Bipartisan U.S. Senators Push for Distributed Wind

Bipartisan U.S. Senators Push for Distributed Wind | December 29th, 2014
by Nick Blitterswyk, CEO, UGE International

A group of Senators recently urged the US Department of Energy to continue funding programs for the domestic distributed wind energy industry. The bipartisan group, led by Sen. Al Franken, wrote a letter highlighting the clear potential for distributed wind power to “contribute many gigawatts of electricity similar to other renewable technologies.”

Reactions have been mixed, and that’s understandable. The distributed wind industry has faced a good deal of critique (some of which is warranted).

Nevertheless, the Senators are correct: Distributed wind is a useful technology, with useful applications, and stands to benefit from the increasingly attractive economic conditions for distributed generation.

Choppy beginnings

When distributed energy took off over the last five years, small wind got caught flat-footed. The reason was primarily because it hadn’t reached a level of maturity where it could take advantage of the changing tide. As a result, there were several cases of companies manipulating incentives and hawking shoddy products on unsuspecting customers (and lest this become an anti-China argument, virtually all such products came from US and European companies).

One of the better known examples was DyoCore, which made lofty claims about the power of its SolAir turbine in order to game California’s Emerging Renewables Program. California actually received so many complaints about the company that it cancelled the entire program.

Early failures like these were possible because standards and certifications hadn’t yet been established in the distributed wind industry. And though the DyoCores of the world eventually failed, these early companies and their stories damaged the reputation of even the best small wind products on the market, greatly holding back the industry.

2011 was when the wind started to come out of the industry’s sails (and yes, pun intended). The economy had tanked, and solar prices were gaining economies of scale, making small wind expensive by comparison in a market where customers were holding their wallets more tightly.

But just like with solar, distributed wind has continued to evolve and innovate

The technology and business models have continued to advance, the industry has consolidated, and as the senators noted in their letter, the distributed wind power industry is at the threshold of rapid commercialization.

The future of small wind: Worth investing in

Vertical axis wind turbines on a Hilton Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Hilton 11_0
Vertical axis wind turbines on a Hilton Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. | A note about Florida; Some $50 billion dollars leave the state every year to pay for electricity produced by coal-fired or natural gas-fired generation in other states and for transportation fuels. For states like Florida, the transition to renewable energy can’t happen soon enough.

Economic conditions are increasingly attractive for all distributed generation. In just a few short years, distributed wind has changed dramatically. There are fewer players, and the standards are much tougher as the SWCC, in the US, and comparable certification programs around the world, have reached maturation.

The technology has advanced — and has a wide variety of applications. You’re not going to find distributed wind atop 20% of rooftops, like you will already with solar in Australia, but you will find that the modern technologies from the companies that remain in the industry — the strongest, best run ones with the best technology, and with better economies of scale — will start gaining a resurgence.

Distributed wind has particularly great potential in applications such as:

  • Farms: A 10kW or larger turbine can be installed in windy locations and produce energy at a rate less than that available from the grid, or in farms in remote regions with difficulty accessing the grid.
  • Northern and Southern regions, from Scandinavia to Patagonia: There are limitations to solar resources during the winter months at the poles, but wind is a great resource in most of these areas.
  • Hybrid installations: Particularly in off-grid situations, a mix of energy sources adds resiliency and lowers the cost of energy.

This list also doesn’t include the many forward-thinking businesses and consumers who want to support and benefit from the technological advancements in the industry, and who have also been a key customer base for distributed wind turbines.

Many of these projects, from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia to Whole Foods in Brooklyn, inspire greater interest in sustainability and emerging technologies that shouldn’t be overlooked.

SunEdison solar installation with vertical axis wind turbines on a commercial rooftop in Walpole, MI.
SunEdison solar installation with vertical axis wind turbines on a commercial building rooftop in Walpole, MA.

The importance of investment

The small wind industry began its life far too dependent on incentives and government funding. But limiting or eliminating development of the industry would be a huge mistake. R&D has developed the technology significantly in the past several years, and with certifications and standards in place, as well as new business models that remove financial barriers and mitigate performance risks, there’s additional efficiencies to explore.

The US has a strong advantage in the field, and the DOE’s support will be essential for distributed wind to “cross the chasm” and find its footing amidst Cleantech 2.0 — an era with much promise for new business models and advanced distributed generation. A group of senators understands this — I hope the rest of the industry will follow suit.

About the Author: Nick Blitterswyk is the CEO and founder of UGE International, a leading developer of distributed renewable energy solutions for business and government, with projects in over 90 countries, including several for Fortune 1,000 companies.

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Hybrid Power plants: Renewable Energy’s Newest Trend

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

One option for renewable energy producers that has been open to utility companies but rarely utilized until now, is the installation of both wind power and solar power plants together at the same location, which results in a doubling in the amount of electricity produced over the course of a year.

This hybrid power plant shows solar and wind power providing complementary electrical power generation. Hybrid power plants are proving to be more practical than previously believed. Image courtesy of SolarPraxis AG

Prior to a study done by Reiner Lemoine Institut and Solarpraxis AG it was incorrectly thought that the huge towers upon which the wind turbines are mounted would cast long shadows over the solar panel array, thereby reducing their efficiency by a significant factor.

It turns out that when solar and wind power generation are combined on the same site, such hybrid power plants complement each other better, than had been imagined.

Approximately twice the power generation is available from any such hybrid power plant site, when compared to wind only, or solar only.

Click here to read the Solarpraxis AG, news release

The landmark study took into account the amount of sunlight loss (shading) which would occur in a carefully designed hybrid power plant. Energy losses were less than 2 percent of total output.

This is a lower energy loss percentage, than compared to conventional power plant energy, such as coal — where up to 10 percent of the coal can be lost during transport from North America-to-China, or from Australia-to-China, and later storage, for example.

A major benefit of such hybrid power plants is that due to the relative intermittency of both wind power and solar power is they tend to cancel out the others’ weaknesses. Grid expansion, is therefore not required for hybrid power plants.

Wind power peaks at night, during cool days, and in the colder seasons of the year — while solar produces power during the daylight hours, the warmer parts of the day and most especially during the warmer seasons, when the Sun is high in the sky, directly over the solar panel array.

Until now, it was thought that the shadows cast on solar plants by wind turbines led to high yield losses.

The study shows, however, that these shading losses are much lower than expected, provided the hybrid power plant is well designed.

Initial requests to create yield reports as well as technical and economic system planning have given us cause to hope that the more efficient utilization of space and infrastructure created by hybrid power plants has excellent prospects for the future.” — Alexander Woitas, Head of the Engineering Department at Solarpraxis AG

Many utility companies are already operating solar and wind hybrid power plants, or are planning for such installations over the next few years.

The U.S. state of Massachusetts has easily surpassed its previous goal of 250 megawatts (MW) of solar energy by 2017 and is planning to increase that goal to 1,600 MW (1.6 GW) of solar energy by 2017.

Boulder City, Nevada, is likewise adding wind turbines to their huge and ongoing solar power plant installations — so they can sell solar electricity to nearby cities and towns during the day, while adding the ability to sell wind electricity during the night.

Washington Gas Energy Services (WGES) in Washington, D.C., buys wind power from a nearby producer and solar power from another nearby producer, and sells that electricity to residents, businesses, industry and the government throughout the northeast United States, including D.C.

I recently interviewed Mr. Harry Warren, the President of WGES, and speaking on the intermittency of wind power (and similar applies to solar power) he said that it is quite normal for power producers to add different kinds of power at different times of the day.

The power grid operates with a variety of power plants constantly coming on line, going off line, and ramping production up and down to meet the varying demand for electricity over the course of the day and over the course of the year.

There are always power plants idle and ready to generate more as part of the overall plan to assure reliable power.

So, nothing special is needed to back up wind power. Load merely shifts to other power plants when the wind isn’t blowing.

When the wind is blowing, other power plants, many of which burn fossil fuels like coal, ramp their operation down.” – WGES President, Harry Warren

Click here to read Part I, Part II and Part III of my interview with Harry Warren, WGES President.

Combining wind and solar power plants (hybrid power plants) can add power 24/7/365 to electrical grids, lower CO2 emission levels, and help to lower the cost of electricity to consumers.

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