While you might be able to pick up a catalogue when looking to replace your car and see the prices laid out clearly for your consideration, turbine purchasing is an entirely different matter.
Of course, any turbine deal involves numerous factors that could significantly affect the price of machines. A turbine delivered to the Amazon basin as part of a small order is bound to cost far more than one installed on a major manufacturer's doorstep in Europe.
And with the prevalence of agreements between manufacturer and developer that include the promise of more business, prices can further be reduced. These days, along with the turbine sale, it is more or less standard practice for manufacturers to offer an operations and maintenance service agreement of anything up to ten years, again affecting the price.
However, it is possible to broadly work out the average cost of turbines, and even give an indication of the difference in prices between manufacturers.
Drilling down into the figures
Windpower Monthly's research has unearthed some quite significant discrepancies in the costs of turbines. The main division lies between turbines from European manufacturers and those in China.
Looking at Vestas, by some measures the world's largest wind-turbine manufacturer, the company reported an order intake for turbines with a capacity of 1.55GW in its results for the third quarter of 2013, valued by Vestas at EUR 1.5 billion. This gives us a price of EUR 967,742 per megawatt from the Danish manufacturer.
This stands in stark contrast to the price offered up by China's Ming Yang in its last audited results in April 2013, in which it says it sold its 1.5MW turbine at an average price of $756,000 (EUR 581,538 at time of results publication), which equates to EUR 397,692 per megawatt
However, Ming Yang chief executive Chuanwei Zhang, was reported in Bloomberg News in November to have said that he expects prices to rise to around $650,000 per megawatt over the next year as other manufacturers close their factories in the country and demand continues to pick up in China's domestic market.
Suzlon calculations reveal a turbine price of EUR 986,325, just above Vestas' figure. This is based on the company's reported backlog in May 2013 of 5.85GW, worth $7.5 billion (EUR 5.77 billion). This price may appear high given that Suzlon is an Indian company, with similar labour rates to China. However, the vast majority of these orders are likely to be for turbines being built by its German subsidiary Repower.
The offshore effect
The figures for Suzlon and Vestas are higher than those calculated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US, which calculate onshore turbine costs to be between EUR 700,000 and EUR 960,000 per megawatt. However, both Vestas and Suzlon (or rather Repower for Suzlon) also produce offshore turbines, which inevitably pushes up the average price of their turbines.
NREL put offshore turbines at around EUR 1.25 million per megawatt. This seems to be borne out by the example of the UK's 630MW London Array, the world's largest operating offshore project. The project cost around EUR 2.2 billion. Considering that turbines usually account for 64% of the total cost, we can assume that around EUR 1.4 billion was spent on turbines. That would indicate a price of EUR 4.2 million for each of the 175 Siemens 3.6MW turbines, or EUR 1.17 million per megawatt.
So location is a key factor affecting turbine prices — both in terms of onshore or offshore and where in the world turbines will be located - along with numerous other factors.
One thing is for sure however, the price of turbines has come down dramatically in a relatively short amount of time. Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found in August last year that turbine prices in the US have fallen by 20-30% from 2008. Improvements in technology, competition from East Asia and overcapacity, particularly in the European market, have all contributed towards this trend.