Wind turbines have been steadily growing taller and sweeping more sky in the quest for high megawatts, and today’s wind power market is dominated by large centralized wind farms. However, the US Energy Department still sees a place for micro wind turbines and distributed wind energy in the nation’s grid. The latest round of funding for distributed wind R&D is a $1.49 million pot, and it’s aimed at the smaller end of the capacity scale.
How small? Depending on who’s doing the defining, the capacity-based definition of “micro” wind turbine can range up to one megawatt. The latest round of funding will go to six projects involving capacities down in the tens-of-kilowatts range.
How Scary Are Small Micro Wind Turbines?
In the not so distant past, the market for micro wind turbines was perceived as a kind of alternative energy Wild West where consumers were at the mercy of unscrupulous dealers who suckered them into multi-thousand dollar investments with hyped up claims for efficiency and energy savings.
So much for the free market. More recently, the US wind industry has worked with the Energy Department and other stakeholders to implement wind turbine standards that level the playing field and weed out the hucksters.
Large wind farms may beat micro wind on cost per kilowatt, but this year’s hurricane season has demonstrated the danger of over-reliance on centralized power sources and long transmission lines.
Anyways, the Energy Department has already developed a national grid plan that includes micro wind turbines and distributed wind energy including turbines down in the five kilowatt range. The agency estimates that theoretically, 49.5 million properties in the US could install micro wind turbines, so there’s that.
In addition to their primary function of producing renewable, zero-emission electricity, micro wind turbines have a high-visibility appeal that attracts commercial customers looking to advertise their green cred or simply add some visual interest to a piece of property.
Okay, So What About The New Round Of Funding?
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at that new R&D funding pot. The total of $1.49 million is small potatoes compared to other recent Energy Department ventures (Vogtle, much?), but in this case a little goes a long way.
The funding comes under the Energy Department’s Distributed Wind Competitiveness Improvement Project for small and medium turbines, which launched in 2013. The previous rounds of funding have already given the agency cause to cheer:
Through five rounds of CIP, DOE has invested more than $5 million. Combined with awardee cost share, CIP-facilitated technology research and development investment totals over $8 million. These distributed wind investments have yielded numerous cost and efficiency improvements, including new small wind turbine designs, quieter and more efficient rotors, injection-molded carbon fiber blades, and power inverters optimized for distributed wind systems.
As for what’s next, the fifth and newest round of funding seeks to cut costs and streamline pathways for testing and certification.
Interestingly, only one of the six new awardees is a familiar face for CleanTechnica. That’s Bergey Windpower. Among other improvements, the Oklahoma-based company is looking to replace concrete turbine towers with a lattice-style, foundation-free design, with the aim of dropping the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of its small wind turbine by 11%.
The other five awards go to:
New Hampshire’s Intergrid Temple, looking at turbine electrical systems for an 11% cut in LCOE.
Vermont’s Northern Power Systems, aiming at a 14% drop focusing on rotor design.
Georgia’s SonSight Wind, focusing on performance and testing for its low speed, 3-kilowatt turbine.
Vermont’s Star Wind Turbines LLC of East Dorset, Vermont, testing a unique 5-blade design for a 10-kW wind turbine with the goal of verifying its LCOE.
Oregon’s Xzeres Wind, going for a big 25% cost drop with a “microgrid-compatible turbine controller engineered for increased performance and integration with emerging distributed energy resource technologies.”
Errrr…About That Wind Thing…
Got any ideas? The Energy Department is already looking forward to the sixth round of turbine funding in 2018.
Here’s the agency enthusing over the program:
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office is committed to a multifaceted distributed wind energy research portfolio to facilitate U.S. wind industry leadership in the development of competitive, high-performance technology for domestic and global markets….Since 2012, and through 5 rounds of CIP, NREL has executed subcontracts that are intended to target these program objectives and increase the competitiveness of U.S. wind turbine technologies in the expanding global market for distributed energy systems…
That’s nice, but Energy Secretary Rick Perry might have some ‘splaining to do once his boss President* Trump — whose antipathy to wind turbines is a matter of public record — catches wind of the plan.
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Photo (cropped): Courtesy of Pika Energy via US Department of Energy.