DOE: Big Potential for Growth of Distributed Wind Energy Systems

December 7, 2016

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a first-of-its-kind assessment of the potential growth of future distributed wind energy in the U.S. through 2050. Distributed wind differs from utility-scale wind in that it is installed at or near the point of end-use to meet on-site demand, such as at a home, school, industrial or manufacturing facility, or other business.

The report, Assessing the Future of Distributed Wind: Opportunities for Behind-the-Meter Projects, quantifies the size of the resource as well as the economic and market potential for locally produced, clean distributed wind energy at homes and businesses nationwide. While utility-scale wind capacity has grown more than six-fold over the past decade to its current capacity of more than 75 gigawatts (GW), growth in distributed wind energy has been more modest and currently supplies only about 1 gigawatt (GW) of U.S. capacity.

The new report, commissioned by DOE and authored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, focuses on grid-connected projects that are located on the customer side, also known as behind-the-meter systems. Distributed wind energy can also be connected in front of the meter or used in remote, off-grid applications, but these potential opportunities are not assessed in this report.

The report shows that behind-the-meter, distributed wind systems are technically feasible for approximately 49.5 million residential, commercial, and industrial sites. The overall maximum resource potential for distributed wind turbines of less than 1 megawatt (MW) in size is estimated at 3 terawatts (TW) of capacity or 4,400 TW-hours (TWh) of generation, which is more electricity than the United States consumes in a year. Larger megawatt-scale distributed turbines could provide an additional 5.1 TW of capacity or 14,000 TWh of annual energy generation, but in some cases this megawatt-scale resource potential overlaps with areas that would also be suitable for utility-scale (non-distributed) wind development.

Assessing the Future of Distributed Wind: Opportunities for Behind-the-Meter Projects is available on the DOE Web site. For further information, visit DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office Web page or the Department’s Distributed Wind page.