U.S. Distributed Wind Energy Potential Can Meet Half of National Electricity Demand

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NREL’s Distributed Wind Energy Futures Study informs wind developers, grid planners, utilities, policymakers, and other stakeholders about opportunities for widespread U.S. distributed wind deployment in 2035.

The Distributed Wind Energy Futures Study, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, used highly detailed data and new modeling techniques to identify locations with the highest potential for distributed wind energy of all forms. The findings can help communities transition to a clean energy future.

The study focused on the impact of wind technology cost and performance, policy, and siting conditions on economic potential. NREL also modeled opportunities for distributed wind in disadvantaged communities.

About Distributed Wind

Distributed wind energy refers to wind technologies deployed as distributed energy resources. These technologies are place-based solutions that support individuals, communities, and businesses transitioning to carbon-free electricity.

Distributed wind can be placed in behind-the-meter applications, where the system directly offsets a specific end user’s consumption of retail electricity supply, or in front-of-the-meter applications where the system is interconnected to the distribution network and provides community-scale energy supply while bolstering the robustness, reliability, and resiliency of the local distribution network. Distributed wind installations can range from a less than-1-kW off-grid wind turbine that powers telecommunications equipment to a 10-MW community-scale energy facility. See the Department of Energy’s website for more information about distributed wind.

Parcel-Level Modeling for Detailed Insights

For the Distributed Wind Energy Futures Study, NREL added new, higher-resolution data and modeling capabilities to its Distributed Wind (dWind) model. dWind is a module within the Distributed Generation Market Demand (dGen™) model suite.

NREL added real-world dimensions for 150 million parcels of property in the United States to size turbines for those locations. NREL also improved the model to consider front-of-the-meter wind systems.

dWind also now considers more community-scale distributed wind applications that could participate in the wholesale electricity market and a broader swath of payment schemes. In addition, NREL modeled the potential of distributed wind and solar in parcels of property in communities with high risk to environmental hazards or high proportions of low-income households. dWind will be open-sourced as part of dGen in 2022.

Front-of-the-Meter Wind

Baseline 2022 Scenario

The economic potential of front-of-the-meter wind applications in 2022. Oklahoma, Nebraska, Illinois, Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York, Montana, and New Mexico have the highest potential.

Behind-the-Meter Wind

Baseline 2022 Scenario

The economic potential of behind-the-meter wind applications in 2022. Texas, Minnesota, Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma, Indiana, South Dakota, North Dakota, New Mexico, and Kentucky have the greatest economic potential.

What NREL Learned

High Economic Potential, Particularly Under the Right Cost, Siting, and Policy Conditions

NREL finds distributed wind has nearly 1,400 GW of economic potential today. This is the total resource potential that, if deployed, would have a positive return on investment. The economic potential could be multiple terawatts in 2035. However, the future potential depends heavily on low-cost wind financing and improved performance, relaxed siting constraints, and future policy support.

Trends Across Regions With the Highest Potential

NREL finds the regions with the highest potential for distributed wind tend to have a combination of high-quality wind, relatively high electricity rates for behind-the-meter applications, higher wholesale power rates for front-of-the-meter applications, and siting availability.

The Midwest and Heartland regions have the overall highest potential for distributed wind. The Pacific and Northeast regions have significant potential for expansion of behind-the-meter distributed wind deployments. States with the most near-term potential for behind-the-meter applications include Texas, Minnesota, Montana, Colorado, Indiana, and Oklahoma. States with the most near-term potential for front-of-the-meter applications include Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and South Dakota.

Significant Economic Potential in Disadvantaged Communities

Disadvantaged communities represent 43% of all suitable U.S. parcels for front-of-the-meter distributed wind in the United States and 47% of all suitable U.S. parcels for behind-the-meter wind. There are significant opportunities to expand distributed wind in these communities through 2035, particularly for behind-the-meter deployments in Texas, Montana, Michigan, and New Mexico.

Technical Review Committee

NREL consulted with an independent technical review group for the Distributed Wind Energy Futures Study. This body of industry, consulting, and national laboratory experts served as a source of empirical project data, analysis peer reviewers, and independent subject matter expertise.


Distributed Wind Energy Futures Study, NREL Technical Report (2022)

Assessing the Future of Distributed Wind: Opportunities for Behind-the-Meter Projects, NREL Technical Report (2016)

Article courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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