Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Distributed Wind Power

on August 11, 2015 at 5:00 PM

Small-Scale Distributed Wind: Northern Power Systems 100 kW turbine at the top of Burke Mountain in East Burke, Vermont. | Photo courtesy of Northern Power Systems.

This article is part of the series highlighting the “Top Things You Didn’t Know About…” Be sure to check back for more entries soon.

10. Distributed wind power is used at or near where it is generated, as opposed to wind power from wholesale generation, where power is sent to consumers via transmission lines and substations. Employed by households, schools, farms, industrial facilities and municipalities, distributed wind doesn’t only refer to small-scale turbines; it includes any size turbine or array of turbines that generates power for local or on-site use.

9. People have used wind energy for more than 2,000 years to pump water and grind grain. In the 19th century, wind-powered water pumps made life possible in arid regions of the United States and Australia by tapping and bringing water to the surface from deep aquifers. Between 1850 and 1970, more than 6 million small wind turbines were installed in the U.S. alone, primarily for water pumping. Read more about the history of wind energy.

8. You can find wind turbines used in distributed applications all across the United States. At the end of 2014, U.S. wind turbines in distributed applications reached an 11-year cumulative installed capacity of more than 906 megawatts (MW) from nearly 74,000turbines across all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. That’s enough capacity to power more than 138,000 American homes.

7. A large portion of all wind turbines installed in the United States generate power for on-site or local use. On a unit basis, distributed wind installations account for more than 67 percent of all wind turbines installed in the United States since 2003 and accounted for more than 33 percent of all wind turbines installed in the United States in 2014.

6. The new 11.5 MW distributed wind project, operational in 2014, at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Pantex Plant in Texas highlights the U.S. government’s commitment to on-site renewable energy generation.

5. Faster wind speeds mean more electricity. Wind speeds at 30 meters above the ground– an average height for distributed wind applications–can be found across the country. Check out this residential-scale wind resource map to see how strong winds are in your area.

4. Reducing utility bills and hedging against potentially rising electricity rates are commonly cited reasons for installing distributed wind. In addition, many utilities compensate the distributed wind (or other generation) owner for excess energy generated that is returned to the grid — a practice called “net metering.”

3. As the distributed wind marketplace matures, third parties are providing certification of small and mid-size wind turbines to ensure turbines perform as advertised.  The Interstate Renewable Energy Council lists certified small wind turbines on its website.  The Energy Department encourages consumers to purchase certified wind technologies; it should be noted that wind technologies must be installed in specific wind resources to operate as intended.

2. Distributed wind is a homegrown industry that strengthens the domestic economy. U.S.-based small wind turbine manufacturers favor U.S. supply chain vendors which are comprised of hundreds of manufacturing facilities and vendors spread across dozens of states– supporting jobs in manufacturing, retail, construction, and maintenance . Self-reported domestic content levels for individual small wind turbines installed in the United States in 2014 ranged from 60% to 100%, and on an aggregate level U.S.-based companies provided 98% of the small wind turbines installed in the United States in 2014. For more information on the U.S. distributed wind market, check out the 2014 Distributed Wind Market Report.

1. Distributed wind contributes to the growth of U.S. exports. On a per unit basis, 61% of U.S. manufacturers’ 2014 new small wind turbine sales were exports. The 11.2 MW of small wind turbine capacity exported in 2014 from 1,000 units represents about $60 million in investment. Since 2003, U.S-based small wind manufacturers have exported 84 MW of capacity.