The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) provides global leadership in fundamental wind energy science research, development, and validation activities that enable low-cost wind energy. The Office pursues opportunities across all U.S. wind sectors—land-based utility-scale wind, offshore wind, distributed wind—as well as addressing market barriers and system integration. As we enter a new fiscal year, we’d like to share some of the more notable wind energy research and development accomplishments from fiscal year 2021.

Offshore Wind

Graphic explaining the economic impacts of offshore wind goal: 30 GW by 2030.

Achieving the interagency national goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 can help the nation realize numerous benefits, including jobs and capital investment.

In March 2021, the Departments of Energy, Interior, and Commerce announced a national goal to deploy 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030. Achieving this level of deployment goal will support 44,000 jobs in offshore wind and nearly 33,000 additional jobs in communities with offshore wind activity, power 10 million homes, and cut 78 million metric tons in carbon emissions. The goal will also spur $12 billion in capital investment annually, leading to the construction of up to 10 new manufacturing plants for offshore wind turbine components, new ships to install offshore wind turbines, and up to $500 million in port upgrades.

In December 2020, WETO announced $21 million in funding for three projects supporting offshore wind energy technology demonstration and resource characterization. These projects will help advance offshore wind development by demonstrating innovative technologies that can reduce the cost of offshore wind, and by improving the ability to forecast energy production.

Since 2018, WETO has been working with the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium (NOWRDC) on projects to advance offshore wind technology, address U.S.-specific needs, and support resource and site characterization. Consortium members include the states of New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, and Maine, as well as academia, major developers, and equipment manufacturers. In fiscal year 2021, NOWRDC announced five new research projects to enable large-scale turbines; 15 new projects focused on offshore wind support structure innovation, U.S.-based supply chain development, electrical systems innovation, and solutions for impacts on wildlife and radar; an offshore wind supply chain roadmap project; and a new competitive solicitation to fund projects targeting offshore wind supply chain, logistics, and operations and maintenance.

Researchers from DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in collaboration with international researchers working under the International Energy Agency’s Wind Technology Collaboration Programme, have developed a new approach to evaluate renewable energy project revenue and value holistically. The approach uses project revenue and value assessments to facilitate “apples-to-apples” comparisons between projects and against established cost metrics.

GE received $20.3 million in follow-on DOE funding to build and test a prototype of their high-efficiency, ultra-light, low-temperature superconducting generator on a wind turbine. If successful, GE’s generator innovations could contribute to cost reductions in larger and more powerful wind turbines.

Land-Based Wind and Cross-Cutting Research

Wind turbines at sunset.

DOE’s market reports show that wind energy continues to grow in the United States.

DOE released three market reports showing record growth in land-based wind energy, significant expansion of the pipeline for offshore wind projects, and a continued decline in the cost of wind energy generation—laying the groundwork for significant future gains.  

In December 2020, WETO released its Multi-Year Program Plan, outlining research priorities and plans through the year 2025. The Plan targets WETO’s objectives to reduce the cost of wind energy, enable the integration of substantial amounts of wind energy into the evolving national energy system, and create siting and environmental solutions to reduce environmental impacts of wind energy.

To support the ability to assess and characterize available wind resources—which is critical to the development, siting, and operation of a wind plant—WETO released a series of new and improved regional wind resource maps for the U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The maps provide easy-to-understand snapshots of wind resources.

Wind Plant Integrated Systems Design and Engineering Model (WISDEM) software creates a virtual, vertically integrated wind plant, from components to operations. Upgrades made to WISDEM in FY21 improve the user experience and enhance the ability to create virtual wind energy project designs. These upgrades include a documentation guide, the addition of case studies, and the incorporation of new models.

DOE announced projects supported by the Office of Technology Transitions Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF), including nearly $2 million for four wind-energy-related projects ranging from tools to optimize hybrid and wind plant operations to robots for blade inspection. TCF advances commercialization of promising energy technologies and strengthens partnerships between DOE’s national laboratories and private sector companies to deploy these technologies to the marketplace.

In July, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy announced another round of SBIR funding to support small businesses and entrepreneurs in helping to tackle the climate crisis through market-oriented solutions and emerging technologies. The July selections include over $7 million to support several land-based and offshore wind-energy-related projects.

Distributed Wind

Distributed wind turbine with mountains in the background.

Funding from DOE’s Competitiveness Improvement Project helped support the development of this Bergey 15 distributed wind turbine.

In August 2021, eight small businesses received awards to develop wind technology as a cost-effective, reliable, and compatible distributed energy resource under the 2021 round of DOE’s Competitiveness Improvement Project (CIP). The 2021 CIP selectees are expected to share about $2.2 million in DOE funding and leverage about $1.3 million of industry cost share.

In late summer 2020, WETO hosted a 3-day virtual workshop convening laboratory and industry project stakeholders to promote collaboration across the distributed wind program and discuss research priorities. A resulting report provides information on current and potential future WETO-funded distributed wind research projects and highlights opportunities for effective research collaboration.

Most states tax the property on which wind projects are located, and some of that money flows to school districts. Research by Berkeley Lab, the University of Connecticut, and Amherst College aimed to determine how much money flowed back and benefited schools across 35 U.S. states. Their research concluded that wind projects led to substantial increases in revenue and expenditures, including improving or expanding education facilities and features beneficial to students, teachers, and communities.

The Infrastructure Security team at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory and its industry partner, EnerNex, have released a report detailing a resilience framework to prepare for physical and cybersecurity threats to U.S. energy delivery systems. The framework has specific application to distributed wind systems.

In June 2021, DOE announced Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards, including about $400,000 for two projects developing distributed wind technology-compatible power converters for grid-connected and isolated distributed energy systems.

Grid Integration

Aerial view of the united states at night.

Research is helping to make the electricity grid more efficient, resilient, and secure—which can support the integration of more renewable energy. Photo credit: iStock

In June 2021, DOE and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) announced the release of the U.S. Perspective Report and the Canadian Perspective Report on NARIS. Launched in 2016, NARIS evaluated four scenarios for North American power systems through 2050, focusing on the effects of various renewable technology cost trajectories, emission constraints, demand growth, and outcomes. Among the key findings are two insights: (a) there are multiple combinations of electricity generation, transmission, and demand that can result in 80% carbon reduction by 2050, and (b) international cooperation can reduce system-wide costs and enhance economic benefits.

Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm and Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan held a bilateral meeting to launch an updated and revised Memorandum of Understanding that reinvigorates and expands energy cooperation between their departments, accelerates the clean energy transition to net-zero emissions by 2050, and provides reliable, efficient, and resilient grid operations.

Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and General Electric demonstrated the world’s first Type 3 utility-scale wind turbine generator operating in grid-forming mode—that is, when the generator can set grid voltage and frequency, and if necessary, operate without power from the electric grid. As Type 3 wind turbines typically need to connect to an electrified grid to operate, demonstrating their ability to operate independently from the grid—and recover from total or partial shutdown—creates new market opportunities for this type of wind turbine.

DOE announced projects to help integrate clean energy sources onto the grid, including $25 million to form a public-private consortium on grid integration technology. NREL is co-leading the UNIFI grid-forming research consortium along with the University of Washington and the Electric Power Research Institute. In collaboration with a large stakeholder group that spans technology vendors, grid operators, energy laboratories, and corporations from around the world, UNIFI creates an extensive R&D ecosystem to evaluate and design grid-forming inverter solutions, with the goal of developing a universal set of guidelines that enable seamless integration of inverter-based resources like solar, wind, batteries, and electric vehicles.

WETO and DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response announced the formation of a national Wind Cybersecurity Consortium. The Consortium convenes NREL and six leading wind industry organizations to improve the cybersecurity of the U.S. wind fleet through collaborative analysis, development, and information sharing. The public-private consortium will identify use cases, improve intelligence on wind energy threats, and address the potential risks and consequences of cyber intrusions on wind turbines and their systems and controls.

In June 2021, DOE announced Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards, including $200,000 to develop a software package called SimWIND—Software to Support Wind Siting and Environmental Challenges. When completed, SimWIND will provide feedback to independent service operators and regional transmission organizations about grid-connected wind energy projects.

Environmental Research, Siting, and Workforce Development

Two men on a boat setting up equipment.

Research and collaboration to improve offshore wind siting and engage local communities can help facilitate offshore wind deployment while protecting the environment. Photo credit: SMRU

DOE announced funding for projects that will inform offshore wind siting and permitting and facilitate efforts to reduce offshore wind’s impacts on wildlife and fisheries on both the East and West Coasts. The opportunity is jointly funded by DOE and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and was developed under the National Oceanic Partnership Program in coordination with BOEM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service, the California Energy Commission and the California Ocean Protection Council.

The Northeast Sea Grant Consortium, in partnership with WETO, DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Northeast Fisheries Science Center, announced a funding opportunity to improve understanding of offshore renewable energy interactions with fishing and coastal communities to optimize ocean co-use.  NOAA’s Sea Grant also partnered with WETO to create and fill a new Offshore Wind Liaison position. The Liaison will connect community stakeholders to information resources and research about offshore wind energy development to help empower communities to engage in offshore wind energy development decisions.

To help local decision makers determine whether a wind project is right for their community, DOE’s WINDExchange initiative released two information resources: a report titled “Land-Based Wind Energy Siting” and a web-based “Land-Based Economic Development Guide.” These comprehensive, easy-to-read resources highlight the elements communities should consider when pursuing a wind energy project—from conception and construction of the project site to how the community coexists with the wind project once it’s operating.

In June, 13 multidisciplinary teams presented their work in designing, building, and testing a model wind turbine to a remote panel of judges at the virtual 2021 Collegiate Wind Competition. The Pennsylvania State University won top honors, with other schools placing in the overall competition as well as the Turbine Prototype, Project Development, and Connection Creation contests. The Collegiate Wind Competition gives undergraduate students from a range of disciplines hands-on experience and industry connections—helping prepare them for jobs in the wind and renewable energy industries.

DOE also announced 11 teams selected to compete in the 2022 Collegiate Wind Competition.

A WETO-funded Berkeley Lab study of historical trends shows the progress the power sector has made in reducing carbon emissions. The study, “Halfway to Zero: Progress towards a Carbon-Free Power Sector,” concluded that the U.S. power sector cut emissions from 2005 to 2020 by 52% below projected levels—bringing the country “halfway to zero” in overall reductions.

In June 2021, DOE announced Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards, including for technical solutions to offshore and land-based wind siting and environmental challenges. Selections under this topic include $200,000 to develop a camera- and radar-based system that monitors and detects wildlife activity near wind turbines. The system can help improve and validate wildlife impact mitigation options.

Looking Ahead

President Biden and the Secretary of Energy tour the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

President Biden and Secretary Granholm visited NREL’s Flatirons Campus and learned about wind energy research that’s helping the nation transition to a net-zero emission economy by 2050. Photo credit: Werner Slocum, NREL (65499)

President Biden’s budget request for fiscal year 2022 includes nearly $205 million for WETO—an 86% increase from 2021 appropriations—with $100 million for offshore wind, $40 million for land-based wind, $18 million for distributed wind, and $47 million for grid integration and analysis. These proposed budget increases would support WETO’s R&D strategies for scaling installed wind capacity from 122 GW today to more than 500 GW by 2035 through cost reductions, sustainable solutions to environmental and siting concerns, and grid integration.