Thanks to a report released earlier this month, we now have a clearer picture of the small wind market.  The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released its first annual market report on wind technologies used in distributed applications, the most comprehensive analyses of the U.S. distributed wind energy market ever published. The report was compiled through a collaborative effort by DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, eFormative Options, the American Wind Energy Association, and the Distributed Wind Energy Association.

The report covers distributed wind energy systems that range in size from a few hundred watts to several megawatts (MW), and those that are installed behind the meter or connected directly to the local grid.

According to the report, the U.S. market for small wind systems saw 18.4 MW of new capacity in sales in 2012, representing nearly 3,700 turbines and $101 million in investment. Including 2012 sales, the U.S. now has 216 MW of cumulative U.S. small wind turbine capacity, representing more than 155,000 total units sold since 1980.

On a unit basis, small wind turbines comprised 35% of all 2012 U.S. wind installations (both in distributed and non-distributed applications). Because most utility-scale wind turbines are installed in multi-turbine wind farms, small wind turbines represent 95% of distinct wind project locations.

There are 32 small wind turbine suppliers with a U.S. sales presence.  They reported 2012 sales of 74 wind turbine models worldwide, 57 of which are in the United States. The majority (46%) of these models are rated 1 to 10 kW.  About a quarter of these models are rated less than1 kW, and the remaining 30% are rated 11 kW to 100 kW. Most small wind systems are installed on self- supporting lattice and guyed monopole towers, with an average hub height of more than 30 meters.

The report states that, while the overall number of small wind turbines sold is down, the size of the turbines is increasing. Half as many small wind turbines were sold in 2012, compared to 2011, but the capacity sold was only down 3%. (Revenues declined by 12% for the year.) Most of the decrease in sales is in the smallest turbines. Sales of wind turbines less than 1 kW decreased 63% on a capacity basis and 52% on a unit basis. Turbines sized 11 to 100 kW declined by 4% on a unit basis, but increased by 21% on a capacity basis.

The authors examine differences between the off-grid and grid-tied markets, which are behaving quite differently. While the capacity of off-grid wind turbines fell off by about 37% from 2011, the capacity of grid-tied small turbines installed in 2012 is relatively similar to the year before. The average size of grid-tied small wind turbines increased from 5.8kW to 17 kW.

Nearly three quarters of small wind sales in 2012 were for off-grid use, up from 59% the year before.  At the same time, the total electrical capacity that these installations can generate has fallen off sharply, from 41% in 2007 to 9% in 2011, to just 5% in 2012. The leading off-grid applications are telecommunications, commercial back-up power, residential, rural electricity and water, and military sites.

Small wind turbine manufacturers reported that most of the energy produced by their turbines in 2012 was consumed onsite, behind the meter. Several reported that a large portion of their sales went through third parties. Farms, small businesses, and schools were noted as important markets, and a few small wind manufacturers cited strong sales in remote net-metered applications and hybrid systems.

Nevada, Iowa, Minnesota, Alaska, and New York led the states in installing the most small wind capacity in 2012.  A total of 16 states currently have more than 2 MW each of small wind turbines in distributed applications. With nearly 8 MW of small wind turbines installed in 2012, Nevada deployed the most small wind capacity for the year, considerably more than historical leaders Iowa, Minnesota, and California.

U.S. small wind turbine manufacturers exported 8 MW to foreign markets in 2012—primarily serving European feed-in tariffs (FITs), and to a lesser role, telecom, and wind-diesel applications. More than half of all 2012 U.S. small wind turbines were exported, an increase over 2011.  Exports exceeded domestic demand for the second year in a row for all four of the leading North American small wind manufacturers. However, strong international competition cut into U.S. small wind exports, which were down nearly 50% from 2011.

Most small wind turbines installed in the U.S. in 2012 are owned by homeowners, farmers and other individuals, followed by corporate, commercial, industrial, and non-taxed entities (e.g., local governments and schools).  These customers were primarily motivated to reduce their utility bills, but also were affected by concerns over future utility rate increases caused by rising gas and coal prices, and the availability of state incentives. To a lesser degree, customers expressed interest in being environmentally responsible and reducing pollution (including carbon).

To view the report in its entirety, click here.

Source: DOE

Image: Robin & Duncan Ross/ Arrowhead Spring Vineyards via NREL Image Gallery