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Published on September 15th, 2017 | by Tina Casey


Look Out, Coal: New GE Wind Turbine Gets High Mileage From Low Wind Speeds

September 15th, 2017 by  

GE has just launched a new wind turbine that spells bad news for fossil fuel power generation. The “brand new machine” is GE’s its biggest onshore turbine to date, and more to the point, it provides a low cost pathway for harvesting energy from less than ideal wind speeds. That opens up a whole new wide swath of new siting possibilities for wind farms taking advantage of the low-to-medium range, and GE is eyeballing German, Turkey, and Australia just for starters.

It’s become commonplace that the days of coal are numbered, but natural gas stakeholders are still hoping to carve out some space for natural gas as a complement to renewables in the modern grid of the future. With the new wind turbine, that space is probably not going to be as big as they hope.

The New GE Wind Turbine — Make That Higher Wind Speeds

The new turbine comes out of the GE Renewable Energy branch (more on that in a minute). It aims at meeting the standard for the highest annual energy production rate. At 4.8 megawatts and a 158-meter rotor diameter, that works out to enough electricity for about 5,000 typical European homes.

One key to the new wind turbine’s efficiency is that it can reach higher-speed winds in regions that are charted in the low-to-medium range. That’s due to its tall tower, in combination with long blades.

With one blade in a fully vertical position, the total height of the wind turbine is 240 meters or a little over 787 feet. To put that into perspective, put two football fields end to end, then add another half a field, now stand them on end and climb to the topmost goal post.

Another element is the turbine blades. Here’s the rundown from GE:

The 77-meter-long carbon blades leverage the strong track record and material innovations of LM Wind Power, and are their longest onshore blades to date. These carbon blades will enable flexibility, allowing GE to offer its customers a high efficiency product while continuing to drive down LCOE.

Driving Down The Cost Of Wind Power

Harvesting higher winds with longer blades is just one of the factors helping GE to drive costs down. Manufacturing costs for the new turbine are also lower, partly due to the small diameter of its bolt circles. That also helps keep transportation and other logistical costs down.

Another cost-reducing strategy is a new machine head design that enables the turbine to go up without a larger crane, while allowing for greater ease of maintenance.

And, another layer of improvement is GE’s proprietary software, which among other things optimizes the performance of wind farms.

Wind Power In The USA

The new GE wind turbine will likely rev up the already-hot US wind market, which has been chugging along strongly in spite of President* Trump’s antipathy to wind energy (hello, Scotland!).

Also in spite of Trump, his own Department of Energy has been promoting wind with great enthusiasm — and backing that up with taxpayer dollars, too.

In the latest development, the Energy Department just threw down $50 million for new energy infrastructure resiliency projects, including a pathway for ramping up the penetration of “clean” distributed energy resources in the nation’s electricity grid (to be clear, the agency includes natural gas in the “clean” category).

That’s especially good news for the micro wind sector, which was showered with love from the Energy Department during the Obama Administration.

GE Pivots To Renewables

As for GE, the company has deep roots in the fossil fuel industry, but the Renewable Energy branch demonstrates how quickly a legacy company can apply its know-how to renewable resources.

GE describes Renewable Energy as a “start-up,” but it sure started up at the pole position in terms of financial and human resources, with a $10 billion nut and this:

With more than 22,000 employees present in more than 55 countries, GE Renewable Energy is backed by the resources of the world’s first digital industrial company. Our goal is to demonstrate to the rest of the world that nobody should ever have to choose between affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy.

The company already has more than 400 gigawatts of installed renewable energy capacity under its belt, so stay tuned for more.

*As of this writing.

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Image: via GE Renewable Energy.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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