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Opening the hatch and venturing out atop the GE Brilliant 1.6-100's machine head; Credit: A. Burger/Clean Technica


GE’s Brilliant Wind Turbine — Wind Power Cheaper Than Coal Or Natural Gas (Part 1)

Already competitive with electricity produced by coal and natural gas-fired power plants, GE is driving the cost of clean, green, renewable energy down further with its Brilliant line of wind turbines and power management systems. Incorporating Ramp Control, Predictive Power Analytics, and short-term, grid-scale battery storage in an integrated wind power systems platform, GE Power & Wind believes it’s on the right track when it comes to addressing one of the industry’s persisting criticisms: the intermittent nature of wind.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on GE’s Brilliant 1.6-100 wind turbine. Keep an eye on CleanTechnica or our GE Brilliant Wind Turbine archives for the rest of the series.

GE made a big energy industry splash recently when it introduced its Brilliant 1.6-100 wind turbine and power management system at the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) WINDPOWER 2013 exhibition in Chicago in early May. One of the first utility-scale wind power systems to incorporate short-term, grid-scale battery storage, the GE Brilliant 1.6-100 addresses one of the criticisms (if not the biggest and most frequently cited criticism) of wind energy: its intermittent nature.

The GE Brilliant 1.6-100 Prototype; Photo: A. Burger/Clean Technica

The GE Brilliant 1.6-100 Prototype.
Photo: A. Burger/CleanTechnica

Already cost-competitive with thermal coal and natural gas power generation – not to mention its numerous other often ignored and unaccounted for social and ecological benefits and cost savings, which are substantial – GE’s looking to drive the cost of wind energy down further, pushing the envelope outward by incorporating “industrial Internet” capabilities and short-term, grid-scale power storage in the Brilliant 1.6-100 systems platform.

Clearly excited about the Brilliant 1.6-100’s prospects and the tremendous advances in wind power engineering that have been made to date, GE Power & Water invited a group of reporters, including yours truly, to take a tour of the GE Research wind turbine testing facility in southern California’s Tehachapi Mountains, between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert.

The outing included not only the chance to see the GE Brilliant 1.6-100 turbine (1.6-megawatt max capacity and 100-meter rotor diameter) and real-time power management system up close and in action, but to climb 80 meters to the turbine’s hub, enter the machine head, and then step outside to see the 100-meter-diameter turbine rotor and get a birds-eye view of the wind turbine testing facility and surrounding area.

Dollars Blowing In The Wind: Improving Wind Farm Economics

Opening the hatch and venturing out atop the GE Brilliant 1.6-100's machine head; Credit: A. Burger/Clean Technica

Opening the hatch and venturing out atop the GE Brilliant 1.6-100’s machine head.
Credit: A. Burger/CleanTechnica

Ramp Control, Predictive Power Analytics, and Frequency Regulation (i.e. short-term grid power storage) make the Brilliant 1.6-100 more efficient, reliable, and grid friendly — as well as larger — than its predecessors. In short, according to Keith Longtin, general manager of Wind Products for GE Power & Water, the Brilliant 1.6-100 is the “latest and greatest” commercial wind turbine GE has built.

Enabling wind farm owners and operators to more efficiently and cost-effectively convert wind energy into electricity and supply it to power grids improves the economics of utility-scale wind power. One aspect of this is the capacity to generate additional revenue by selling electricity into the frequency regulation segments of regional grid power markets.

In the range of ~5% up to ~8.5% of annual energy captured is lost due to ramp rate curtailment, according to the US Dept of Energy “2011 Wind Technologies Market Report”, which was released in August 2012. “These losses stem from the fact that the grid isn’t as flexible as it could be and wind customers would benefit from recapturing some of that lost energy,” Theile explained.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s pay-for-performance regulation – FERC 755: “Frequency Regulation Compensation in the Organized Wholesale Power Markets” – requires grid operators to pay power suppliers accordingly (i.e. more for electricity that can be brought onto the grid faster in order to match load demand).

Given adequate wind, turbines can ramp up from a cold start to full capacity in a matter of minutes. This quick-start capability confers wind farms a decided advantage over thermal coal and natural gas–fired power plants when it comes to balancing electricity supply and demand.

On the other hand, it often means that wind farm operators have to spill wind – reduce the amount of wind energy they capture, convert to electricity, and feed into the grid – ramping up to full output more gradually than is possible in order to accommodate grid conditions, a situation that Longtin likened to “dollars flying by” in the wind.

Integrating short-term, grid-scale battery storage into the Brilliant 1.6-100 system platform enables wind farm operators to capture the energy that’s now blowing by in the wind. The system’s Ramp Control features enable this wasted wind energy to be harnessed, converted to electricity, then stored in battery banks as electrochemical energy. It can then be sold and fed into the grid later in the day at a moment’s notice.

Moreover, “by integrating short-term grid storage into the system, we can go real-time into a wind turbine converter’s DC (direct current) bus, eliminating a big chunk of the power electronics,” Longtin elaborated. Conversely, taking advantage of battery storage also confers benefits when ramping down a wind turbine, smoothing out the electrical flow into the grid by drawing on batteries to supply power to the grid more evenly.

Check out the next post in this series tomorrow for more on GE’s Brilliant wind turbine and energy storage systems.

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.


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