Small Wind Turbine Standards Increase Consumer Confidence

Posted on March 28th, 2011 by

Current and pending standards for distributed wind turbine certification programs aim to provide consumers with an improved measure of confidence and positive expectations. These standards will enhance consumer choice by giving them a method of comparing products while improving reliability within the industry.

Distributed wind power is becoming an increasingly popular source of American electricity. According to American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), annual sales of the U.S. small wind industry amounted to about 13,400 turbines in 2010, growing 15 percent over the previous year. In a 2001 market study, AWEA estimated that by 2020, small wind turbines could contribute as much as three percent, or 50,000 MW, to America’s energy supply.

Personal wind turbines are not new. Actually, they were very popular in America in a time before the electric grid. As the grid evolved in the 1920’s and 1930’s, small wind lost public favor. However, with rising energy costs, the importation of energy resources from unstable regions of the world and concerns over fossil fuels contribution to global warming, distributed small wind systems are coming back.

The demand for personal wind turbines has led to a rapid emergence of new companies and products over the past decade. Simultaneously, legislation providing incentives and tax credits to consumers investing in wind energy has skyrocketed making small wind a more competitive, affordable energy option.

These incentive programs also entice the development of both well meaning but “not ready for prime time” designs as well as outright fraudulent products. In order to protect the long term interests of the industry, leading manufactures have been working with organizations to establish certification standards to help guide consumers in choosing reliable, quality products.

AWEA’s Small Wind Turbine Performance and Safety Standard© (AWEA Standard 9.1 – 2009) serves as the first nationally recognized standard created by the small wind turbine industry, scientists, state officials and consumers. This requires independent, third party testing of products. In 2009, the Small Wind Certification Council (SWCC) was established to ensure that manufacturers followed the standard. By early 2012, it’s likely that any wind turbine eligible for a federal or State incentives will have to be certified. Also in early 2009 Underwriter’s Laboratory began the development of a series of standards for large and small wind turbines. Specifically, UL6142 will a standard around the second quarter of 2011. Any Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) organization will have capability of certifying a personal wind turbine. Certified turbines must undergo duration testing to ensure product reliability and longevity, power performance testing, acoustics (noise) testing as well as a host of other tests. The result is a realistic and comparable performance rating and an assurance the certified small wind turbine products will meet consumer expectations.

The small wind industry will rely on local inspectors to enforce the standards. Currently, state organizations with incentive programs are influencing mainstream awareness of small wind turbine certification programs.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority had been leading the market with a simplified test to be eligible for financial incentives. However, unscrupulous producers have found ways around the test and are putting the industry at risk. It’s likely that the state requirements will be replaced by the SWCC and UL standards in the next few months.

A well-designed wind generator is only half the battle. A poorly sited wind generator is just as bad as a well-designed automobile with an empty gas tank. Improper siting can lead to systems being installed in such a way that it’s unlikely the customer will experience the turbine’s benefits. Southwest Windpower is a proponent of using only certified wind turbines and professionally trained installers.

The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) took an initial step toward reducing siting and installation issues through their recently released certification program for dealers and installers. While this program is strictly volunteer-driven, it does give consumers confidence in knowing that their wind generator is installed by a professionally trained installer. Only a handful of installers are currently certified, that will grow over time.

Over the next two to three years, products, dealers and installers are expected to have uniform certification standards in place, allowing consumers to remain confident in the ability to harness the maximum potential of personal wind energy generation. With these advances as well as a focus on driving down system energy costs, the industry is in a strong position to meet the national goal of producing 20 percent of its electricity through wind energy by 2030.

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