Small Wind Turbines
Small wind turbines are defined as wind turbines with capacities of 100 kW or less. These wind turbines have lower energy output than large commercial wind turbines, such as those found in wind farms. These turbines may be as small as a fifty watt generator for boat, caravan, or miniature refrigeration unit. Small wind turbines have blades ranging from six to 56 feet in diameter as opposed to utility-scale wind turbine blades which range in diameter from 164 to 295 feet. While utility-scale wind towers can reach heights of 442 feet or higher, the height of a small wind turbine on a tower ranges from 30 to 140 feet.
Small turbines have either of two basic constructions:
- Horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs) are the more common of the two, having propeller-like blades.
- Vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) have blades mounted on vertical shafts.
Both types can be mounted on either towers, poles, on the roofs or walls of buildings.
- Large wind turbines are inappropriate for individual homes, businesses or rural consumers
- Isolated communities, that may otherwise rely on diesel generators may use wind turbines to displace diesel fuel consumption.
- Large turbines cannot generate power at low wind speeds
How can it be solved?
- From an energy production standpoint, where utility-scale wind turbines may produce 1 to 5 megawatts (MW) of energy, small wind turbines have the capacity to produce 100 kilowatts (kW) of energy or less. To put this in perspective, the average American home would require a small wind turbine with a 5 kW generating capacity to meet all or most of its electricity needs. This makes them appropriate for individual homes and businesses or, when grouped together, for mini-wind farms.
- Where a home or business already has installed solar panels, small wind turbines complement these resources by providing a hybrid system that takes optimum advantage of those times and seasons when wind and solar power are at their respective peaks.
- Small wind energy is less expensive than solar on a cost per watt basis which is driving more and more businesses and rural consumers to give it a second look.
- In addition, there is a constant increase of support from the government for small wind.
Small wind turbines have great potential to serve increasing demands for distributed generation, providing cost-effective electricity for many farms, schools, small communities and small factories.
- Residential segment - 1kW-10kW
- Commercial segment - 21kW-100kW
North America represents a huge opportunity for potential investors, as it is the second biggest market for small wind turbines.
The growth in the residential segment can be attributed to heightened consumer awareness and rising residential electricity prices, whereas the growth in the commercial segment is down to private equity investments increasing the manufacturing capacity to meet the rising demands.
Small wind is being looked on as an attractive option to achieve energy security especially in regions far from the grid.
According to a report from Pike Research, the global small wind market is poised for strong growth in the next few years, with revenues forecast to expand from $203 million in 2009 to $412 in 2013, a compound annual growth rate of nearly 20%. During that same period, worldwide installed capacity of small wind turbines will increase from 49 megawatts (MW) to 115 MW.
- In the United States, the small wind power market grew from 22.3MW in 2001 to 72.2MW in 2008 at a CAGR of 18.27%. The introduction of the Federal ITC is expected to provide a big boost to the market and the cumulative capacity is expected to reach 1,536MW in 2013 with a forecast CAGR of 83%.
- In United States small wind turbines added a total of 17.3 MW of generating capacity in 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). That growth equaled a 78% increase in the domestic market for small wind turbines.
- The U.S. small wind industry also benefits from the global market, as it controls about half of the global market share. U.S. manufacturers garnered $77 million of the $156 million that was spent throughout the world on small wind turbine installations. A total of 38.7 MW of small wind power capacity was installed globally in 2008.
- During the recent economic recession, $80 million of private equity was invested in the small wind turbine manufacturing industry. Nearly 10,000 new units were sold nationwide (US) in 2009 – a 15 percent increase from 2008.
- Small wind turbines as producing small energy are having the capacity up to 8% of the electricity needs of the United States in 2020. The wind energy industry is aimed to install atleast 3% of the electricity needs of the United States in 2020, or 6.8% of private demand for electricity. This will require small wind turbines with a total installed capacity up to 60,000 MW.
How far from commercialisation
Small wind turbine market has been growing since 1990s. It is still considered to be one of the niche opportunity sectors because of the huge demand for small turbines.
It is relatively easy to enter the small wind turbine manufacturing business. It is possible to design, manufacture and sell a respectable small wind turbine using a combination of off-the-shelf components and easily fabricated components (perhaps with the sole exception of the blades). Manufacturing requires few special tools and fixtures, a moderately skilled workforce and very little space.
However, it is known that many small wind turbines:
- Do not live long because of technical failures and/or excessive maintenance requirements,
- Have misleading or non-existent power curves, production and noise data,
- Are not designed according to existing safety standards and have caused accidents,
- Are illegal to use, because they do not fulfil legal product requirements.
Therefore huge business opportunity exists in product improvements.
Major US companies include Southwest Windpower, Bergey Windpower, Wind Turbine Industries Corporation and Atlantic Orient. Some major companies outside United States include Vergnet, Westwind, Marlec Engineering and Evance Wind.
Financial Benefits and Incentives
Favorable economics are another factor driving the growth in the deployment of small wind turbines. The cost of current small wind turbines range from $3,000 to $35,000. While the length of the payback period or return on investment varies depending on the model chosen and the wind speed in the area, small wind turbines usually recoup the required initial investment through utility savings within 6 to 15 years.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), $160m has been invested in the top 18 small wind turbine manufacturers over the past three years. The increase in investments has allowed manufacturers to catch up with the demand for small wind. The increase in production enables economies of scale to be achieved resulting in lower costs and a further increase in installations.
People in the US own a house for an average of five to six years and so the payback period desired for small wind turbines is a maximum of five years. But the current payback period for a small wind system currently ranges between six and 20 years.
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