Powering Strong Communities

Benefits of Distributed Wind Generation Detailed in Report

Despite a recent decline in installations, distributed wind energy generation can provide value and benefits for many communities, according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which says its data can help show communities the benefits of distributed wind.

Even though small-wind-turbine manufacturers have seen increased interest in microgrids and hybrid systems that pair wind energy with other renewable energy sources, like solar panels and energy storage, newly distributed wind energy capacity dropped from about 22 megawatts in 2020 to 12 megawatts in 2021, according to national laboratory researchers.

The researchers partially attributed that decline to a lack of knowledge about distributed wind energy’s value in terms of economic benefits, grid services, reliability and resilience, and energy security. They noted, however, that a Department of Energy program can help fill some of those knowledge gaps.

In 2018, the Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office began the Microgrids, Infrastructure Resilience, and Advanced Controls Launchpad project to evaluate how communities could safely, effectively, and efficiently integrate wind energy into distribution, islanded, hybrid, or microgrid systems.

The program was a collaborative effort of researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Idaho National Laboratory.

The researchers found that distributed wind energy generation can provide a variety of value streams, ranging from bulk energy services to societal impacts such as energy resilience and more cost-effective energy systems. The values depend on ownership, system configuration and whether the energy is distributed to individual homes or to the grid, the researchers said.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers designed a framework to estimate distributed wind energy’s actual value across a range of case studies and scenarios. National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia members of the team examined advanced controls that can compensate for, or even forecast, changes in wind speeds to improve the wind turbine operations. Idaho National Laboratory researchers looked at how distributed wind energy could provide greater reliability and resilience to communities that experience extreme weather events and also evaluated the potential threat cyberattacks might pose to distributed wind energy systems.

The researchers found that coupling distributed wind energy with solar power and energy storage can enhance consistency in power generation. “Compared to solar power, distributed wind energy provides a different generation profile that can potentially serve customers better both on its own and in hybrid systems,” Caitlyn Clark, a researcher at National Renewable Energy Laboratory and lead investigator for the project, said in a statement.