• Research from the Austin Energy Institute at the University of Texas finds natural gas, wind and solar energy as the lowest cost technologies for new electricity generation for most part of the US
  • Calculating LCOE on per county basis, the research team also considered external factors, not usually counted in the LCOE, to find out what it calls truer costs for each generation technology
  • Wind was found to be the lowest cost option at a levelized basis for most part of the country, followed by solar power and natural gas
  • It suggests utilities to consider alternative business models to remain viable in the face of growing popularity of DER and realize the potential of this form of energy technology

Natural gas, wind and solar energy have been found to be the lowest-cost technologies for new electricity generation for most parts of the United States, according to an updated research paper by the Austin Energy Institute of the University of Texas.

The report reflects this gradual shift to renewables in a series of maps compiled in a white paper titled ‘New U.S. Power Costs: by County, with Environmental Externalities’. The institute has been conducting this study for long with its first findings issued in December 2016 under the report ‘Full Cost of Electricity (FCe)’. The whitepaper is part of the FCe- and can be found on the website of the university.

For its analysis, the research team calculated levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) per county, factoring in externalities as public health and environmental effects associated with electricity generation, in an effort to calculate ‘truer costs’ for each generation technology. It found wind to be the lowest cost option on a levelized basis, from the High Plains, to the Midwest and Texas and some portions of the Northeast.

Solar power is the cheapest technology in much of the Southwest, eastern and northern regions of the country. Natural gas is the lowest cost option for the remaining part of the US, as per the study.

Referring to distributed energy resources (DER) as threatening the traditional utility business model, the authors of the study suggest that utilities consider alternative business models to remain viable and realize the potential and benefits of DER.

“We think our methodology is sound and hope it encourages constructive dialogue,” said Joshua Rhodes, a research affiliate at the Energy Institute, and lead author of the paper. “To enable this dialogue among stakeholders who disagree about the various cost factors, we’ve created tools to allow them to change the factors and observe the outcomes.”

The university calls FCe-as an interdisciplinary initiative to identify and quantify full-system cost of electric power generation and delivery-from the power plant to the wall socket.