are expected to continue to drive down the cost of wind energy. The survey of the world’s foremost wind power experts, led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, anticipates cost reductions of 24-30 percent by 2030 and 35-41 percent by 2050, under a median or “best guess” scenario, driven by bigger and more efficient turbines, lower capital and operating costs, and other advancements. See articles: The Columbian, CleanTechnica, reNEWS, AZO Cleantech, Laboratory Equipment, North American Windpower, EIN News, Windpower Engineering & Development, Greentech Media.

The findings are described in an article in the journal Nature Energy, published Sept. 12. The study was led by Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist at Berkeley Lab, and included contributions from Baker, other staff from Berkeley Lab, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and participants in the International Energy Agency (IEA) Wind Technology Collaboration Programme Task 26.

Baker is a professor of industrial engineering and operations research specializing in energy technology policy. She is also the director of the UMass Wind Energy IGERT Offshore Wind Energy Program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), dealing with offshore wind energy engineering, environmental impacts, and policy. In addition, Baker is a world leader in the field of collecting and using expert forecasts about technological change in the energy industry.

The study summarizes a global survey of 163 wind energy experts to gain insight into the possible magnitude of future wind energy cost reductions, the sources of those reductions, and the enabling conditions needed to realize continued innovation and lower costs. Three wind applications were covered: onshore (land-based) wind, fixed-bottom offshore wind, and floating offshore wind.

Baker says the new study highlights the overall downward trend in wind energy costs and also points out areas of uncertainty within long-term cost estimates. “This study highlights the opportunity space for wind, especially offshore wind, with radical cost reductions possible in the right policy environment. The recent bill aimed at promoting offshore wind in Massachusetts is the kind of thing that can help us move forward in the areas that the experts emphasized—foundations, installation, and economies of scale for offshore wind turbines.”  

A key change will be in the size of wind turbines, according to experts. For onshore wind, growth is expected not only in generator ratings (to 3.25 MW on average in 2030) but also in two factors that increase capacity factors—rotor diameters (135 meters in 2030) and hub heights (115 meters in 2030). Fixed-bottom offshore wind turbines are expected to get even bigger, to 11 MW on average in 2030, helping to reduce upfront installed costs.

“Though expert surveys are not without weaknesses,” concludes Wiser, “these results can inform policy discussions, R&D decisions, and industry strategy development while improving the representation of wind energy in energy-sector and integrated-assessment models.”

Berkeley Lab’s contributions to this report were funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Baker was partially supported in this work through a grant for offshore wind energy from the NSF. (September 2016)