Frequently Asked Questions about Wind Energy

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I would like to put up a wind turbine at my house or property. How do I get started?

The basic steps for installing a small wind turbine on your property are:

  1. Determine whether the wind resource in your area makes a small wind system economical;
  2. Determine your household electricity needs by looking at monthly or yearly electricity usage
  3. Find out whether local zoning ordinances will allow wind turbine installations
  4. Purchase and install a wind turbine sized to the needs of your household.

For more information, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions on Small Wind Systems or the small wind section of the WINDExchange website.

The American Wind Energy Association has an online "toolbox" of resources on installing a small wind energy system on your property.

Publications: Small Wind Electric Systems: A U.S. Consumer's Guide.

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How can students learn about wind energy?

The Wind Energy Technologies Office supports the Wind for Schools project, which helps develop a future wind energy workforce by encouraging students at higher education institutions to join Wind Application Centers and serve as project consultants for small wind turbine installations at rural elementary and secondary schools. Wind for Schools project goals are to improve wind energy workforce development through wind-focused deployment and educational activities, introduce teachers and students to wind energy, equip college juniors and seniors with an education in wind energy applications, and engage America’s communities in wind energy applications, benefits, and challenges.

At the university level, the project aims to educate college students in wind energy applications with a focus on hands-on small wind project development through classes and field work. The Wind Application Centers develop and share curricula, with each institution focusing on technical areas that are the strengths of the respective professors and institutions.

The Wind for Schools project works closely with the KidWind Project and the National Energy Education Development Project to provide hands-on, interactive curricula that are supported through teacher training workshops in each of the states. More information about these and other curricula can be found in the Wind for Schools Project Curriculum Brief. The project has also provided teacher training science kits for use in the classroom, as well as links to additional teaching materials.

The following Web sites have additional student-focused information on wind energy, including hands-on activities and lesson plans:

Curricula and Lesson Plans

Websites

Books

Videos

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What funding opportunities are currently available from DOE?

For a list of current opportunities from DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, see our funding opportunities web page. For state-level and other resources, see the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

For other information, including incentives for installing or operating wind energy systems, please see our federal incentives factsheet. For information on grants to develop inventions, see "Where can I get a grant to develop my wind power invention?" below.

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Where can I get a grant to develop my wind power invention?

The Wind Energy Technologies Office focuses primarily on research and development activities to improve the reliability and affordability of wind energy, as well as addressing barriers to wind energy deployment. The Wind Energy Technologies Office prefers to award funding for research and development activities, including research into and development of new inventions, through a competitive solicitation process.

Proposals for research and development of new inventions should be submitted in response to a competitive solicitation in order to be considered for funding. Solicitations are posted on the office’s funding opportunities page when they are available. Future solicitations are dependent on Congressional appropriations to DOE for wind energy research.

DOE also awards competitively-sourced funding for research and development through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and Small Business Voucher Pilot program. Wind energy projects may also qualify for loan guarantees from DOE; for more information, please visit the Web site of the DOE Loan Guarantee Program.

If you are interested in applying for funding, but your project does not fit within the scope of the posted solicitations, you may submit a proposal to DOE's Unsolicited Proposal Office.

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How can I find a job in the wind industry?

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the trade association for the wind industry, has a website on careers in the wind industry that includes job postings from its members and other companies working in the industry. See DOE’s Wind Career Map to chart a path among the wind industry’s broad range of occupations and learn about experience and skills expectations, wage information, and educational requirements.  

For those interested in continuing education for careers in the wind industry, WINDExchange maintains a list of universities and community colleges that offer wind energy training courses.

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How do wind turbines work?

A wind turbine works like a fan, but in reverse: instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, wind turbines use wind to make electricity. The wind turns the turbine's blades, which spin a shaft connected to a generator to make electricity. Take a look inside a wind turbine to see the various parts, or view the wind turbine animation to see how a wind turbine works.

For more information, visit our "How Wind Turbines Work" page and Energy 101 video.

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Do wind turbines kill birds and bats?

All energy supply options can have adverse environmental impacts. Birds and bats are occasionally killed in collisions with wind turbines. However, bird kills are limited to less than 0.02% of the total populations of songbird species, and orders of magnitude less than other causes. (Estimated annual bird mortality rates for collisions with wind turbines are one order of magnitude less than from collisions with communications and other towers, three orders of magnitude less than from collisions with power lines, and three to four orders of magnitude less than from collisions with buildings.) The largest sources of all declining wildlife populations over the past 100 years include declining habitats resulting from the expansion of farming, cities, and towns, and the development of related infrastructure such as roads and power lines.

Over the past two decades, the impact of wind development on birds has been greatly reduced by improvements in turbine design and particularly through improved project and turbine siting. To understand how to avoid, minimize, and mitigate potential impacts from wind development, the Wind Energy Technologies Office has invested in peer-reviewed research for more than 20 years through collaborative partnerships with federal regulatory organizations, the wind industry, and environmental organizations, including the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative and the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative. The wind industry, in partnership with environmental organizations, is also taking action to reduce wildlife impacts through the efforts of the American Wind Wildlife Institute.

For more information, visit our Environmental Impacts and Siting webpage and see sections 2.8.1 and 3.12.3 of the Wind Vision report.

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Where are wind turbines manufactured?

Most of the components of wind turbines installed in the United States are manufactured here. There are 500 wind-related manufacturing facilities located across 41 states, and the U.S. wind industry currently employs more than 101,000 people. For more information and for a map of wind-related manufacturing facilities, see our Wind Manufacturing and Supply Chain web page.

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Where are wind farms located?

There are utility-scale wind farms in 41 U.S. states and distributed wind deployed in all 50 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. For a map of utility-scale installed capacity by state, see WINDExchange. Wind supplies more than 20% of electricity in Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. The United States currently has one offshore wind farm deployed off the coast of Rhode Island.

Globally, the United States ranks second in both installed capacity and electricity generation from wind, behind China. Denmark, Portugal, and Ireland each get more than 20% of their nations’ electricity from wind.

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How much energy comes from wind in the United States?

Wind power supplies about 6% of total U.S. electricity generation with an installed capacity of over 80 gigawatts. That’s enough to power 24 million homes. Wind supplies more than 30% of electricity in Iowa and South Dakota, and more than 10% is twelve other states.

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Is wind power more expensive than other forms of energy?

The average levelized cost of wind power purchase agreements signed in recent years has been 2–3 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the wind resource and the project’s financing. Because the electricity from wind farms is sold at a fixed price over a long period of time (e.g. 20 years) and its fuel is free, wind energy mitigates the price uncertainty that fuel costs add to traditional sources of energy.

In windy areas like the Midwestern United States, wind energy is cost-competitive with building a new natural gas fired power plant, and continued research and development could cut the cost of wind energy in half by 2030, bringing the unsubsidized cost of wind energy below the projected cost of fuel for existing natural gas plants. Wind projects compare favorably with other forms of energy through 2040. For more information on the current state of the wind power market in the United States, refer to the Energy Department’s Wind Technologies Market Report.

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What is wind energy?

Wind energy (or wind power) refers to the process by which wind turbines convert the movement of wind into electricity. Winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and rotation of the earth. Humans use this wind flow for many purposes: sailing boats, pumping water, and also generating electricity. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of the moving wind into electricity.

For more information, visit our "How Wind Turbines Work" page and Energy 101 video.

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What is the wind resource like in my area?

The Wind Energy Technologies Office provides validated, high-resolution state wind maps that show average wind speeds at several different heights above the ground (appropriate for different sized turbines). These maps provide a good overview of a state's wind resources. However, wind resources can vary significantly due to local site characteristics such as trees, hills, and buildings, so you should get a professional evaluation of your specific site before purchasing and installing a wind energy system.

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What kind of sounds do wind turbines produce?

Wind turbines can create two kinds of sound: a mechanical hum produced by the generator and a “whooshing” sound produced by the blades moving through the air. The vast majority of wind turbines are designed so that the turbine is upwind of the tower, which mitigates low-frequency and impulsive sound. The presence of turbine sound depends on atmospheric conditions, and the ability for humans to perceive wind turbine sound varies based on the presence of other nearby sources of sound and site-specific topography. However, the sound pressure levels for modern wind turbines at distances greater than 400 meters are typically less than 40 decibels (dBA), which is comparable to the lowest limit of urban ambient sound.

Depending on the site, proximity to nearby residences, and the permitting regulations, wind farm developers are typically required to address potential sound issues in the permitting process through setback requirements and must demonstrate that the project will comply with the applicable sound level regulations. Setbacks are standards defined to create space between areas of concern and the wind project. Common areas of concern include property lines, inhabited structures, and public roads, as well as communication and electrical lines. Sound requirements create a standard maximum level of allowed sound due to the operation of wind systems. These standards often include a defined method of measuring sound level. 

There are no national or international defined standards for wind turbine setbacks, with many organizations or local governments defining their own standards, typically incorporated into town or county ordinances.  For more information, see the WINDEXchange webpage on wind turbine sound and the list of other resources on OpenEI: Sound

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Do wind turbines impact human health?

Although research to develop sound mitigation techniques is ongoing, as of 2013, global peer-reviewed scientific data and independent studies consistently concluded that sound from wind plants has no direct impact on physical human health. The sound level from wind turbines at common residential setbacks is not sufficient to cause hearing impairment or other direct adverse health effects. Low frequency sound and infrasound from upwind wind turbines are also well below the pressure sound levels and which known health effects occur.

While some wind turbines may cause a shadow flicker when the blades of the turbine pass between the sun and the observer, this effect can only be seen from a distance of less than 1400 meters from the turbine at certain seasons and times of day. Furthermore, when shadow flicker is present, it typically occurs at a frequency of 0.3–1.1 Hertz (Hz), which is well below the threshold known to elicit seizures in those with epilepsy.

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What is the federal government doing to advance wind power?

The Wind Energy Technologies Office sponsors research and development activities to enable greater use of abundant, domestic wind resources for electric power generation that will help stabilize energy costs, enhance energy security, and improve our environment. These activities are conducted through competitively selected, cost-shared research and development projects with industry and are performed in partnership with federal, state, industry, and other stakeholder groups. For more information, see our About the Officeand Key Activities web pages. 

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How are commercial wind farms developed and how can I get a wind farm on my property?

Commercial wind farms are typically built by wind energy developers using private sources of financing. DOE maintains that it is important for energy project developers to engage with the local community, state and local authorities, and other stakeholders early and often in the siting and development process. Before installing turbines, the developer will assess the wind resource at a particular site by collecting meteorological data, determining access to transmission lines, and considering environmental and community impacts.

If sufficient wind resources are found, the developer will secure land leases from property owners, obtain the necessary permits and financing, and purchase and install wind turbines. The completed facility is often sold to an independent operator (called an independent power producer) who generates electricity to sell to the local utility, although some utilities own and operate wind farms directly.

For more information on the wind farm development process, please visit the Web site of the American Wind Energy Association. For information on installing a small wind turbine on your property, see DOE’s Small Wind Systems FAQ and Small Wind Guidebook

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What has been the review and funding process for the Advanced Technology Demonstration Projects for Offshore Wind?

There are currently two projects in the offshore wind demonstration program—the University of Maine and LEEDCo, each of which have received $10.7 million in DOE funding.

Detailed history: DOE’s Advanced Technology Demonstrations Program for Offshore Wind began in 2012 with the selection of seven projects to receive $4 million each in Budget Period 1 to complete preliminary engineering, design, site evaluation, and planning phases of their offshore wind demonstration projects.

In 2014, three of these projects—Dominion, Fishermen's Energy, and Principle Power—were selected to proceed to Budget Period 2, with the Energy Department allocating an additional $6.7 million for each project to complete the final engineering design, permitting, installations, and operations and maintenance plans, and secure a power off-take agreement. In total, these projects have each received $10.7 million.

In addition, two of the projects that were not selected for Budget Period 2 in 2014 were identified as alternate projects: the University of Maine (UMaine) and the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo). These projects would be eligible to enter the demonstration program if funding became available, either by Congress appropriating additional funding or due to the discontinuation of a demonstration project in the program. The Department continued supporting these projects to help them continue to advance their designs and address technical shortcomings. Each alternate project received $3 million in funding in 2014 and $3.7 million in 2016, bringing them each up to $10.7 million total since 2012.

In May 2016, the Energy Department evaluated the full portfolio against established milestones to determine whether any of the three demonstration projects—Dominion, Fishermen's Energy, or Principle Power—should continue as part of the Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration program, and whether either or both of the alternates—the University of Maine or LEEDCo—should be onboarded into the Demonstration program.

Through this evaluation, the Department decided that the Atlantic City Windfarm developed by Fishermen's Energy, Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation's (LEEDCo's) Icebreaker project, and the University of Maine's New England Aqua Ventus I project had demonstrated significant progress toward being successfully completed. The Department continued to support these projects by fully onboarding the University of Maine and LEEDCo projects into the demonstration program, and through a short-term extension requiring Fishermen's Energy to secure a power offtake agreement before the end of 2016. Fishermen's was unable to secure the required power offtake agreement, and is therefore not qualified to move into the next budget period or receive additional funds from DOE for this project.

If all Budget Period 2 criteria are completed, UMaine and LEEDCo will each be eligible to receive an additional $13.3 million for each subsequent performance periods 3–5, bringing the per-project total for all 5 performance periods up to approximately $50 million, with a go/no-go project review occurring between each performance period. 

Learn more about these projects at Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration Projects web page.

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What happens to the electricity supply when the wind isn’t blowing? Does wind need to be "backed up" by other sources of power generation?

The U.S. power grid consists of a huge number of interconnected transmission lines that connect a variety of generation sources to loads. The wind does not always blow and the sun doesn't always shine, which creates additional variability (due to the changing output of wind and solar) and uncertainty (due to the inability to perfectly forecast wind or solar output).

But power grid operators have always had to deal with variability. Other forms of power generation, including traditional thermal generation, can unexpectedly trip off-line without notice; all forms of power generation may sometimes not operate when called upon. There is also uncertainty inherent in the system due to ever-changing load (energy demand) that cannot be predicted perfectly, which power grid operators have always had to manage.

Grid operators use the interconnected power system to access other forms of generation when contingencies occur and continually turn generators on and off when needed to meet the overall grid demand.

Adding variable renewable power to the grid does not inherently change how this process of balancing electricity supply and demand works. Studies have shown that the grid can accommodate large penetrations of variable renewable power without sacrificing reliability, and without the need for "backup" generation.

For more information, see the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Western Wind and Solar Integration Study and Eastern Renewable Generation Integration Study.

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