To make wind energy more efficient, General Electric didn’t build a new turbine. It harnessed the Internet.
At an annual conference Tuesday of the American Wind Energy Association in Orlando, Florida, GE announced the launch of its new Digital Wind Farm product, inspired by minds in Schenectady. The digital wind farm pairs GE turbines with digital infrastructure, and together they can boost a wind farm’s energy production by up to 20 percent.
If every wind turbine installed across the world this year used the product, GE says, it would increase the industry’s value by about $50 billion over the life of the turbines.
The technology has been in development for the past 18 months and is based on a new software platform GE launched in fall 2013 called PowerUp. The technology uses data monitored at GE’s remote wind farm operations center in Schenectady to fine-tune any number of things affecting a wind farm, from speed and torque to aerodynamics and controls.
GE installed the technology in 4,000 units and has seen turbine efficiency improve up to 5 percent, resulting in a profit bump of up to 20 percent per turbine. But where PowerUp transmitted data about turbines back to GE, the digital wind farm enables the turbines to share the information with one another.
Put simply, the turbines can now talk to each other, GE said.
GE’s next-generation, 2-megawatt wind turbines use a “digital twin” modeling system that allows a farm up to 20 different turbine configurations designed to generate power at peak efficiency based on the surrounding environment.
Each turbine is embedded with sensors and connected to a GE network that can study turbine operations in real time (temperature, misalignments, vibrations, etc.) and make any needed adjustments to boost efficiencies.
The company calls this “future proofing.” It basically means the software will automatically make adjustments to maintain top performance and avoid maintenance issues that might occur as a turbine ages. It also reduces costs by customizing maintenance schedules to ensure preventive maintenance is only performed when needed, GE said.