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International team examines solutions to make wind systems competitive in the distributed energy market

The market for on-site, distributed solar photovoltaic installations has boomed in recent years, generating behind-the-meter energy at an affordable cost for homes, businesses, campuses, and industrial customers. Now, through a project called Enabling Wind to Contribute to a Distributed Energy Future, experts from around the world are exploring how wind energy can be successfully applied to this same distributed energy model.

IEA Wind has convened a team of global experts, led by researchers from DOE’s NREL and PNNL, to study how wind energy can benefit distributed energy systems under IEA Wind Task 41.

While innovations have significantly decreased installation and operating costs for utility-scale wind power plants, smaller-scale distributed wind systems have not experienced the same cost reductions, limiting wind’s role in the developing distributed energy market. At the same time, utilities, communities, and nations are looking to distributed generation as an effective way to meet future energy needs.

“Right now, roof-mounted solar is becoming common across the United States,” said NREL Deployment Manager Ian Baring-Gould, who serves as the technical director and co-lead of the IEA Wind project. “Our hope is this IEA Wind research will lead to a similar level of affordability and flexibility for small-scale, localized wind installations. We want to increase the reach of this clean energy technology.”

To become cost competitive, distributed wind technologies will require a wide range of technical and nontechnical advances. Through IEA Wind Task 41, researchers are examining a broad spectrum of solutions involving wind turbines deployed in distributed applications in behind-the-meter, in-front-of-the-meter, microgrid, and off-grid applications, and in combination with other distributed energy and energy storage technologies. Turbine sizes under consideration range from small wind turbines to multimegawatt, large-scale turbines deployed in small numbers closer to loads.

Photo of 13 adults posing and smiling.
IEA Wind Task 41 team members pose during a break from the project’s kickoff meeting. Ian Baring-Gould, NREL (first row, far left) and Alice Orrell, PNNL (first row, center), lead the task. Photo: IEA Wind Task 41

Building on national research efforts supported by the United States and other nations, the IEA Wind Task 41 team is collaborating on activities that include:

  • Identifying and documenting improved ways to integrate wind energy into distributed energy systems
  • Improving distributed wind turbine design standards
  • Developing ways to better share data and information to expand innovation
  • Broadening the understanding of distributed wind’s potential benefits to wider distributed energy markets.

Researchers are also exploring how the grand challenges in the science of wind energy can be applied in the context of distributed wind technologies and the global energy markets where distributed energy systems are likely to be found.

The IEA Wind project brings together research organizations from 11 participating countries in a 4-year effort. In addition to the United States, participants include representatives from Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Korea, and Spain, with additional nations expressing interest.

wind turbine on farmland against a cloudy but blue sky.
Research convened by IEA Wind and sponsored by WETO is exploring how the highly successful distributed energy model employed by solar can be applied to wind energy. Image: Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative

The team has already completed an assessment of the current international standards for small wind turbines through a series of industry stakeholder sessions. Following additional meetings planned for Asia and North America, a detailed international research plan will be developed to build the research case for updating international standards. A distributed wind data catalog is also being developed, which will make information on distributed wind operational data more readily available for future international collaboration.

“We’re already gaining a better understanding of the technical requirements and marketplace realities,” said Baring-Gould. “We’re optimistic that this will lead not just to cost savings opportunities, but to an entirely new model for wind installations.”


Spring 2020 R&D Newsletter

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