The market for small and medium wind energy installations through the next decade is expected to total more than 3.2 GW, according to new analysis from Navigant Research, but only if the market can reduce costs and survive post-government incentives.
Small and medium wind energy is defined as turbines less than 500 kW in capacity, a market primarily led by agriculture, though “microgrids and wind-solar hybrid systems continue to draw interest in the telecom, defense, and remote-off-grid applications”, though Navigant allows that these “projects are still limited.”
Growth has come courtesy of feed-in tariff policies in the UK and “growing demand for distributed generation in general”, but the US market is struggling due to a sudden lack of government incentives to prop the industry up.
Annual Small and Medium Wind System Installed Capacity by Region, World Markets: 2014E-2023
“The overall outlook for the small and medium wind market in each country will be determined by whether the industry can reduce costs and survive outside of government subsidies,” says Dexter Gauntlett, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “While agriculture remains the primary customer type for small and medium wind power, several providers have found success displacing diesel in remote locations, sometimes in conjunction with solar PV systems as part of microgrids.”
One particular bright spot has been the development of wind lease programs, similar to those that have been so successfully deployed for small solar systems. However, the inherent catch is that solar PV lease programs are more appealing, and come with the backing of “tens of billions of public and private dollars invested in the research, development, and deployment” of these solar PV systems. Given the choice, agriculture may look towards solar, when before they looked to small and medium wind.
Nevertheless, as Navigant Research point out, “wind still offers unique advantages”. A higher capacity than solar PV makes it the obvious choice in strong wind locations, and they provide reliable energy generation at remote locations such as telecom base-stations in the developing world, military applications, and marine settings — both recreational and industrial.