NREL Study Identifies Opportunities for Distributed Wind to Empower Communities Across the United States

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory today released the Distributed Wind Energy Futures Study, which details the high potential to profitably deploy nearly 1,400 gigawatts (GW) of distributed wind capacity across the United States. This equates to more than half of the nation’s current annual electricity consumption.

“As this study illustrates, distributed wind energy could bring clean power to millions of American households,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman. “By realizing this potential, we can help local communities drive their own paths to a clean energy future and support national progress toward our climate goals.”

Distributed wind energy is connected to local electricity distribution networks and can provide onsite energy to businesses, farms, homes, and other users. It can help communities transition to carbon-free electricity while also reducing reliance on the nation’s already constrained transmission system. Approximately 1.1 GW of distributed wind capacity is currently installed in the United States.

The study identifies states in the nation’s Midwest and Heartland regions as having the largest potential for distributed wind due to the combination of high wind speeds and sufficiently high retail electricity rates. The Pacific and Northeast regions also have significant potential for expansion of “behind-the-meter” distributed wind deployments, where the distributed wind system directly offsets a specific end-user’s consumption of retail electricity supply.

There are also significant opportunities to expand distributed wind in disadvantaged communities, identified as census areas with a high risk for environmental hazards and/or areas that include high proportions of low-income households. This is particularly true in the coming decade for behind-the-meter deployments in states such as Texas, Montana, Michigan, and New Mexico, potentially creating a means to reduce energy burden in these communities.

Additional findings from the study include:

  • Agricultural lands have the most distributed wind potential, at hundreds of gigawatts.  Residential, commercial, and industrial lands also have gigawatt-scale potential, particularly for behind-the-meter applications.
  • The economics of distributed wind are highly dependent on future policies. For example, if current tax credits and net-metering policies expire as scheduled, economic potential could drop between 2022 and 2035. However, if current tax credits and policies were extended and expanded in a strategic manner, the potential for distributed wind could increase by more than 80% for behind-the-meter applications and by 800% for front-of-the-meter applications, meaning those connected to the distribution grid to provide wholesale energy supply.
  • States with the most near-term potential for behind-the-meter applications include Texas, Minnesota, Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Indiana. States with the most potential for front-of-the-meter applications include Oklahoma, Nebraska, Illinois, Kansas, Iowa, and South Dakota.
  • States across much of the Northeast as well as California have less profitable distributed wind potential, but there are select locations with significant wind resources, which when combined with generally higher retail electricity rates, means there are compelling opportunities in these areas too.

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