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IBM Supercomputer Tells Vestas Turbines Where to Go

RP Siegel | Friday November 4th, 2011 | 1 Comment

As renewable energy technologies mature, we expect to see continual improvements in efficiency and performance. In recent weeks we have covered some exciting new advances in both solar, with a new photovoltaic materials package that provides 2x efficiency, and wind power, with a new Japanese-designed wind turbine with an external focusing ring that can provide 3 times as much power for a given size when compared to existing technology.

Today’s story is about another effort to improve renewable performance, though this one focuses more on the development and deployment process, than on the technology itself.

IBM recently teamed up with wind turbine manufacturer Vestas to provide supercomputing capability to assist with computationally-intensive tasks associated with both turbine design as well as siting.

If you were a tree, the question of where you were planted would have significant impact on your future prospects. The same is true for wind turbines.

IBM provided Vestas with one of their Firestorm supercomputers, equipped with their Big Insights software, in order to analyze over 20 petabytes of data (a petabye is a million gigabytes) regarding such complex and diverse siting factors as “weather reports, tidal phases, geospatial and sensor data, satellite images, deforestation maps, and weather modeling research to pinpoint installation. The analysis, which used to take weeks, can now be done in less than one hour.”

Small differences, projected over a long period of time can make a big difference. So, a small percentage improvement in power output due to an optimal site selection, can result in significant additional energy produced over a given turbine’s lifetime. Multiply that difference over the thousands of turbines that are being erected and you have a lot of extra power being produced at essentially no additional charge.

Furthermore, proper site location can directly impact the return on investment realized by the company purchasing the turbine. This collaboration should help advance the acceptance of wind power in areas which it has not yet appeared as well as in those where it has.

“Vestas turbines operate for decades and clients demand to know how much energy they will produce and what their return on investment will be before they are installed,” said Lars Christian Christensen, Vice President of Plant Siting and Forecasting, Vestas Technology R&D. “Using IBM software and systems, we can now answer these questions quickly to identify new markets for wind energy and help our clients meet aggressive renewable energy goals.”

The computer can also be used to predict performance and then monitor the turbines to see if the meet the prediction. If they do not, this could indicate that maintenance is required.

The new computer will be installed in Vestas Plant Siting & Forecasting Department in Denmark, part of their product development complex.

IBM was clearly quite impressed with Vestas’ idea to utilize their technology in this manner. They gave Vestas the ‘Most Innovative Award’ for this application. The award was presented to Vestas at a ceremony at IBM’s annual ‘Information on Demand’ conference in Las Vegas, with over 10,000 people attending.

Vestas has produced over 44,000 wind turbines in 67 contries since 1979.

“We use the supercomputer and the knowledge it brings us in new ways – and on top of that we improve the business case of green energy. That’s why we won the award,” said Lars Christian Christensen, Vice President for Plant Siting & Forecasting in Vestas Technology R&D.

“Vestas shows how large organizations can tap big data analytics and ever more powerful computers to make smarter business decisions that can substantially accelerate growth while tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues,” said Arvind Krishna, general manager, IBM Information Management. “The ability for our clients to gain insights from any data, regardless of what type it is, how fast it is moving, or where it comes from, has the potential to transform entire industries.”

The Vestas installation will consists of 1222 connected workload-optimized System x iDataPlex servers. The system is capable of 150 million MIPS.

The American Wind Association claims that if the United States can increase its wind energy capacity to 20 percent by 2030, the country can reduce GHG emissions by 7,600 million tons of CO2, reduce water consumption by four trillion gallons, and reduce demand for natural gas by 12 percent.

Meanwhile, across Europe, renewable energy is taking off quickly. The German Association of Energy and Utilities recently reported that the country has already achieved a level of 20.8 percent of the country’s power production coming from renewables in the first half of 2011.

[Image credit:Ali_Pk: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.  Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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