U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Wind Program

Distributed Wind

The Wind Program's activities in wind technologies 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.

Photo of a turbine behind a school.

This turbine was constructed at the McGlynn school complex in Medford, Massachusetts.
Credit: Northern Power Systems

What is Distributed Wind?

The Wind Program 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 size. The following wind system attributes are used by the Wind Program 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, 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 a multi-megawatt turbine at a manufacturing facility. 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 Wind Program'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 Program 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 Wind Program's goals fall under one or both of the following focus areas:

  • Wind Technology Certification: Increase the number of small 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 national average retail electricity rates by 2020.

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

These are some of the key research project highlights from the program's distributed wind research.

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 Program 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 Wind Program. The program 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 Clean Energy States Alliance.

Photo of a small wind turbine on a farm.

A 10 kilowatt Bergey Excel turbine.

Competitiveness Improvement Project

DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory supports a Competitiveness Improvement Project (CIP) to expand and revitalize U.S. leadership in domestic and international distributed wind markets by helping U.S. manufacturers lower the cost of energy from their turbines.

In January, 2013, the Wind Program announced CIP awards of $150,000 each to two U.S. companies, Maine's Pika Energy and Oklahoma's Bergey Windpower Company. Bergey's award will help the company identify component improvements that will optimize its Excel 10 turbine technology for increased performance and reduced cost. Turbine upgrades over the course of the year will dictate what testing must be done to maintain the turbine's certification. Pika Energy plans to use its award to develop an advanced blade manufacturing process, which should reduce the cost of energy for its turbines. Though Pika's turbine technology is still under development, the company is dedicated to getting its design certified as part of the commercialization process.