The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released a new report showing that with more aggressive technology cost reductions and higher consumer adoption, 3.9 GW of behind-the-meter distributed wind could be deployed in the U.S. by 2030, and 20 GW could be deployed by 2050.
According to the DOE, distributed wind differs from utility-scale wind in that it is installed at or near the point of end use to meet on-site demand, such as at a farm, industrial or manufacturing facility, or rural home. Titled “Assessing the Future of Distributed Wind: Opportunities for Behind-the-Meter Projects,” the report quantifies the size of the resource and the economic and market potential for locally produced, clean distributed wind energy at homes and businesses nationwide.
Although utility-scale wind capacity has grown more than six-fold over the past decade to its current capacity of more than 75 GW, growth in distributed wind has been more modest and currently supplies only about 1 GW of U.S. capacity, the department says.
The report, which was commissioned by the DOE and authored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, focuses on grid-connected projects that are located on the customer side – also known as behind-the-meter systems. The department notes that distributed wind can also be connected in front of the meter or used in remote, off-grid applications, but these potential opportunities are not assessed in this report.
The DOE assessment finds that behind-the-meter, distributed wind systems are technically feasible for approximately 49.5 million residential, commercial and industrial sites. The overall maximum resource potential for distributed wind turbines of less than 1 MW in size is estimated at 3 TW of capacity, or 4,400 TWh of generation – more electricity than the U.S. consumes in a year.
Larger megawatt-scale distributed turbines could provide an additional 5.1 TW of capacity, or 14,000 TWh of annual energy generation, but in some cases, this megawatt-scale resource potential overlaps with areas that would also be suitable for utility-scale (non-distributed) wind development.
Considering “business-as-usual” economics and consumer behaviors, the report authors estimate potential future deployment levels of 1.5 GW of cumulative distributed wind capacity by 2030 and 3.7 GW by 2050. The DOE says achieving this level of deployment would represent a 300% increase in the market by 2030 and three doublings of cumulative capacity by 2050.
Yet, if technology costs can be reduced significantly through additional research and development, or if new business models make distributed wind systems easier for consumers to purchase and install, deployment could actually be much higher – the report noting the possibility of 3.9 GW of distributed wind to be deployed by 2030 and 20 GW by 2050.
“Solar has received tremendous federal and state support over the last three decades. This new DOE report shows that a more modest set of similar programs aimed at distributed wind could yield huge benefits – particularly since this is ‘made-in-America’ equipment,” says Jennifer Jenkins, executive director of the Distributed Wind Energy Association (DWEA).
“This report is timely because the Congress has the opportunity over the next few weeks to fix an omission in last year’s spending bill that provided a five-year extension of solar tax credits but did not do the same for small wind,” says Mike Bergey, president of DWEA. “Hopefully, we won’t be giving tax credits for imported solar modules that aren’t available to small wind systems built in America. This new report shows that we’d be throwing away lots of U.S. manufacturing jobs.”
This analysis finds that distributed wind has the potential to play a significant role in the U.S. electricity sector. According to the DOE, continued efforts to reduce the costs of distributed wind technologies and improve turbine performance will be crucial to realizing this potential. Increasing access to low-cost capital; facilitating consumer adoption; and standardizing site assessment, project development and installation processes could also be important drivers.