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July 16, 2012

New Web tool charts renewable technology costs

Scott Jenkins

A new Web application collects cost and performance estimates for electric generation, advanced vehicles, and renewable fuel technologies and makes them available for utilities, policy makers, consumers, and academics. The Transparent Cost Database (TCDB; available at openEI.org) app provides technology cost and performance estimates that can be used to benchmark company costs, model energy scenarios, and inform research and development decisions.

In keeping with the Obama Administration's commitment to open and transparent data, the TCDB provides cost comparisons to make it much easier to view the range of estimates for what energy technologies such as a utility-scale wind farm, rooftop solar installation, biofuel production plant, or electric vehicle might cost today or in the future. The new database will help companies and investors make informed decisions supporting the commercialization and deployment of clean energy.
 
TCDB was developed by the U.S. Dept. of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL; Golden, Colo.; www.nrel.gov) through a grant from DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It provides "a first-cut estimate of current and projected costs and performance characteristics for vehicles, biofuels and electricity generation," with a current focus on renewables, NREL analyst Austin Brown said.
 
TCDB displays DOE estimates and targets in a place that is easy to find and update, Brown said. Until now, those estimates and targets typically have been found in program-planning or budget documents that, while public, are difficult to find and collect. In support of the Administration's goals to increase data transparency, DOE is collecting this planning data in one public resource for the first time.
 
The TCDB provides access to published historical and projected cost estimates for electricity generation, biofuels, and vehicle technologies. The cost data are sourced from published studies and the Department of Energy's internal planning documents.  DOE works closely with private companies to accurately estimate technology costs. This information helps DOE plan research and development.
 
The new database will soon allow experts to contribute reliable new information to continually expand and validate the cost information available to the public. The data are arranged so users can see a range of cost and performance numbers as well as reports on potential improvements. All data will be viewable and downloadable from DOE's Open Energy Information platform, OpenEI.org, a virtual clearinghouse for information about energy.
 
NREL analysts collected the first batch of data by reviewing publicly available reports and collaborating with technology experts at DOE. In the near future, data will also be suggested by expert users and continually refreshed by the NREL project team.
 
The database currently contains thousands of estimates from more than 100 reports. The web interface allows the user to look at current estimates and future projections, and to filter the data of interest. The exact report referenced in each data point is just few mouse clicks away.

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