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U.S. DOE Releases First Market Report Focusing on Distributed Wind

August 21, 2013

Audio with Alice Orrell, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory energy analyst. (MP3 3.2 MB). Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:03:30.

When most people think of wind power, they probably picture large, centralized wind projects with long rows of wind turbines. But Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Energy Analyst Alice Orrell says that image is incomplete. Orrell says many wind turbines installed in the United States are used in distributed applications. She says distributed wind can be some people's first exposure to wind energy, introducing communities, schools, and businesses to wind energy and paving the way for larger projects.

"Distributed wind is defined in terms of technology application based on a wind project's location relative to end use and power distribution infrastructure rather than on technology size or project size. Distributed wind systems are connected either on the customer side of the meter to meet the on-site load, or directly to the local grid to support grid operations or offset large loads nearby. So, distributed wind is not wholesale power generated at large wind farms, sent over transmission lines and sub-stations for subsequent distribution to distant end users."

The U.S. Department of Energy recently completed the 2012 Market Report on Wind Technologies in Distributed Applications to capture this aspect of wind power. The Energy Department has market reports focused on other aspects of wind, but Orrell says this is the first report to focus on distributed applications.

"At the end of 2012, U.S. wind turbines in distributed applications reached a 10-year, cumulative install capacity of more than 812-megawatts for more than 69,000 units across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2012 alone, nearly 3,800 wind turbines were installed, totaling 175-megawatts of distributed wind capacity. The fact that there are distributed wind projects in every state is significant because some states, such as some in the southeast, do not have any large wind farms, but all states have some form of distributed wind project."

The value of on-site wind generation and providing a hedge against possible electricity price uncertainty is recognized across all wind applications, according to Orrell. She says sharing in wind—either by using power on-site or providing land for a distributed project to support a local grid—is an investment for those in rural America.

"A good example of a rural leader in distributed wind is Iowa. As a result of multiple projects using utility-scale turbines, Iowa deployed the most new overall distributed wind capacity, 37-megawatts, in 2012. And overall Midwest utility-scale distributed wind markets fared well in 2012, driven by farmer prosperity with high commodity prices and good financing available from local banks. And also in Iowa, the projects were aided by their state tradable tax credit and some other incentives, such as those from the USDA Rural Energy for America Program that gives grants."

Orrell points out the U.S. distributed wind energy supply chain is a homegrown industry that supports the domestic economy. She says there are more than three dozen different facilities across 17 states in the nation supporting manufacturing, retail, construction, and maintenance jobs. In addition, Orrell says nine of the top 10 models of all turbines installed in 2012 in distributed applications on a unit basis were manufactured in the U.S.