CREST Cost of Energy Models

The Cost of Renewable Energy Spreadsheet Tool (CREST) is an economic cash flow model designed to allow policymakers, regulators, and the renewable energy community to assess project economics, design cost-based incentives (e.g., feed-in tariffs), and evaluate the impact of various state and federal support structures. CREST is a suite of four analytic tools, for solar (photovoltaic and solar thermal), wind, geothermal, and anaerobic digestion technologies.

The model is a product of a 2009-2010 partnership between the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Program (SETP), and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions (NARUC). The model was developed by Sustainable Energy Advantage (SEA) under the direction of NREL.

Download CREST

Our CREST models are available in Microsoft Excel format:




Anaerobic Digestion

Fuel Cell

Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about these models.

Intended Uses

CREST models are designed for use by state policy makers, regulators, utilities, beginning developers or investors, and other stakeholders. The models allow users:

  • To estimate the Year One cost of energy (COE) and levelized cost of energy (LCOE) from a range of solar, wind and geothermal electricity generation projects,
  • To experiment with the process of setting of cost-based incentive rates;
  • To observe the effects of different economic drivers on a given renewable energy project's COE and LCOE;
  • To comprehend the relative economics of generation projects with differing characteristics, such as project size, resource quality, location (e.g. near or far from transmission) or ownership (e.g. public or private.)

Supporting Documents and Information

CREST User Manual
This document offers a tutorial on how to use the CREST models, including example model runs, sample inputs, and troubleshooting. The five technology versions of the CREST model share a common architecture, the features of which are described in the main body of this User Manual. Features specific to the individual technologies are explained in the appendices.

March 13th, 2013 Webinar on CREST AD
Audio recording (WMV file, 37.9 MB)
Webinar slides

March 31st, 2011 Webinar
Audio recording/ Slides (WMV file, 35.4 MB)
Mike Mendelsohn Slides
Jason Gifford Slides

April 25th, 2011 Geothermal Specific Webinar
Audio recording/ Slides (WMV file, 37.9 MB)

Cost-based Incentives Report
This report is intended to serve as a resource for policymakers who wish to learn more about establishing cost-based incentives. The report will identify key renewable energy cost modeling options, highlight the policy implications of choosing one approach over the other, and present recommendations on the optimal characteristics of a model to calculate rates for cost-based incentives, feed-in tariffs (FITs), or similar policies.

Distinctions between CREST and NREL's Systems Advisor Model (SAM)

SAM – a freestanding tool
Audience and purpose: Analysts who want to do granular analysis of RE projects
Analytical capabilities include:

  1. Detailed performance calculations, (an hourly simulation for electric generation)
  2. Detailed financial modeling (sale leaseback, partnership flip in May 2011 release),
  3. Ability to model time of use utility rates,
  4. Ability to conduct parametric analysis and stochastic modeling.

CREST – an Excel-based tool
Audience and purpose: Anyone seeking a less technical analysis of incentives and other economic drivers on a renewable energy project's COE and LCOE. CREST may also be appealing to analysts wanting to do quick, back of the envelope LCOE estimates without engaging a detailed SAM run. As such, CREST can serve as a complement to the SAM tool.

If you have any comments on the CREST tools, please let us know by clicking here.

Many Thanks,

NREL Project Finance Team