Since their inception in 2013, CIP awards have helped pave the way for an increase in domestic and international use of distributed wind energy technology.
The current round of awards focus on developing technology that will lower the levelized cost of energy as well as enhance and certify existing turbine systems. These technologies include:
Increased rotor size
Modular, high-efficiency wind-specific inverters
Developing larger rotor sizes and new inverter technology will support “distributed wind’s ability to provide local grid support as part of a more distributed energy network” says Ian Baring-Gould, NREL’s Distributed Wind Program lead.
Lowering Distributed Wind Energy Costs
As distributed wind energy becomes more prevalent in the United States, CIP aims to promote technological innovations that make smaller-scale wind turbines more economical, efficient, and available to all.
Now through the 2021 round of funding, Windurance received a new subcontract to design, verify, and obtain third-party certification of a new three-phase 480-volt inverter and control system for 50-300 kW class generators. This project removes a major barrier to distributed wind turbine manufacturers by providing a UL1741/IEEE1547-certified product suitable for grid connection.
Matric Limited, another recipient of the 2021 round of CIP funding and a sister company of Windurance, aims to finalize the development of an Intergrid 25-kW power inverter and create facilities capable of ramping up commercial production and testing of the inverters. Its goal is to deliver over 1,000 inverters per year.
Made in the USA
The aforementioned projects will establish a U.S. operation to manufacture, sell, and support the certified power conversion equipment.
DWEA brings together advocates of community (small) wind to innovate and promote the use of wind energy. Programs like NREL’s CIP help the distributed wind industry make the technology cheaper and more sustainable for a wider market.
As power grids throughout America continue to recover from an extreme freezing event and planned outages subside, there is no shortage of people looking for something to blame for the cause of the grid failure. Everything from State-isolated grids, frozen turbines, curtailed gas production, and poor maintenance is on the chopping block. This article does not seek to itemize the contributing factors. The root cause boils down to one thing: electricity demand exceeded supply.
Small Scale Wind Energy Systems Would Have Helped the Grid
All types of distributed energy resources (DERs) with modern power electronics will help stabilize the grid during periods of high demand. The newest standards require that DERs like solar, wind, or battery storage remain connected during grid events, rather than turning off and letting the power company stabilize the grid on their own, which was previously “standard operating procedure”. Distributed wind turbines are especially useful because the wind blows day and night providing a 24hr power capability unmatched by solar.
What is Distributed Wind Energy?
Distributed wind is the practice of installing small scale wind energy systems close to the point of energy consumption; like at a farm, home site, school, or community.. Even while remaining connected to the grid, every bit of power generated on-site by a distributed wind turbine strengthens the grid by eliminating the need to transport power long distances. Excess power generated by the turbine that is not used on-site is sent back to the grid and powers anything nearby that is connected to the grid. This benefits the whole community.
Now it is easy to see how distributed wind would help during blackouts – we just need more participation!
Second, you need to work through a sometimes-challenging local permitting application. But don’t worry, a certified installer can help you through this process and the Distributed Wind Energy Association is working tirelessly to improve the burdensome and inconsistent permitting process for wind turbines throughout the US.
Finally, you need approval from the power company to feed power back into the grid. With the latest UL1741 certified inverters, these installations are welcome and sometimes encouraged by the local utility provider.
Integrating Storage Batteries for Renewable Energy Systems
The sun doesn’t shine at night and wind doesn’t blow every hour of the day, so battery energy storage is a necessary technology for all types of distributed generators. The addition of a battery energy storage system provides the security of reliable power to a home and the grid even when the wind is not blowing.
Mitigate Power Grid Disruptions with Distributed Wind
How can distributed wind help Texas? Let’s take a look at the Texas electricity grid right now as it continues to recover. A snapshot of Texas’s electricity grid outage at the time of this writing is captured (top) along with a wind resource assessment designed for distributed wind turbines.
Now let’s look at some areas where they overlap. Remember – this is only an example based upon the current state of the grid and “cherry-picking” locations where distributed wind would help the most right now.
It is immediately clear that the Texas Hill Country, West of San Antonio, has an adequate wind resource at 40m to support distributed installations. These installations would not only help the local grid but would also take some of the load off of major nearby urban centers, like Austin and San Antonio where a small wind turbine might not be practical in the back yard of a subdivision. From this map, it’s already easy to see why Texas is America’s wind generator.
Energy Equity – The Future of Distributed Generation
Distributed generation not only puts power into the hands of consumers, it also creates jobs and income in areas where wind might not have previously been a valuable resource. It also uplifts communities, and does so in a green and sustainable way. The Distributed Wind Energy Association believes that distributed energy generation is the future, and invites you to learn more. Find out what it’s all about and join conversation today at distributedwind.org
The Author, Dan Clunies, is a DWEA board member, 10-year veteran of the oil and gas industry, and former Houston resident who enjoyed motorcycling in the Texas Hill Country. He now works for Windurance, a technology leader in blade pitch control and power electronics for the wind energy industry in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Wind turbines work in the winter. Of course they do! For some wind farms, the windiest time of the year is during the winter. Certified wind turbines can operate down to -40° without interruption. Turbines operate year-round in Northern regions because they have special design features. These features, (like small heaters for electronics, wind speed sensors, generators and gearbox oil) come at a cost, so wind turbines made for warm climates generally don’t have these features.
But why are some wind turbines occasionally shut down in the winter? The answer will surprise you!
Wind Turbine Icing: Shutdown for Frozen Sensors, Damage Protection, and Safety
Certain types of weather can lead to ice buildup on wind turbine blades and critical sensors, like the anemometer. With each blade over 150 feet long, in some cases the weight of this ice buildup can become extreme and throw the blades out of balance. Here, a turbine would detect a vibration fault and automatically shut itself down to prevent damage. But even if the turbines are capable of running properly in cold weather, conservative wind park operators may shut turbines down anyway – especially in extreme weather conditions. In certain conditions, large chunks of ice can fall from wind turbines that are idle, or even sent flying some distance from wind turbines that are operating! Falling pieces of ice can be lethal, so turbine parks will sometimes stop power production if icing occurs for safety reasons alone.
Photo: Kent Larsson, abvee
The Southern Freeze
The Southern United States is currently experiencing the coldest winter in decades; a blanket of snow lies across the Texas Hill Country. Pipes are freezing and thousands of people are without power. Auxiliary heaters are sold out in stores. Thermostats are naturally being dialed up everywhere.
Generally, Texans don’t use a lot of energy for heating. Natural gas is a preferred method of heating in the Northern states, but since demand for heating throughout the winter in the South is low, electricity is a cheap and reliable option.
This leads to some drastic demands on an electrical grid, which can escalate to rolling blackouts. But, when the power is out, it can present some…complications. Couple this with cheap electricity and it’s easy to see why electric heat a common installation in southern regions, where natural gas is generally preferred in the North. As a result,
Texas Power Outage: Partially Due to Electricity Prices
According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2020 Texas electricity prices ranked 9th in the nation.
Overall power prices in Texas are the 9th lowest in the country. This includes residential, commercial industrial, and commercial power prices. Some commercial and residential HVAC units run on gas, but the upfront cost is higher and low usage throughout the winter makes it tough to recoup those costs. As a result, almost all commercial rooftop HVAC “package units” are electric-only. These types of heating elements are among the largest energy users on the grid and their use corelates directly with low temperatures. Grid demand becomes high and rolling blackouts can occur.
Where Does Texas’s Electricity Come From?
Frozen Gas Lines
Natural gas makes up 46% of Texas’s electricity production. In extreme freezing temperatures, southern gas companies begin shutting down wells, pipelines, and generation equipment due to freezing lines and wellheads.
Texas is the USA’s Wind Power Generator
Everything is bigger in Texas, and as such, Texas generates a large amount of electricity for the Southern USA, with nearly double the net generation of the number two state, Florida. Texas is the largest wind power generator in the country, producing as much wind energy as Iowa, Oklahoma, California, and Kansas combined. If Texas were a country, it would rank 5th in the world for wind generation!
Electrical grid safety shutdowns for wildfires are now common in California. With blackouts occurring whenever winds are too high to safely operate power distribution lines. Californians in this region are already seeing the power of distributed generation through wind and solar installations that are now frequently being paired with battery energy storage. With the latest certified power electronics, distributed energy generators can dispatch electricity to compensate for grid demand. Distributed generators are things such as solar (when the sun shines), wind turbines (when the wind blows), battery storage (reliable!) or even diesel generators! When the grid contains distributed energy generation, it becomes resilient against effects from weather and demand.
Distributed Wind Energy
The Distributed Wind Energy Association (DWEA) supports a vision of energy equality, where individuals, businesses and communities alike are empowered by the Distributed Energy Resources that exists around them, especially wind. Distributed Energy Resources of all types are necessary to provide a diverse, resilient, responsive electrical grid. Winter winds can provide a great energy source to meet demands for electric heating, particularly in Texas. Localized icing and other weather events can always curtail production, but wind sites stretching across a larger region can continue to produce power.
For this reason, having a wide site distributions of wind turbines is essential for a reliable, clean, and robust electrical grid. Distributed Wind Energy means every site with adequate wind should have an appropriate wind turbine. This distributes power generation throughout the grid and makes it more resilient. Apply this with solar, battery storage, and smart demand-response inverters and you have the electrical grid of tomorrow. Distributed Wind turbines in the right place at the right time will pay for themselves by generating low-cost power that can be consumed locally or sold back into the grid through the standard electrical meter.
A study by the National Renewable Energy Lab concluded that the total electrical generation potential for distributed wind sites is about equal the total for offshore wind. The Distributed Wind Energy Association is focused on ensuring these prospective distributed wind sites have access to technology, funding, regulation, and support in regions across the entire United States. Windurance stands with DWEA in this vision and supplies blade pitch actuators, inverters and controllers to the distributed and utility-scale wind industry.
If you’d like to hear more about how distributed wind is the wind generation tactic of the future, contact us!
Note: The author, Dan Clunies, is a Petroleum Engineer who worked ten years in the drilling industry while living in Houston. On his days home from the rig, he worked as a crane operator servicing rooftop HVAC units. He now lives in Pittsburgh and works for Windurance.