Small wind turbines are electric generators that utilize wind energy to produce clean, emissions-free power for individual homes, farms, and small businesses. With this simple and increasingly popular technology, individuals can generate their own power and cut their energy bills while helping to protect the environment. The U.S. leads the world in the production of small wind turbines, which are defined as having rated capacities of 100 kilowatts or less, and the market is expected to continue strong growth through the next decade.
Grid-Connected Small Wind Energy Systems
Small wind energy systems can be connected to the electricity distribution system. These are called grid-connected systems. A grid-connected wind turbine can reduce your consumption of utility-supplied electricity for lighting, appliances, and electric heat. If the turbine cannot deliver the amount of energy you need, the utility makes up the difference. When the wind system produces more electricity than the household requires, the excess is sent or sold to the utility.
With this type of grid-connection, the wind turbine will operate only when the utility grid is available. During power outages, the wind turbine is required to shut down due to safety concerns.
Grid-connected systems can be practical if the following conditions exist:
You live in an area with average annual wind speed of at least 10 miles per hour (4.5 m/s)
Utility-supplied electricity is expensive in your area (about 10–15 cents per kilowatt-hour)
The utility's requirements for connecting your system to its grid are not prohibitively expensive
There are good incentives for the sale of excess electricity or for the purchase of wind turbines.
Federal regulations, specifically, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978, or PURPA, require utilities to connect with and purchase power from small wind energy systems. However, you should contact your utility before connecting to its distribution lines to address any power quality and safety concerns. Your utility can also provide you with a list of requirements for connecting your system to the grid.
The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) Connecting to the Grid program provides services and resources to facilitate the development of interconnection procedures and net metering rules for renewable-energy systems and other forms of distributed generation. IREC’s web site serves as an information clearinghouse on interconnection and net-metering issues. For an overview of interconnection standards for distributed generation in your state, reference the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.
Operating off the Grid
For many people, powering their homes or small businesses using a small renewable energy system that is not connected to the electricity grid—called a stand-alone system—makes economic sense and appeals to their environmental values.
In remote locations, stand-alone systems can be more cost-effective than extending a power line to the electricity grid (the cost of which can range from $15,000 to $50,000 per mile). But these systems are also used by people who live near the grid and wish to obtain independence from the power provider or demonstrate a commitment to non-polluting energy sources.
Successful stand-alone systems generally take advantage of a combination of techniques and technologies to generate reliable power, reduce costs, and minimize inconvenience. Some of these strategies include using fossil fuel or renewable hybrid systems and reducing the amount of electricity required to meet your needs.
Your local system supplier or installer, a local renewable energy organization, or your state energy office should be able to help you navigate the requirements in your community.
Source: U.S. DOE
American Wind Energy Association
AWEA offers publications pertaining to the small wind market, including policy documents and the 2011 U.S. Small Wind Turbine Market Report (PDF 3 MB).
Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)
DSIRE is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility, and federal incentives and policies that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Distributed Wind Energy Association (DWEA)
DWEA is a collaborative group comprised of manufacturers, distributors, project developers, dealers, installers, and advocates, whose primary mission is to promote and foster all aspects of the American distributed wind energy industry.
Distributed Wind Policy Comparison Tool
Michigan State University Extension
Climate Change and Local Government: Zoning for Small Wind Energy, Part 1
Climate Change and Local Government: Zoning for Small Wind Energy, Part 2
Montana State University Extension
Small Wind Overview
Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC)
Created in 2009, the SWCC is an independent certification body that can certify small wind turbines that meet or exceed the American Wind Energy Association's Standard 9.1-2009, which can be used to verify the performance, safety, and durability of small wind turbines with swept areas of 200 square meters or less (approximately 65 kilowatts of power capacity and under).
U.S. Department of Energy
The Department of Energy offers several information resources about small wind, including Residential-Scale Wind Resource Maps; the Small Wind Guidebook to help homeowners, ranchers, and small businesses decide if wind energy will work for them; and the 2012 Distributed Wind Technologies Market Report (PDF 7.6 MB). The DOE also recently issued a guidance memorandum to 17 federal agencies recommending that public funds be provided only for certified wind turbines and that local planning officials, utilities, banks, state energy offices and federal agencies adopt certification requirements as a means of protection against untested technologies, unverified claims about turbine performance, and equipment failures.
World Wind Energy Association
The World Wind Energy Association has launched an international small wind platform that includes a buyer's guide, a business directory, and information about certification and testing, policies and standards, and events.
Small Wind World Report 2014 (PDF 2 MB). (March 2014).