GE researchers working on Biden offshore wind power initiative

NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABHeavy seas churn around the Block Island Wind Farm in 2016. Each of the towers is topped with at 6-megawatt General Electric turbine.

Heavy seas churn around the Block Island Wind Farm in 2016. Each of the towers is topped with at 6-megawatt General Electric turbine.

NISKAYUNA — GE scientists in Niskayuna and Schenectady are part of efforts to develop technology to support the massive offshore wind power initiative announced Monday by the Biden administration.

The U.S. Department of Energy reported that 15 projects will get $8 million in funding, and said that General Electric’s operations in Schenectady County will work on two of those projects: A self-positioning single-blade installation tool and direct-current collection and transmission.

Work on the blade tool is a relatively straightforward effort to reduce manufacturing costs, and is being performed by GE Renewable Energy at the Schenectady campus.

GE Renewables bases its U.S. onshore wind power operations in Schenectady and has hundreds of employees stationed there. GE is a market leader in onshore wind power, and while the mechanics of offshore wind power are different, there is some overlap, and the onshore personnel contribute to offshore research and development.

The direct-current project is being performed at GE Research in Niskayuna and could lead to an important step forward for wind power technology. Most of the U.S. power grid now uses alternating current to transmit electricity and deliver it to customers. High-voltage direct current could be a more-efficient and less-expensive means of moving power over longer distances.

Rajib Datta, chief engineer for power electronics in the electrical systems group at GE Research, is the leader of this project. He said via email: “A multidisciplinary team of GE researchers led by our Electrical Systems group will explore the feasibility of new grid technology that would reduce the cost of electricity transmission over long distances to encourage offshore wind deployment. The team will build computer models to simulate this new technology under various real world scenarios.”

GE is getting $300,000 for the initial feasibility study and will be able to apply for additional funding in subsequent phases to develop and test the technology.

The projects announced Monday are part of an ongoing effort. The Department of Energy in 2018 established the National Offshore Wind Consortium and selected the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to administer it. GE Renewable Energy is one of the consortium’s sponsors.

In January, GE Research was awarded $20.3 million by the Department of Energy to build a prototype of a superconducting generator for offshore wind power using some of the same technology it developed in Niskayuna for MRI imaging. Also in January, GE Research and GE Renewables were selected to participate in a $6.7 million project to research 3-D printed wind turbine blades.

Offshore wind power typically offers much greater electrical power generation per turbine than onshore wind and carries a significantly greater expense.

General Electric’s offshore wind marketing has mainly been in Europe, where the technology is in much wider use than in the United States.

The prototype of GE’s Haliade-X turbine — a 12 megawatt giant standing 800 feet tall — completed testing in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and received certification in late 2020.

GE turbines are in service at the first U.S. offshore wind project, a 30-megawatt farm off the Rhode Island coast that went online in late 2016.

More than four years later, there’s still only one other wind farm operational in U.S. waters, off southern Virginia.

Orsted, owner of the Block Island Wind Farm, is now co-developing New York’s first offshore wind project: South Fork Wind, a 132-megawatt farm 35 miles east of Long Island that could go online as early as 2023.

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