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GE Introduces the 'Smart' Digital Wind Farm

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Energy & Environment
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The wind energy market has been growing by leaps and bounds lately. The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) reports that the industry surged ahead by more than 40 percent in 2014, surpassing the 50-gigawatt mark. That's an impressive gain, given the market's slowdown in 2013. Worldwide installations stood at 369,597 megawatts by the end of 2014, with China, the U.S. and Germany leading the pack.

But there's more good news for wind generation. According to General Electric, it is on the cusp of developing the world's first digital wind generation system -- an innovation that would allow the company to transform its approach toward wind generation and boost output by 20 percent.

GE announced the news this past week, just in time for the American Wind Energy Association annual conference and trade show, which took place in Orlando, Florida.

Rather than developing faster and better turbines, GE has effectively sized-up the wind farm concept and developed a way to improve its performance as a whole. The new technology effectively allows wind operators to project possible upgrades and expansions to the wind farm, such as where to put new turbines, possible generation problems and anticipated output efficiency.

Equally groundbreaking, the new technology also allows the turbines within the farm to communicate with each other about wind conditions and performance. The result is a unit of turbines that work as a interconnected system, rather than a line of independent wind generators.

GE projects that the new digital wind system could help increase wind energy value by $50 billion (assuming that all wind farms were using GE's new technology). It's encouraging that the new software is designed to work not only with GE turbines, but its competitors' as well.

The new technology is meant to dovetail with GE's PowerUp Platform, "a results-based customized suite of software and hardware-enabled technologies" that the company released 18 months ago. According to GE, its benefit is in its ability to gauge and account for environmental factors that affect wind turbines' performance. Using this platform, says the company, can boost output by as much as 5 percent and increase revenue potential for wind farm operators.

With the announce of its latest technology, GE Power and Water's CEO and president, Steve Bolze, noted that today's most forward-thinking businesses are actually being shaped by digital innovation.

"The greatest opportunity lies in energy," Bolze said. "The question is not whether to start down this path … it’s about knowing how to get the most out of your digital transformation. That’s what will separate industry leaders from those left behind."

Image: Charles Cook

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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