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Small and Distributed Wind Turbine Research

A distributed wind farm in Wisconsin at sunset.

Photo by Todd Spink

The objectives of NREL's small and distributed wind research is to increase consumer confidence in and the number of certified small wind turbines on the market through certification testing, to improve performance, and to reduce installed costsĀ  so that wind can compete in the retail electric market with other forms of distributed generation. Distributed wind applications include turbines installed at residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial, and community sites and distributed wind turbines can range in size from 5 kilowatts to several megawatts.



Design methods, tools, and standards: NREL researchers have developed numerous freely available computer-aided engineering tools to assist in small wind turbine development. Algorithms and programs exist for simulating, designing, and analyzing the energy performance of many aspects of small and distributed wind, from turbine rotors to turbulence to overall wind farm performance.

Manufacturing and supply chain: NREL supports industry partnerships and targeted research that integrates new designs, materials, and processes into manufacturing, thus making small wind turbines and distributed wind energy a more affordable source of renewable energy for communities around the country.

Resource characterization, forecasting, and maps: Wind mapping and validation techniques developed at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) in collaboration with U.S. companies have produced high-resolution maps of the United States for both small and large distributed wind turbine applications to that provide developers with accurate estimates of the wind resource potential.

Siting considerations: NREL, in partnership with the DOE, Encraft, and the Cadmus Group Inc., has developed the Distributed Wind Site Analysis Tool for users who wish to install distributed wind systems. This tool allows users to input location and terrain information about a potential wind system site in the United States and predict the energy output and environmental benefits of that site.

Technology development: NREL supports continued market expansion of small wind turbines by funding manufacturers through competitive solicitations (i.e., subcontracts and/or grants) to refine prototype systems leading to commercialization.


A series of small wind turbine with black blades spinning in the wind

Photo by Southwest Windpower

Dynamometer test facilities: The NWTC's 225 kW dynamometer offers drivetrain testing for small and residential wind turbines to verify performance before and after commercialization.

Structural test facilities: NREL's Structural Testing Laboratory at the NWTC provides space for assembling components and turbines for atmospheric testing and features a small blade test stand ideal for testing the strength and performance of the blades designed for small and midsized wind turbines.

Field test sites: Manufacturers can take advantage of NREL's numerous test pads and the technical expertise of its staff to field test prototypes of small wind turbines. Many of the small wind turbines tested at the NWTC are participants in NREL's Small Wind Turbine Independent Test Program.

Regional test centers: DOE and NREL subsidize the certification testing of two small wind turbines at Regional Test Centers (RTCs) and provide technical assistance as needed during the testing process. The goal is for the RTCs to be self-sustaining, independent entities that are capable of providing certification testing services to the small wind turbine industry.

Scaled Wind Farm Technology Facility (SWiFT): SWiFT carries out studies to improve the efficiency of wind farms in areas including wake energy loss, wake-induced loads, advanced rotor development, turbine control in wind farms, and advanced sensing.


Standards: The suite of tests conducted on small wind turbines includes acoustic noise emissions, duration, power performance, power quality, safety, and function. Tests are performed to International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards and in compliance with NREL's A2LA-accredited Quality Assurance (QA) system.

Competitive Improvement Project (CIP): Through the CIP, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NREL fund projects by Pika Energy, Northern Power Systems, Endurance Wind Power, and Urban Green Energy that will help drive down the cost of small and medium-sized wind energy systems.

Field Verification Project: The Field Verification Project provided small wind turbine manufacturers with opportunities to operate and monitor their turbines under a range of distributed power applications and environments throughout the United States.

Independent Testing Project: One of the barriers for the small wind market has been the lack of small wind turbine systems that are independently tested and certified. To help industry provide consumers with more certified small wind turbine systems, NREL and the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Independent Testing project in 2007.


Robert Preus
Jason Cotrell