Big wind is growing, but could small wind?

Although the market for small wind power systems has been in existence for 30 years, there are many signs that the industry is reaching a critical juncture. The past 18 months have seen a number of bankruptcies and acquisitions among small wind turbine manufacturers.

Nevertheless, the overall opportunity for small wind power remains strong across a variety of applications in both developed and developing countries. According to a recent report from Navigant Research, the worldwide market for small wind systems will reach $723 million by 2018, with $3.3 billion in cumulative sales from 2013 through 2018.

“Small wind is growing primarily as a result of state and national incentives, including a burgeoning market in the United Kingdom,” says Dexter Gauntlett, research analyst with Navigant Research. “The question is: Can the small wind turbine industry grow to more than just a niche market, and attract the investment required to drive down costs? Given the precipitous price declines for solar photovoltaic modules, distributed solar PV is increasingly competitive with small wind.”

“Community wind” refers to wind generation assets that are owned by a group of local people (usually farmers and business people, but sometimes a municipality) who create a limited liability company, which in turn enters into a power purchase agreement with the local utility.

Arrangements like these are growing in popularity. Common in parts of Europe, community wind is now emerging in rural, windy areas of the U.S. — particularly Minnesota and Iowa — as a vehicle for economic development, the study concludes.

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