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NRECA is seeking at least a dozen electric cooperatives, both distribution as well as generation and transmission, to serve as advisers on a two-year, $3 million research initiative with the Department of Energy to advance distributed wind energy resources across rural America.
Wind energy growth has been almost exclusively from large-scale projects interconnected through transmission to the bulk electric system, but emerging energy storage technologies and microgrids are helping distributed wind development. As of 2018, installed distributed wind capacity nationwide was just over 1 gigawatt, compared to around 20 gigawatts of distributed solar.
DOE created the Rural Area Distributed Wind Integration Network Development (RADWIND) project this year to maximize the potential of distributed wind power in the U.S. and tapped NRECA to head it up. NRECA now welcomes member co-ops to join this innovative project.
“DOE chose NRECA to lead this program because the department believes there is a huge opportunity for the deployment of wind generation on rural distribution grids, especially in areas served by electric cooperatives,” said Michael Leitman, NRECA senior analyst for economics and business and RADWIND project manager.
“Ultimately, the goal of this project is to identify gaps and barriers to deployment of distributed wind at all scales by rural utilities and produce resources and industry networks that address challenges,” he said. “This includes reducing soft costs, bridging the gap between what is technically possible and what is economically attractive.”
RADWIND will key off the success NRECA had with its 2013-2018 Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration (SUNDA) collaboration with DOE that helped to lower the barriers for co-ops to own solar PV. DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office provided $3.6 million, matched by a $1.2 million cost share from NRECA, the National Rural Utility Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC), Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, PowerSecure Solar LLC and 17 participating co-ops.
“DOE and the distributed wind industry were very interested in our experience leading the SUNDA project and want to apply the lessons learned there to distributed wind technologies,” Leitman said.
“In the same spirit, the RADWIND project aims to assist cooperatives in determining how they might pursue distributed wind generation deployment options.”
DOE differentiates distributed wind systems from other wind deployments based on their end-use proximity and point of interconnection. Distributed wind’s power-producing turbines are installed at or near the point of end-use to meet onsite energy demand or support an existing distribution grid. Interconnection may be behind-the-meter, directly onto the distribution grid or off-grid in a remote location.
Distributed wind may encompass everything from a 10-kilowatt unit on a farm or business to the two 10.5-megawatt projects, each including seven large 1.5-MW turbines, that Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative completed in 2009 to serve ethanol production facilities in their territory.
“Today there is a real opportunity not only for standalone distributed wind projects, but for deploying distributed wind as the central component in hybrid projects that combine distributed energy resources to deliver electricity, local grid resilience as well as economic benefits,” Leitman said.
As an example, he noted that Lake Region Electric Cooperative in Minnesota recently worked with a developer to deploy a hybrid project combining a 2.3-MW wind turbine with a 500-kW solar array interconnected at one of their substations.
This project is expected to save $200,000 a year in wholesale power costs, including through the reduction of peak power costs from the wind turbine in winter months and the solar panels during the summer, he said.
“RADWIND aims to raise awareness of opportunities for distributed wind, and to provide information and resources that help make distributed wind a more attractive and economically competitive option for electric cooperatives,” said Leitman.
Electric co-ops interested in participating in this project should email RadwindProject@nreca.coop. See more information about the initiative and opportunities to participate.