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Top 9 Things You Didn’t Know About Distributed Wind Power

August 18, 2014 - 7:30am

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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.

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.

Mid-Sized Distributed Wind: Two mid-sized wind turbines in operation at Wayne Industrial Sustainability Park in Ontario, New York. | Photo courtesy of Sustainable Energy Developments, Inc.

Mid-Sized Distributed Wind: Two mid-sized wind turbines in operation at Wayne Industrial Sustainability Park in Ontario, New York. | Photo courtesy of Sustainable Energy Developments, Inc.

Utility-Scale Distributed Wind: A 1.65 MW Vestas wind turbine at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois. | Photo courtesy of the Harvest the Wind Network.

Utility-Scale Distributed Wind: A 1.65 MW Vestas wind turbine at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois. | Photo courtesy of the Harvest the Wind Network.

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.
Mid-Sized Distributed Wind: Two mid-sized wind turbines in operation at Wayne Industrial Sustainability Park in Ontario, New York. | Photo courtesy of Sustainable Energy Developments, Inc.
Utility-Scale Distributed Wind: A 1.65 MW Vestas wind turbine at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois. | Photo courtesy of the Harvest the Wind Network.

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

9. 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.

8. 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.

7. You can find wind used in distributed applications all across the United States. At the end of 2013, U.S. wind turbines in distributed applications reached an 11-year cumulative installed capacity of more than 842 megawatts (MW) from nearly 72,000 turbines across all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. That’s enough capacity to power more than 120,000 American homes.

6. 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 accounted for more than 80 percent of all wind turbines installed in the United States in 2013.

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 Clean Energy States Alliance maintains a unified list of certified wind turbines. 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. Eight of the top 10 models of all wind turbines installed in distributed applications (on a unit basis) in 2013 were manufactured by suppliers with headquarters in the United States. The U.S. distributed wind energy supply chain is comprised of hundreds of manufacturing facilities and vendors spread across at least 34 states -- supporting jobs in manufacturing, retail, construction and maintenance. For more on the distributed wind supply chain, check out the 2013 Distributed Wind Market Report.

1. Distributed wind contributes to the growth of U.S. exports. On a capacity basis, exports from U.S.-based small wind turbine manufacturers increased by 70 percent from 8 MW in 2012 to 13.6 MW in 2013. Since 2003, U.S-based small wind manufacturers have exported 73 MW of capacity.

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