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

August 8, 2017

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

This article is part of the Energy.gov series highlighting the “Top Things You Didn’t Know About…” Be sure to check back for more entries soon.

10. 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 municipalities, 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. 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 6 million small wind turbines were installed in the U.S. alone, primarily for water pumping. Read more about the history of wind energy.

8. You can find wind turbines used in distributed applications all across the United States. At the end of 2016, U.S. wind turbines in distributed applications reached a cumulative installed capacity of 992 megawatts (MW) from installations using nearly 77,000 turbines across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

7. A large portion of all wind turbines installed in the United States generate power for on-site or local use. On a unit basis, distributed wind installations account for 65 percent of the roughly 120,000 total wind turbines installed in the United States since 2003 and accounted for about 40 percent of all wind turbines installed in the United States in 2016.

6. In Utah, the U.S. Army is using distributed wind in an effort to generate its own renewable energy on-site. There are two wind turbines at the Tooele Army Depot—including a 1.79-MW model made operational in 2016—that meet 60% of the Army Depot’s energy needs.

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

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

3. As the distributed wind marketplace matures, third parties are providing certification of small and medium wind turbines to ensure turbines perform as advertised. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council lists certified small wind turbines on its website. The Energy Department encourages consumers to purchase certified wind technologies; it should be noted that wind technologies must be installed in specific wind resources to operate as intended.

2. Distributed wind is a homegrown industry that strengthens the domestic economy. U.S.-based small wind turbine manufacturers favor U.S. supply chain vendors which are comprised of hundreds of manufacturing facilities and vendors spread across dozens of states– supporting jobs in manufacturing, retail, construction, and maintenance. Self-reported domestic content levels for individual small wind turbines installed in the United States in 2016 ranged from 80% to 100%, and on an aggregate level U.S.-based companies provided 98% of the small wind turbines installed in the United States in 2016. For more information on the U.S. distributed wind market, check out the 2016 Distributed Wind Market Report.  

1. Distributed wind contributes to the growth of U.S. exports. At 10.3 MW and an estimated value of $62 million, U.S. manufacturers of small wind turbines posted another solid year of exports in 2016, a level comparable to 2014. Between 2014 and 2016, U.S.-based small wind turbine manufacturers accounted for more than $240 million in small wind turbine export sales. 

Learn More

Check out the 2016 Distributed Wind Market Report to learn about the growing distributed wind industry.

Explore more wind facts in our Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About Wind.

Visit energy.gov/windreport to learn more about the changes to the wind industry in 2016.