Energy analysts, modelers, and system planners, the wait is over: the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released the 2020 update to its Annual Technology Baseline (ATB), a key source of reliable electricity-generation technology cost and performance data that can support and inform electric sector analysis in the United States.
Now in its sixth year, the ATB documents technology-specific information on a broad spectrum of electricity-generation technologies—wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, biopower, coal, natural gas, nuclear, and battery storage—with original projections for the renewable technologies based on technology innovations.
The ATB integrates current and projected data from various sources into a highly accessible and widely referenced resource for energy analysts. The 2020 ATB is available at atb.nrel.gov and will be featured in a webinar on July 27.
“With each update to the ATB, we aim to enable and encourage analytic integration across sectors and technologies by developing a unified, consistent perspective on common assumptions and scenarios,” said Laura Vimmerstedt, NREL energy analyst. “This year’s release strengthens the basis of those scenarios in technology innovation and features interactive, downloadable charts that allow the users to dive deeper into the data.”
The electricity-sector ATB, which is supported by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, incorporates NREL and Oak Ridge National Laboratory analysis, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and information from a variety of published reports into four main products for energy analysts.
- The ATB Excel spreadsheet documents detailed current and projected cost and performance data for electricity generation technologies.
- The ATB Summary CSV files capture cost and generation capacity in a database-friendly format.
- Tableau workbook files provide access to original visualizations.
- The website provides in-depth documentation of these quantitative products, including:
- Explanations of historical trends, current estimates, and future projections of three primary cost and performance factors: capital expenditures, capacity factor, and operations and maintenance cost.
- Documentation of the methodology and assumptions used to develop the projections of future cost and performance under conservative-, moderate-, and advanced technology innovation scenarios.
- Discussion of the calculation of levelized cost of energy to illustrate the combined effect of the primary cost and performance factors, using two different sets of financing assumptions.
The 2020 ATB includes updated financing assumptions, based on a forthcoming NREL report on renewable energy project financing terms. The different cases illustrate the distinction between technological and financial effects on the key metrics.
In addition to updated technology-specific data, this year’s ATB website update also offers an improved user experience with expanded features, including interactive, downloadable charts, streamlined website navigation, and optional user registration to receive occasional updates.
This work is part of a broader framework introduced by NREL in 2015 to improve the robustness and comparability of electric sector analysis by the laboratory, academia, and other entities in the energy analysis community. The ATB provides inputs for NREL’s annual Standard Scenarios modeling of the electric sector, which explores a diverse set of potential pathways for U.S. electric sector evolution over time, based on different assumptions about fuel prices, policies, and other variables. The ATB data is also used widely in other forward-looking analyses, including NREL’s Electrification Futures Study, as well as by utility planners and grid operators in characterizing future systems.