US Energy Dept. Still Believes That Small Wind Turbines Are Da Bomb

Source: By Tina Casey, CleanTechnica • Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The renewable energy spotlight shines brightest on the latest crop of supersized wind turbines and gigantic wind farms, but the small wind sector still has a chance to plant its flag on the US energy landscape. In the latest development, the Energy Department is readying another round of funding aimed at accelerating cutting edge technology for distributed wind energy.

The funding program is relatively small compared to other federal energy programs — for example, a 2014 round in the same program totaled a measly $1.3 million — but a little goes a long way in the small turbine field.

wind energy small renewables distributed

More $$$ To Keep Small Wind Out Of The Doldrums

To be precise, “small” in this article is shorthand for the small to mid-sized turbine field.

The Energy Department defines those categories by the size of the area swept by the turbine blades. Together, that would include turbines with a swept area of under 1,000 square meters.

The Energy Department puts both small and mid-sized turbines in the distributed energy category (large turbines that generate power for a facility on site can also be considered part of the distributed energy sector).

The new round of funding comes under the annual Distributed Wind Competitiveness Improvement Project of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The CIP mission is to help small turbine manufacturers keep pushing the technology window:

The CIP helps manufacturers address barriers like outdated technology and increasing hardware costs, preventing the stagnation of the domestic market for distributed wind systems.

The US domestic small wind sector has a lot of room to grow in the US. CIP aims to build up the export market as well:

Maintaining U.S. market leadership, both domestically and internationally, requires next-generation wind turbine technologies…

The problem is that R&D costs big bucks and small turbines are, well, small.

That’s where your tax dollars go to work. CIP funding helps manufacturers offset their R&D costs, from concept to prototype testing and on to commercial specs.

So, group hug for US taxpayers.

A Little Goes A Long Way

The CIP program is relatively modest, but NREL has already racked up some success stories. Here’s a rundown from the lab:

Northern Power Systems of Barre, Vermont, achieved a 15% increase in annual energy production by improving aerodynamics and lengthening the blade design for their new “C Series” blades, currently manufactured by two U.S. suppliers

Pika Energy of Westbrook, Maine, demonstrated a novel injection-molding process for producing high-performance wind turbine blades, reducing blade costs by 90% compared to conventional hand-laid composite blades of comparable quality.

Intergrid developed the first wide-band, gap-based inverter designed for wind applications of up to 25 kilowatt on a single-phase system.

Wetzel Engineering developed a new approach to adding larger, pitch-controlled rotors to wind generators designed for stall control, resulting in a 28% increase in production and a 15% reduction in the turbine’s levelized cost of energy.

Good work, guys!

If you were hoping to get in on this round of funding, unfortunately the May 9 deadline for submitting proposals has come and gone.

But, there’s always next year.

If that sounds a little optimistic considering the Trump budget ax, maybe so. However, unlike his counterpart over at EPA, Energy Secretary Rick Perry seems determined to keep his agency fully funded and firing away on all pistons when it comes to decarbonization.

Small Turbines Rising

CleanTechnica periodically dips a toe in the small turbine waters, but the last such overview was back in 2013, so it’s well past time for an update.

The small turbine market gets short shrift from some industry observers, but when you look at them in the context of distributed energy systems and microgrids the financials begin to make more sense.

CleanTechnica has also noted that small wind turbines don’t have to be particularly efficient to add value to a facility. Ford, for example, has dabbled in onsite turbines at dealerships that display its logo, and the number of sports arenas festooned with turbines is growing.

At last month’s 13th annual Small Wind Conference in Minnesota, NREL’s contributed a presentation titled “A Successful Small Wind Future: There Is Great Potential.”

So, stay tuned.