By - Jim Vess

Small, net-meter wind turbine capacity growth led by a tripling in the Northeast

Energize Weekly, May 1, 2019

Small wind turbines—at homes, farms and businesses—have increasingly been plugging into the grid and getting paid for the electricity they put on the wires—with the fastest growth in the Northeast.

Net metering, which enables homeowners and commercial customers to be credited for electricity they put on the gird, has been one of the financial incentives in promoting the installation of photovoltaic (PV) rooftop solar units. There were 15,800 megawatts (MW) of net-metered small PV capacity in 2017 in 1.7 million installations.

Distributed, net-metered wind capacity in 2017 was just 204 MW at 7,000 sites. These distributed wind turbines accounted for only 0.2 percent of all U.S. wind capacity.

Nevertheless, small-scale wind turbines are coming online at a faster rate in the last few years because of state policies encouraging deployment of the technology, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The fastest growth has been in the Northeast where capacity has tripled to more than 80 MW between 2011 and 2017. The region also had the largest growth in average capacity per installation over the same seven-year period as it rose to 59 kilowatts (kW) from 23 kW.

The second largest regional increase in net-metered wind was the Midwest where capacity rose from just under 20 MW to 60 MW, according to EIA data.

The average capacity per installation also grew more slowly outside the Northeast, rising to 23 kW from 14 kW.

Small turbines generally range in size from 20 watts to 100 kW, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) “Small Wind Guidebook.” Turbines used in residential applications can range in size from 400 watts to 100 kW.

A 1.5-kW wind turbine will meet the needs of a home that uses 300 kilowatt-hours a month in a location with a 14 miles-per-hour annual average wind speed, according to the DOE handbook.

Massachusetts had the most net-metered wind of any state with 57 MW in 2017 and 69 percent of the Northeast’s net-metered capacity. Massachusetts projects also tended to be larger as the state had just 11 percent of the regions 1,414 installations in 2017. The average Massachusetts system size was more than 360 kW.

“The Northeast will likely continue to lead the nation in net-metered wind capacity and average system size when final 2018 data are available,” the EIA said. “Net-metered Northeast wind capacity showed an increase of 14 percent from January 2018 to December 2018.” Complete 2018 data will be released in EIA’s Electric Power Annual in the fall of 2019.

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