The Wind Energy Technologies Office’s activities for wind technologies used in distributed applications—or distributed wind—address the performance and reliability challenges associated with smaller turbines by focusing on technology development, testing, certification, and manufacturing. 

The above animation explains the distributed wind system and illustrates how a turbine at a residential home can offset its energy usage. If you can't see the animation, please read our text version

What Is Distributed Wind?

The Wind Energy Technologies Office defines distributed wind in terms of technology application, based on a wind plant's location relative to end-use and power distribution infrastructure, rather than technology or project size. The following wind system attributes are used by the office to characterize them as distributed:

  • Proximity to End-Use: Wind turbines that are installed at or near the point of end-use for the purposes of meeting onsite energy demand or supporting the operation of the existing distribution grid.
  • Point of Interconnection: Wind turbines that are connected on the customer side of the meter (also known as behind-the-meter), directly to the distribution grid, or are off-grid in a remote location.

Distributed wind energy systems are commonly installed on, but are not limited to, residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial, and community sites, and can range in size from a 5 kilowatt turbine at a home to multi-megawatt turbines at a manufacturing facility or connected to a local distribution system.

An analysis of behind-the-meter distributed wind potential in the United States found that distributed wind systems are technically feasible for approximately 49.5 million residential, commercial, or industrial sites, or about 44% of all U.S. buildings. This analysis shows that the distributed wind market opportunity is significant, and distributed wind has potential to play an increasing role in the U.S. electricity sector. In order for distributed wind to realize these opportunities, technology cost reduction—including reductions in turbine costs, balance of system costs, and soft costs, as well as performance improvement—is necessary but not sufficient. Increasing access to low-cost capital, and standardizing site assessment, project development and installation processes will also be important drivers.

Small wind turbine technology, which includes turbines that have a rated capacity of less than or equal to 100 kilowatts, is the primary technology type used in distributed wind energy applications and is the focus of the office's technology R&D efforts for distributed applications.

Learn more about distributed wind with OpenEI's Small Wind Guidebook, which includes FAQs, wind resource maps, and lists of financial incentives and contacts.

Goals

The Wind Energy Technologies Office aims to maximize stakeholder confidence in turbine performance and safety and improve project performance while reducing installed cost in order to be competitive with retail electric rates and other forms of distributed generation. The office's goals fall under one or both of the following focus areas:

  • Wind Technology Certification: Increase the number of small and medium wind turbine designs certified to performance and safety standards from a 2010 baseline of zero to 40 by 2020.
  • Cost of Energy: Reduce the Levelized Cost of Energy of wind turbine technology used in distributed applications to be competitive with retail electricity rates and other sources of distributed generation.

Wind technology used in distributed applications is an important element of the U.S. wind and energy industries because:

  • The United States is a world leader in the export of small wind turbines, representing significant opportunity to create jobs through growth of domestic and international markets
  • Distributed wind does not require new transmission infrastructure and can take advantage of available capacity on local distribution grids
  • Wind technology used in distributed applications has great potential to compete in residential and commercial retail electricity markets
  • The social and economic benefits from distributed wind projects stay local
  • Grid connected distributed wind energy systems configured for emergency power can provide electricity to the loads they serve during natural disasters.

Research Project Highlights

Below are some of the key research project highlights from the office's distributed wind research. For a comprehensive interactive listing of distributed wind R&D projects being funded by the Wind Energy Technologies Office, see the Wind Energy Technologies Office Projects Map and select Program Area: Distributed Wind.

Testing for Certification

The growth of the international small wind industry has seen a large number of new products enter the U.S. market without a framework for verifying manufacturers' claims about turbine performance, reliability, noise, and safety. In response, the Wind Energy Technologies Office supported the development of technical standards that can now be used voluntarily to test small wind turbines to performance and safety criteria, and helped establish the Small Wind Certification Council, which provides accredited third party verification of test results in accordance with internationally adopted technical standards for testing. Four small wind turbine regional test centers have also been established with support from the office.

The office views small wind turbine certification as a way to provide manufacturers with the parameters for communicating transparent and credible information to consumers, utilities, lenders, and policymakers about the safety, performance, and durability of small wind turbine. A unified list of certified wind turbines is maintained by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

Competitiveness Improvement Project

DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory supports a Competitiveness Improvement Project (CIP) as part of its multifaceted wind energy research portfolio to help the U.S. wind industry develop competitive, high-performance technology for domestic and global energy markets. The CIP aims to help manufacturers of small and mid-size wind turbines improve their turbine design and manufacturing processes while reducing costs and improving efficiency, as well as work toward certification. Certification for these turbines is important because it demonstrates to consumers that they meet performance and safety requirements. Learn more about funded projects in the Competitiveness Improvement Project factsheet.

Distributed Wind News

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Distributed Wind Photo Gallery

For more information about the case studies highlighted this gallery, see the Distributed Wind Photo Gallery.

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