Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Distributed Wind Power

October 24, 2022
Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Brush up on your distributed wind knowledge! The following are some key points and fun facts about the U.S. distributed wind market. This article is part of the series highlighting the “Top Things You Didn’t Know About Energy.”

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

10. What is distributed wind power?

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 distributed energy providers, 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.

9. How long has distributed wind power been around?

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 six million small wind turbines were installed in the U.S. alone, primarily for water pumping. Read more about the history of wind energy.

8. Where can distributed wind be found?

You can find wind turbines used in distributed applications all across the United States, with 89,000 wind turbines across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. From 2003 to 2021, US distributed wind turbines reached a cumulative installed capacity of 1,075 megawatts.

7. Who uses distributed wind?

There are many different types of distributed wind consumers, including agricultural, residential, industrial, commercial, governmental, institutional, and utility. Different turbines are deployed to meet the specific needs of each consumer. Agricultural and residential customers make up 71% of all distributed wind projects, but only 12% of the installed capacity in 2021 because they tend to use small turbines. Conversely, utilities, which tend to use larger turbines, account for 6% of projects but make up 56% of the installed capacity.

6. What types of turbines exist?

Some distributed wind projects use multimegawatt turbines to power manufacturing facilities and other industrial plants, like the 5 MW installation in Minnesota in 2020 to power a biofuel production plant and the 2021 installation of 2.72 MW in Kansas to power an ethanol plant.

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.

5. Does faster wind mean more power?

Faster wind speeds mean more electricity. Wind speeds at 30 meters above the ground–an average height for distributed wind installations–can be found across the country. Check out this residential-scale wind resource map to see how strong the winds are in your area.

4. Why use distributed wind?

Reducing utility bills and hedging against potentially rising electricity rates are common reasons for installing distributed wind. In addition, many utilities compensate the distributed wind (or other generation) owner for excess energy generated that gets returned to the grid—a practice called “net metering.”

3. Is distributed wind reliable?

As the distributed-wind marketplace matures, third parties are providing certification of small and medium wind turbines to ensure turbines perform as advertised. Bergey WindPower’s Excel 15 wind turbine achieved certification in 2021, bringing the total number of U.S. certified small wind turbine models as of July 2022 to seven. The U.S. Department of Energy encourages consumers who are interested in purchasing small wind turbines to buy ones that are certified to the AWEA 9.1-2009, or ACP 101-1 standard. It should be noted that wind technologies must be installed in specific wind resources to operate as intended.

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

2. How does this effect the economy?

Distributed wind is a homegrown industry that strengthens the domestic economy. Supply chain vendors provide the mechanical, electrical, tower, and blade components for small wind turbines. In 2021, U.S.-based manufacturers sold 1,742 small turbines, representing a $9.2 million investment. U.S.-based small wind turbine manufacturers favor U.S. supply chain vendors which are comprised of hundreds of manufacturing facilities and vendors that support jobs in manufacturing, retail, construction, and maintenance.

1. How will the economy grow?

Distributed wind contributes to the growth of U.S. exports. Since 2012, 72 MW of U.S. small wind turbines have been exported to at least 26 different countries representing a value of over $420 million.

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