Clean Power US micro wind turbine report

Published on August 11th, 2015 | by Tina Casey


Micro Wind Turbines Still In Play As US Wind Energy Vaults To #1 Worldwide

August 11th, 2015 by  

The US Energy Department is out with two new reports that underscore how rapidly the domestic wind energy sector has become a job-creating force to be reckoned with, despite the efforts of certain state and federal legislators to thwart its growth. Based on some of the comment threads around here when the topic of micro wind turbines pops up, I’m especially interested in the Energy Department’s findings on the growth of the US distributed wind energy market.

US micro wind turbine report

US Wind Energy Vaults Into The Lead

Leaving aside distributed wind energy and micro wind turbines for the moment, the Energy Department’s new 2014 Wind Technologies Market Report (produced by our friends over at LBNL — Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) finds that the utility-scale wind energy sector supported 73,000 jobs in 2014, a huge jump up from the 22,500 jobs the DOE toted up in 2013.

That’s still with a minimal contribution from the aforementioned US offshore wind energy sector, which is only just starting to crank up with the first “steel in the water” for a new wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

While the US is still second in the world in total installed wind capacity at 66 gigawatts, it bested all the others in terms of total wind energy production in 2014. That’s particularly impressive considering that the US has yet to tap its massive offshore wind energy potential.

Corresponding to the growth in wind energy production has been a drop in prices, to the point that wind energy is competitive with conventional sources in many US markets.

According to the report, prices peaked at almost 7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2009, and the power purchase price in 2014 was only 2.35 cents/kWh.

Contrast that with the employment free-fall in the US fossil fuel sector. The natural gas industry is in an uproar because President Obama’s new Clean Power Plan skips right over it in favor of renewable energy. The coal sector has been bleeding jobs in Appalachia for generations primarily due to mechanization along with a very recent clampdown on destructive mountaintop mining practices, and now other coal regions are in jeopardy due to the Plan’s new carbon pollution rules.

As for oil, according to our friends over at FuelFix.comoil companies are making “the deepest cuts in a generation to reassure investors,” and the employment freefall has continued through last month.


What Is A Micro Wind Turbine?

Where were we? Oh, right, micro wind turbines. Despite the doubters, micro wind turbines have been carving out a niche in the wind energy sector, and the Energy Department’s new 2014 Distributed Wind Energy Market Report hints that this is just the beginning.

To be clear, while the micro wind turbine and distributed wind markets overlap, they are not the same thing. Here’s the definition of “distributed” in the new report:

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 turbine or project size. Distributed wind is

1) The use of wind turbines, either off-grid or grid- connected, at homes, farms and ranches, businesses, public and industrial facilities, or other sites to offset all or a portion of the local energy consumption at or near those locations, or

2) Systems connected directly to the local grid to support grid operations and local loads.

To simplify, distributed wind encompasses anything that does not function like a central power plant.

That means a distributed wind site could include gigantic, wind farm–sized turbines as well as “small” wind turbines, defined by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Small Wind Turbine Industry Roadmap as anything from 400 watts (typically used to charge batteries on sailboats) on up through 100 kilowatts.

The new report further defines mid-sized turbines as falling into the range of 101 kilowatts to 1 megawatt. Anything more than 1 megawatt is considered large-scale.

Definitions of “micro” wind turbines vary, but for purposes of comparison, let’s say that they fall squarely within the “small” category.

The Distributed Wind Market Report

The Distributed Wind Market Report (this one comes from our friends at PNNL — Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) covers 74,000 turbines in the US, Puerto Rico, and The Virgin Islands. The total installed capacity hit the 906 MW mark in 2014.

In terms of raw megawatts, micro wind turbines continued to play a small role in the US distributed wind energy picture, compared to larger turbines used in distributed applications.

Large-scale distributed projects in three western states — New Mexico, California, and Texas — pumped up the numbers for turbines greater than 1 megawatt, which accounted for about 90% of overall distributed wind capacity deployed.

Sales of small wind turbines only accounted for 3.7 MW, or roughly 6% of overall distributed wind capacity in 2014. That represents a drop from 5.6 MW in 2013, but I’m thinking that’s not a permanent trend.

The report notes that, while grid-tied applications continued to dominate the distributed wind picture in 2014, off-grid small turbines played an important role:

Off-grid small wind turbine models continue to account for the bulk of wind turbine units deployed in US distributed wind applications. An estimated 83% of turbine units in 2014 distributed wind applications were deployed to power remote homes, oil and gas operations, telecommunications facilities, boats, rural water or electricity supply, and military sites.

The other good news in the report for micro wind turbines — and a hint of future good times — is that the export market for US micro wind/small wind turbines is thriving. Exports accounted for 80% of sales for small wind manufacturers based in the US.

It’s also worth noting that the Energy Department has been pumping more dollars into micro wind turbine R&D designed to push costs down, so it’s possible that the sector could pick up even without the help of proactive state and federal policy.

Though the number of US manufacturers has dropped, it appears that the survivors are in the swim and are primed for an uptick in the domestic market, so stay tuned.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Hans

    The cumulative installed wind power capacity the US was 66 GW in 2014 [1]
    Distributed wind with 0.9 GW is thus 1.3 % of the overall installed capacity.
    Looking at Tina’s graph wind turbines smaller than 100 kW are roughly 10 to 20% of all distributed wind, so less than 0.3% of overall installed wind power capacity. Considering that the capacity factor of small windturbines is considerably less than that of large wind turbines one can only conclude that the contribution of small and micro windturbines to the wind power production probably close to 0.1%.

    This contradicts strongly with Tina’s cheery title.


  • JamesWimberley

    More than half the post covers micro wind turbines, responsible for a princely 3.7 MW overall in 2014: that’s the equivalent of just two full-size turbines. Micro wind is insignificant.

    The notorious 2.35c/kWh for wind PAAs is only representative of the US “interior” (the Plains), as Wiser and Bolinger of the NREL are careful to note. The Great Lakes region is about twice that, and other regions like the NE and West coast even worse.

    • Kyle Field

      Extremely small, yes. Perhaps they only offset a peaker unit or two…but better to have micro wind than a few more peakers… Do what you can, where you can, when you can.

    • eveee

      Isn’t it generally still cheaper than coal at twice 2.35c/kwhr?

      • Aku Ankka

        It seems to depend on who is calculating the cost; official LCOE estimates at suggest that onshore wind would indeed be slightly below hard coal (7c vs 9c). Surprisingly claim is that natgas would be lower than coal (7c); but I assume that would assuming (1) high usage (that is, as base load), (2) natural gas prices remaining low by historical standards.

        Actually estimates there are for 2020, but seem to be close enough to what current prices are; Wikipedia has

        useful comparison of changes in estimates over time; wind cost going down, natural gas, goal fluctuating based on fuel price.

        • eveee

          EIA is outdated and useless. Real new wind is all sub 5c/kwhr PPAs and as Bob has mentioned countless times, PPA does take into account some distribution costs as well. So its not even close. Wind is much cheaper than coal.
          Now its getting cheaper than NG, but the same old CF issues confound the issues. NG CF is a variable, not a constant. I don’t think NG CF is really a function of available time online like base load. Because of merit order and so forth, it often goes idle instead of other base load. But even that is changing.
          Which illustrates another point. Things are fluid and dynamic right now. Looking to the future from todays data, much less a few years old, is bound to be at least somewhat misleading. The cost trend is clear. Coal up. Wind down.

          • Aku Ankka

            No contest here. But I think it is still useful to have a reasonable “single number” costs for comparison, as reasonable approximations.
            Outside of discussion groups like this, many participants just can not or will not consider many variables; and as such it is good to have a general all-around baseline.

            PPAs are great in that they are actual real business; and someone has a skin in the game. I just hope we can get wide coverage that way: finding new PPAs for US coal plants is getting more and more difficult. 🙂
            This is great news overall, but makes comparisons harder to come by.
            Similarly for US offshore wind; there’s not enough data.

          • eveee

            There is a lively discussion on “misleading” stats. PPAs are hard numbers from the world, but you have to know the contract to know how much is convered. Generally, they include more than the theoretical leveled costs. And LCOAs have been erroneously used to argue utility solar is better than rooftop, which ignores the reality of retail rates, for one. Then there is CF willfully misused by RE critics.
            I think the data is there, but most people won’t look and don’t care. Simple figure like CF and LCOA are fine. The problem is understanding and using them properly.

          • Aku Ankka


            So what I am really looking for is just simple, boiled-down cost numbers (never mind “reliabillity”/dispatchability/CF, for now) that are less of “pure garbage”, than numbers picked up from EIA publications.
            As frustrating as it is to have to dumb down statistics (instead of trying to make participants smarter, more diligent), such digests are necessary when engaging in discussions outside sites where many/most participants have at least intermediate understanding of how to interpret numbers.

            Because in absence of better numbers, it does boil down to having to use stuff like what conservative thinkers at EIA produce.

            Anyway sorry to drag the discussion on: I just feel bad for sharing “garbage” data, but not having anything better to share.

          • eveee

            Don’t feel bad. Its a useful discussion and its been coming up more often. Its always possible to contort data. Figures lie, liars figure.

            No big deal.

            But behind all that we want the best, reliable, most easily accessible data.

            Thats probably not a static thing.

            This article is a good example. It explains graphically that wind turbines use a very low percentage (0.1%) of energy for ancillary consumption.

            Conventional sources use anywhere from 2 to 16%.

            The key, IMHO, is context. Perspective. Comparative analysis.

            How much in relation to everything else. The statistics used are less important than how they are used.

            The key to good stats is finding a way to facilitate that.


        • Bob_Wallace

          Those EIA 2020 predictions are pure garbage.

          They are predicting the cost of onshore wind and solar to roughly double over the next five years.

          I wouldn’t advise using any of their numbers.

          • Aku Ankka

            For 2020 I totally agree (it is not a credible as forward-looking estimate), but I thought that for 2015 values do not seem altogether out of reality, for mainland US (outside of mid-west where cost is much lower as has been pointed out), with respect to onshore wind or gas/coal.

            And by 2015 I mean combination of current “estimate” coupled with trajectory from past estimates, as well as other numbers I have seen mentioned.

            Having said that I would like to see better estimates. This just happens to be the easiest one to find, not the least because Wikipedia directly quotes it.

            So what would be better overall comparisons to quote in future? I promise NOT to link to this one in future. 🙂

          • Bob_Wallace

            I can’t point you to a site that has convincing future price predictions. The best we can do, IMO, is to take today’s prices and assume they will continue to fall for a while.

            Unsubsidized wind in the windy parts of the US is now under 4c/kWh. I’ll guess it’s going to drop under 3c in the next few years but can’t put a number to “few”.

            Unsubsidized solar in the sunny parts of the US is now around 6c/kWh. I read knowledgable people in the field talking about ‘best case’ solar moving below 3c/kWh by 2020 or so. Will that happen? I’ll bet on that before I’d bet on prices doubling.

          • Aku Ankka

            Just to be clear: I would be happy with less controversial comparative statistics for current situation, and don’t care that much about future projections. Predicting future is notoriously difficult.
            But it just happens to be that set of projections are closest to (what seemed like) an acceptable overview comparing modes of generation by cost.
            If you (or anyone else) know of statistics that are consistent over ‘main contestants’, for 2015 (or even 2014), that would be very useful as backing evidence for discussion outside of this forum.

            I am not disputing wind numbers presented here, and there have been good discussions, sets of links, here, for both wind and solar. Those are useful.But what seem less available are similar numbers for coal and natural gas (and perhaps diesel), the main competitors.
            Arguing that wind is not expensive (as it is) is only part of the battle; showing that it is cheaper than alternatives, for new generation, is the other part.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The most recent Lazard LCOE analysis (2014, Ver 8.0) is what I use at the moment for price of capacity that might be put into use today.

            I’m putting a crop at the bottom because it’s easier to read in a comment.

            Here’s the link to the entire report.



          • Aku Ankka

            Thank you once again for excellent information here. Much appreciated!

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you find better/more current please share.

  • Martams

    “While the US is still second in the world in total installed wind capacity at 66 gigawatts, it bested all the others in terms of total wind energy production in 2014. ”

    The cumulative installed capacity as shown in the Chart is only 900 MW!!!

    So something is wrong!

    • Larmion

      That chart only shows distributed wind capacity, which means single wind turbines powering a farm or something like that. The vast majority of American (and global) wind capacity comes from large wind farms with dozens of turbines, and that capacity is not included in the chart. So both are right, in fact.

      I do have to admit that Tina’s tangent is confusing. Usually she at least keeps the off-topic stuff for the end of the article, but here it is right in the middle, close to the chart.

  • Matt

    Oh my that chart should make a pro-wind person in US cry. 2013/2014 together are less than any year since 2007. Someone can be proud of killing a lot of jobs. So we will get a rebound in 2015 then crash again in 2016?

    • Frank

      The article mentioned 2.35 cents a KWH. Where? What is average? What can compete with that?

      • Bob_Wallace

        DOE 2014 Wind Technology Market Report. Came out yesterday.

        It’s the average of all reported PPAs signed in the year.

        What can compete with that? Nuclear fantasies….

      • Ronald Brakels

        Their are only two things that can compete with that. The first is rooftop solar and even then you ‘ll need a good installation cost and high enough retail electricity price. And tragically the other thing that can compete is Australia’s paid off, Victorian, brown coal generators; since we no longer have a carbon price. But this amazing result for US wind shows why Australian politicians/coal industry (currently they are the same thing) are so scared of wind power. The cost of black coal is about 2.6 US cents a kilowatt-hour. So if we had a functioning wind industry in this country that got prices down to US levels it would be game over for black coal. (But our brown coal is basically free. That’s why we suck.)

    • Larmion

      That chart does not say anything about total wind installations in the US, just the distributed ones (think a single wind turbine).

      Since most installed capacity comes from large scale wind farms, any data on distributed generation can safely be ignored. Just look at the chart: it peaks at 160MW, whereas the US installs several GW of wind power even in a bad year.

      As for a new crash in 2016: I doubt it. The previous boom and bust cycles were caused by the constant cancellation and reinstatement of the PTC. With luck, the PTC is dead and buried forever now.

      New wind power costs about $0,04/kWh (a 20 year PPA at about $0,025/kWh + a 10 year $0,023/kWh PTC = $0,04/kWh).

      If both Republicans and Democrats would commit to not restoring the PTC, the industry would have the certainty it needs. And at 4 cents/kWh, wind developers would still undercut all renewable and non-renewable alternatives by a significant margin.

      Wind is now a fully mature technology. Time for the government to back off and cast its attention to technologies that are still less mature.

      • CU

        NG, oil and nucelar should also remove the PTC then.

        • Larmion

          None of those get a PTC, but they do get other forms of (mostly implicit) subsidies. These should be removed, as should most subsidies for that matter.

          But even if they stay, it matters little. New coal and nuclear are now uncompetitive even with support, and NG is only competitive in a limited number of markets.

          Onshore wind, unlike most other renewables, is now at a point where it can compete without subsidies, even if alternative electricity sources still get some support. From here on out, the government should simply take its hand off the wheel and let the wind revolution take its course.

          • CU

            ” The incentives include a 2.1 cents/kWh tax credit for the first 6,000 MWe of capacity in the first eight years of operation, and federal loan guarantees for the project cost.” from nuclear Power org.
            NG and oil get tax credit for “hard to exploit” wells, which are every one.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If the government steps out and lets things play out wind (and solar) will replace coal and natural gas. But perhaps not as rapidly as we would like (need).

            We need coal plants closing before they are worn out. We need gas plants running as few hours as possible.

            While the US wind industry is mature in the ‘windy center’ is hardly even started in the Southeast and needs transmission help in the West. And US offshore wind has yet to stand a tower. And we need storage to replace NG.

            We need the government to stay involved and assist. If we had rational Congress we might see some carefully designed legislation helping wind where it needs help.

          • Larmion

            Of course. I never argued offshore wind, storage and other emerging technologies don’t deserve support.

            But onshore wind has now reached a level of technical and commercial maturity comparable to that of big hydro, which gets few if any subsidies.

            Subsidies can be an effective way of building an industry, but they should not be semi-permanent.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Should we remove subsidies for wind and solar while we leave subsidies for coal and nuclear in place?

          • Matt

            Yes, we need government to stop supporting FF. And to add an adjustment for the externals, think Carbon fee and dividend. Then we wouldn’t need a PTC, the “free” market would rush to replace FF with RE. I don’t get why the nuke team isn’t pushing the fee/dividend system, they would benefit also. But I guess they know that the drop direct/indirect subsidy would hurt them the most so are staying quite.

          • eveee

            Wrong. Nuclear gets a PTC. That is if they can build one by 2020. Thats questionable, so you are partially correct.


            The Master Limited Partnerships the oilcos get is an incredible subsidy.

            A few Congressmen noticed the discrepancy and acted to introduce a bill to allow MLP for renewables.


            Oil, gas, and coal need to remove their subsidies right now.

    • I used to routinely see wind turbine blades on over-sized trucks heading to west Texas on I-20 while commuting to work. Once the PTC for new installation starts expired, they became a rare sight. Didn’t cry, but was rather sad.

      I’ve used 100% wind contracts for many years to power our old ranch house – they were even cheaper than natural gas for while, though not at the moment – and am rather proud of our best-in-nation capacity. The last time I drove to Lubbock, I drove over a hill and saw a mesa covered in windmills – took my breath away. I’d love to continue the build out to replace more coal plants.

      While in Iowa this summer, it was pretty cool to see corn / wind farms – the turbines are spaced across the corn fields, surrounded surprisingly close to the turbine bases with corn. A beautiful sight, and a great dual use strategy.

      I’m perfectly content personally to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC) permanently for wind and other non-emissive power generation technologies such as solar and tidal. I would also be fine with a flat or per-kWh charge on electric bills to cover the PTC costs, similar to the current fee for maintaining the grid. You get what you incentivize.

      • Kyle Field

        I love the way you paint wind turbines…it’s crazy to me that people would rather burn coal than to see a few turbines lazily turning in the wind above a cornfield, pastureland, etc. Seems like the stark contrast in the visuals alone would be enough to sway most not even taking into consideration the fact that coal plants belch out toxic gasses that poison people, plants, animals and the planet…

  • Martin

    Are there stat that show the job losses in the FF sector and how is solar, for jobs, doing in the US and other RE systems?

    • eveee

      There is a link above showing 5,100 job cuts to oilfield services, but the details among the direct oilcos is not shown. Chevron and Exxon are cutting back and have worst profits in a long time, while Marathon is losing money.
      Can you say divestment?
      Really, no one has to argue divestment from oilcos because of GHG.
      One can argue divestment because FF are losing the energy endgame to renewables, efficiency, etc.
      And we are switching from direct fuels, to electricity which allows flexible sources. Ultimately, we disconnect the oilco transport monopoly.

      • nakedChimp

        nice reply

    • eveee

      The decline in oilco capex has been predicted based on the increased difficulty and cost of extraction.

      Just as in the video, oilcos have kept dividends, slashed costs and dramatically reduced capex.

      Oil field services are dramatically reduced.

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