Moniz predicts broader wind power growth for U.S. 

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2015

Technological advances from taller turbine towers to the integration of digital infrastructure into wind farms are defining the next growth phase within the U.S. wind energy sector, experts attending the American Wind Energy Association’s annual conference said yesterday.

In comments to industry leaders gathered in Orlando, Fla., Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the wind energy sector’s research-and-development investments, especially the deployment of turbines at heights of greater than 100 meters, are opening up significant new areas of the United States that used to be considered marginal for wind power, including Florida and much of the Southeast.

“Wind generation has more than tripled in the United States in just six years, exceeding 4.5 percent of total generation, and we are focused on expanding its clean power potential to every state in the country,” Moniz said during a keynote address at Windpower 2015. “By producing the next generation of larger and more efficient wind turbines, we can create thousands of new jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as we fully unlock wind power as a critical national resource.”

Moniz’s comments coincided with the release of a new DOE report suggesting that the next generation of wind turbines could make wind energy viable in all 50 states as rotors, turbines and blades increase in size and scale, allowing the capture of wind energy at previously unreachable heights.

Conventional wind turbines capture wind at roughly 80 meters (262 feet) above the ground, allowing for commercial wind generation across 39 states, with the highest production levels across the Great Plains and Midwest, as well as California.

But as turbine heights rise to between 110 and 140 meters (361 to 459 feet), the U.S. wind energy production footprint expands considerably, with as much as 1.8 million square miles of new territory being opened up for potential wind energy development, a 67 percent increase from the current footprint.

Bigger grid and more energy storage needed

“The geographic distribution for this expanded wind technical resource would include new regions such as the Southeast, as well as increasing the already cost-effective areas where wind power is currently installed,” DOE researchers, along with experts from the consulting firm SRA International Inc., said in the 43-page report.

Tom Kiernan, AWEA’s CEO, welcomed the DOE findings, saying they reflect the wind power industry’s dramatic rise over the last few decades, a period he described as going “from the Model T era to more like that of a Tesla Model S.”

Realizing wind energy’s full potential through technology improvements could take another decade or longer, however, and it will require continued advances in grid capacity, transmission on-ramps and energy storage technologies that allow large amounts of wind power to flow to demand markets as needed.

If such milestones are achieved and policy conditions remain favorable for wind power development, DOE has estimated that wind power could account for 20 percent of all U.S. electricity demand by 2030.

A high-growth scenario for wind power also poses challenges, according to DOE, including logistical difficulties in transporting very large wind turbine components and other equipment from manufacturers to wind farms, as well as potential conflicts with other policy objectives, such as wildlife protection and aviation security.

“As wind deployment reaches new heights and new regions, additional environmental and human use factors will need to be considered and addressed,” DOE notes. “This includes the potential for new or additional interactions with wildlife such as birds and bats, as well as effects on their habitats. Additionally, impacts related to human use concerns, such as civilian and military radars, must be also evaluated.”

GE introduces more agile wind farm controls

Those broader concerns took a backseat this week, however, to the industry’s more immediate goal to improve the efficiency and performance of wind turbines and wind farms.

To that end, General Electric yesterday rolled out its latest wind power innovation, called the “Digital Wind Farm,” that harnesses the capacity of the Internet to help boost wind farms’ energy production by as much as 20 percent while also lowering production costs, according to GE.

The technology is built on GE’s 2-megawatt Brilliant turbine platform, with each turbine connected to an advanced digital network that can analyze turbine operations in real time and make adjustments to boost operating efficiencies. Used in conjunction with GE-designed operating software, the technology allows operators to monitor individual turbines, farms or even entire fleets, GE said in a release.

Among the types of information that can be collected in real time are temperature readings, turbine misalignments or vibrations that can affect performance. And over time, GE said, the digital wind farm technology becomes “more predictive,” allowing wind farms to maintain top performance and avoid maintenance issues that typically occur as turbines age.

“Big data is worthless without the insight to take action, and our vision for the industry is to use today’s data to predict tomorrow’s outcomes,” Steve Bolze, president and CEO of GE Power & Water, said in a statement. “By harnessing the full power of the Industrial Internet, we can create a world where wind farms learn, adapt and perform better tomorrow