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Published on July 1st, 2013 | by Andrew

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GE’s Brilliant Wind Turbine — Wind Power Cheaper Than Coal Or Natural Gas (Part 3)

July 1st, 2013 by  


This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on GE’s Brilliant 1.6-100 wind turbine. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 or the rest of our GE Brilliant Wind Turbine archives for more on the Brilliant 1.6-100 wind turbine.

GE Research Wind Turbine Testing Site at Tehachapi. Credit: A. Burger/CleanTechnica

GE Research Wind Turbine Testing Site at Tehachapi.
Credit: A. Burger/CleanTechnica

Big Data And The Industrial Internet Meet In The GE Brilliant 1.6-100

Impressively, everything spinning on the Tehachapi hills at GE’s Power & Wind research site continues to supply clean, renewable electricity to the Southern California Edison (SCE) grid. This includes a prototype of the 1.6-100’s predecessor, the GE 1.5-77 wind turbine, which has been up, running, and supplying electricity to SCE customers in LA and other parts of southern California for well over a decade.

“We’ve made incredible gains since acquiring the property,” Longtin stated, pointing out that today’s GE turbines are operating at close to 98% availability (97.6%), the same as a thermal coal plant. Furthermore, he continued, “with the introduction of the 1.6-100, we’ve also improved the capacity factor (a measure of energy efficiency) from 35% ten years ago to over 50% today.” Over 50% capacity factor is far above the capacity factor that most people think of when they think of wind turbines. Clearly, very significant strides have been made to get to such a high percentage.

GE Wind Products GM Keith Longtin showcases the Brilliant 1.6-100's Predictive Power Analytics; Credit: A. Burger/Clean Technica

GE Wind Products GM Keith Longtin showcases the Brilliant 1.6-100’s Predictive Power Analytics.
Credit: A. Burger/CleanTechnica

Contributing to the boost in turbine availability and efficiency, GE’s Brilliant 1.6-100 captures and converts more wind energy at lower (Class 3) wind speeds, which, by definition, blow at 7.5 meters per second (m/s).

These and other wind turbine advances and enhancements translate into more clean, renewable, wind-generated electricity at far lower cost. Now 12 years old, GE’s 1.5-77 turbine has generated enough clean, renewable electricity to supply some 350 California homes with electricity.

The Brilliant 1.6-100 doubles down on that, producing enough for 700. Moreover, GE has also made great strides in terms of increasing the scale of its manufacturing capabilities. Producing 10 wind turbines per week ten years’ ago, GE is now producing 13 per day.

Integral to achieving all this has been the development of more precise, accurate, robust, and responsive wind energy forecasting algorithms and real-time wind turbine networking, diagnostic, and power management systems — in other words, an industrial Internet.

GE Power & Wind monitors, collects and analyzes real-time and historical data spanning some 18,000 of its total fleet of around 22,000 installed wind turbines, including all the GE 2.5-100 turbines installed at the Shepherds Flat wind farm in Oregon, which, at 845 MW (the scale of a nuclear power plant), is the world’s largest.

Wind Power: Cleaner and Cheaper Than Coal or Natural Gas

The overall cost to grid operators of integrating wind-generated electricity onto their grids now ranges between $1 and $7 per megawatt-hour (MWh), according to the US Department of Energy.

Taken together, all the technological advances and incremental improvements GE and other wind energy industry participants have made over the years have come together and driven the cost of wind energy down 60%, to the point where wind-generated electricity can now be integrated onto the grid at an unsubsidized cost of $0.05–$0.07 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), according to Longtin.

Five to seven US cents per kWh is right in line with the cost of electricity produced by existing thermal coal power plants (and less than the projected cost of electricity from new coal power plants). The median cost of electricity from natural gas combined-cycle power plants is $0.05 and the median for natural gas combustion turbines is $0.07. The big, big plus is that you get all that energy without all the emissions, land and water contamination, and overall environmental impact and footprint associated with coal and natural gas production and power generation.

That means avoiding an awful lot in the way of catastrophic environmental health and safety risks and costs that can span decades or more — costs in terms of health, environmental quality, and dollars and cents that invariably and ultimately wind up being picked up by the tax-paying public and those that suffer directly and indirectly from the effects of coal and natural gas power.

With its Brilliant line of wind power turbines and energy management systems, GE Wind & Power aims to keep the momentum going by taking advantage of improvements in battery storage, as well as the Big Data–driven wind energy system design, management, and integration capabilities afforded by an industrial Internet.

Ramp Control + Predictive Power Analytics + Short-Term Grid Storage = A Solution For Intermittent Wind Energy

Wind power generation accounted for over 40% of newly installed electrical power generation capacity in the US in 2012, Longtin noted. “Wind energy is competitive today with thermal coal or combined-cycle gas power plants. The question now, given we have a competitive asset, is what’s next?”

For GE Power & Water, the answer is embodied in the Brilliant 1.6-100’s combination of Ramp Control, Predictive Power Analytics, and Frequency Regulation.

Shot of the GE Brilliant 1.6-100 turbine from ground level. Credit: A. Burger/CleanTechnica

Shot of the GE Brilliant 1.6-100 turbine from ground level.
Credit: A. Burger/CleanTechnica

According to Longtin and team, with the 1.6-100, GE has a wind power systems platform that can not only be customized to meet the needs of wind power system owners and operators across the country, but can reliably supply wind-generated electricity to grid operators at a cost that matches, if not beats, the cost of electricity delivered by conventional thermal coal and natural gas power plants.

In testing at Tehachapi for over one year now, and with the first commercial installations in the works, the Brilliant 1.6-100 is GE’s first shot at solving the problems posed by wind energy’s intermittent nature. The results thus far are encouraging. “We’re very pleased where this is going,” Longtin commented. “We think we have a really good solution.”


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About the Author

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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