Levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is a simple metric that combines the primary technology cost and performance parameters, CAPEX, O&M, and capacity factor. It is included in the ATB for illustrative purposes. The focus of the ATB is to define the primary cost and performance parameters for use in electric sector modeling or other analysis where more sophisticated comparisons among technologies are made. LCOE captures the energy component of electric system planning and operation, but the electric system also requires capacity and flexibility services to operate reliably. Electricity generation technologies have different capabilities to provide such services. For example, wind and PV are primarily energy service providers, while the other electricity generation technologies provide capacity and flexibility services in addition to energy. These capacity and flexibility services are difficult to value and depend strongly on the system in which a new generation plant is introduced. These services are represented in electric sector models such as the ReEDS model and corresponding analysis results such as the Standard Scenarios.
The following three figures illustrate the combined impact of CAPEX, O&M, and capacity factor projections across the range of resources present in the contiguous United States. The Current Market Conditions LCOE demonstrates the range of LCOE based on macroeconomic conditions similar to the present. The Historical Market Conditions LCOE presents the range of LCOE based on macroeconomic conditions consistent with prior ATB editions and Standard Scenarios model results. The Normalized LCOE (all LCOE estimates are normalized with the lowest Base Year LCOE value) emphasizes the relative effect of fuel price and heat rate independent of project finance assumptions. The ATB representative plant characteristics that best align with recently installed or anticipated near-term natural gas plants are associated with Gas-CC-HighCF. Data for all the resource categories can be found in the ATB data spreadsheet.
The LCOE of natural gas plants is directly impacted by the price of the natural gas fuel, so we include low, median, and high natural gas price trajectories. The LCOE is also impacted by variations in the heat rate and O&M costs. Because the reference and high natural gas price projections from AEO 2017 are rising over time, the LCOE of new natural gas plants can actually increase over time if the gas prices rise faster than the capital costs decline. For a given year, the LCOE assumes that the fuel prices from that year continue throughout the lifetime of the plant.
These projections do not include any cost of carbon, which would influence the LCOE of fossil units. Also, for CCS plants, the potential revenue from selling the captured carbon is not included (e.g., enhanced oil recovery operation may purchase CO2 from a CCS plant).
Fuel prices are based on the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2017 (EIA 2017).
To estimate LCOE, assumptions about the cost of capital to finance electricity generation projects are required. For comparison in the ATB, two project finance structures are represented.
These parameters are held constant for estimates representing the Base Year through 2050. No incentives such as the PTC or ITC are included. The equations and variables used to estimate LCOE are defined on the equations and variables page. For illustration of the impact of changing financial structures such as WACC and economic life, see Project Finance Impact on LCOE. For LCOE estimates for High, Mid, and Low scenarios for all technologies, see 2017 ATB Cost and Performance Summary.
EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration). 2017. Annual Energy Outlook 2017 with Projections to 2050. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy. January 5, 2017. http://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/0383(2017).pdf.