GE’s Bell discusses impact of digital wind farm on industry efficiency, profitability 

Source: By Monica Trauzzi, E&E • Posted: Friday, May 22, 2015

This week, General Electric launched its digital wind farm innovation. How could this new tool help make the wind energy industry more profitable and efficient? During today’s OnPoint, Ganesh Bell, chief digital officer and general manager of software and analytics at GE, explains how this “wind energy ecosystem” could help transform the industry and double global wind energy generation by 2020.

Click here to watch today’s OnPoint.

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I’m Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Ganesh Bell, digital officer, chief digital officer, and general manager of software and analytics at GE. Ganesh, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Ganesh Bell: Sure. Welcome.

Monica Trauzzi: Ganesh, part of your work at GE is focused on digital innovation and transformation, and GE has been digging into the role technology can play in the wind energy industry’s transformation. This week, GE launched a digital wind farm. What is it and how does it work?

Ganesh Bell: Sure. So we launched this thing called a digital wind farm. First and foremost it’s a vision for the entire renewables industry. It consists of two things. One it is a software-defined modular wind turbine. I’ll come back to that. And the second is all the digital infrastructure you need to run wind farms in the renewables business.

So first the software-defined modular turbine, right. Wind turbines have been getting smarter for a long, long time, and we’ve been using data from wind turbines to increase the performance of a singular wind turbine, but now with the advances and sensors and cloud and big data, we can actually take all the physical aspects of wind turbine and create a virtual representation of that in the cloud. We call that a digital twin.

So for every wind farm, every physical device out there, there is a digital twin that’s actually continuously running in the cloud. So from all the data from the wind farm we can populate that and the digital twin gets richer and richer so now we can ask a lot of what if questions and continue to optimize the wind farm. And we connect all of this to the second part that we talked about, which is our digital infrastructure, which is, it starts with Predix, which is our industrial, Internet, big data cloud platform and on top of which we’re building applications.

So think of applications for asset managers, operations, optimizing your operations in C-Suite to get visibility, insight and actions all the way into a wind farm and across their entire fleet, regardless of who makes the turbine.

Monica Trauzzi: Does this work with current turbine technology, and is there sort of a next-generation wind turbine that you’re looking at?

Ganesh Bell: Absolutely. So the digital infrastructure and the applications and the platform and the big data and the analytics work across all turbines, any make, any model, any vintage and any vendor. And also across all the other critical components like substations in a wind farm. So we can monitor every single aspect of wind farm as well as when you connect other sources of energy like solar and energy storage and so on. Whereas the new digital, modular, software-defined wind turbine is another giant leap forward.

So instead of building, you know, choosing from one or two or three models of turbines for an entire wind farm, we can custom-build a turbine for every single pad mount in a farm. That means it’s like having 20 different wind turbines that you can place across an entire wind farm. So you can define all of this in software and simulation and connect them.

Monica Trauzzi: This sounds good, but it sounds expensive. So how commercially viable is it?

Ganesh Bell: This is very viable commercially. So the last time we launched a big step in wind turbine, it was our 1.6-100 platform in 2012. That year we had about 1,000 orders for that wind turbine, generating about $1 billion in revenue for us, and our customers gave us the opportunity. And we believe the digital wind farm will be even more successful.

Monica Trauzzi: So you think that this will help drive profitability and efficiency in the industry?

Ganesh Bell: Absolutely. So let me give you some examples. So when we think about a digital wind farm the first thing you’ve got to remember is it operates every day better than the previous day because it’s learning because all the data continues to improve the performance of the wind farm and we believe that over the life of the wind farm it’s going to be 20 percent more AEP. That translates to about $100 million over a typical life of a wind farm and it’s about $50 billion in value across the entire wind industry.

Monica Trauzzi: Has the industry up until this point been slow to incorporate advanced technologies?

Ganesh Bell: Absolutely. So when we look at — you talked about digital transformation of GE. We’re becoming a software company. We’re providing software solutions. We’ve been doing software for a long time except we’ve been doing it at machine-level outcomes. Now we’re doing it at enterprise-level outcomes. And this transformation is happening across all industries. We know that retail, travel, music, transportation, travel, all of them went through changes with software and disruption, and we see the same thing happening in energy.

And when people talk about industrial Internet or Internet of things where you can connect devices and collect data, the biggest opportunity lies in energy. At the same time, energy is also one of the least digitally mature industries. So the gap of what we call the digital gap between the maturity as well as the opportunity is the highest in energy. It’s been slow to adopt, but now I think it’s possible to go drive higher productivity, lower unplanned downtime and increase profitability.

Monica Trauzzi: So will the PTC be a necessary tool in driving the industry toward this digital transformation?

Ganesh Bell: See, we’re driving to make wind incentive free across the world, but we need strong, stable, renewable energy policies and at the same time we also need a focus on the full life-cycle operations of a wind farm, everything from software, data and analytics. So with stable policies and innovation happening at the software, data, analytics layers, now we can optimize an entire wind farm and we can optimize all the forms of renewables whether it’s connecting energy storage and solar. That’s the real silver bullet is how you optimize the energy mix.

Monica Trauzzi: Right now wind accounts for 4 percent of energy generation worldwide. Where do you see that number going as these new technologies come into play?

Ganesh Bell: So we see wind going from 4 to 8 percent in the next five years, double in the next five years and that’s one of the reasons we’re investing heavily in innovation across wind. And the soft modular wind turbine by itself is a giant leap forward, but when combined with the digital infrastructure we believe we can accelerate that growth off wind and make it a really competitive, mainstream source of power.

Monica Trauzzi: Very interesting stuff. Thank you for coming on the show.

Ganesh Bell: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We’ll see you back here tomorrow.

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