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Gamechanger: Next Generation Wind Turbines With Storage Are Cheap, Reliable And Brilliant

By Ryan Koronowski  

"Gamechanger: Next Generation Wind Turbines With Storage Are Cheap, Reliable And Brilliant"

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What makes a new wind turbine exciting?

Wind companies are always trying to making their next turbine spin more efficiently and generate more power than the last, just as car companies are looking for better fuel efficiency and engine power. Advances usually come in small jumps in both cases, with a single percentage improvement cause for celebration.

GE announced a new line of wind turbines in May that generate between 20 and 24 percent more power than the previous best turbine in its class. It does this through traditional improvements in turbine design, but also through innovations that address one of the main issues that critics of wind power raise: intermittency.

The wind does not blow all the time, and the electric grid needs a regular supply of electricity. Wind has been a critical and climate-friendly addition to the grid portfolio, but as the industry continues to expand, people have started to think about what happens when more and more of our electricity is generated from intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar. Fossil fuel advocates try to make the case that coal and gas (and oil) can be burned constantly, but this is becoming less and less tenable. Rising carbon emissions are triggering extreme weather and sea level rise that endanger the very reliability of the electric grid.

Can advances in technology allow renewable energy sources to be reliable for second-to-second grid use? It’s already happening. In 2011, a concentrated solar plant produced power for 24 hours straight. A huge array of mirrors heated up a huge molten-salt battery system that permitted the solar plant to supply power when the sun was down. Reliable, steady wind energy is also becoming a real thing.

GE’s Brilliant 1.6-100 and 1.7-100 wind turbines are different from previous efforts because they use a short-term, grid-scale battery storage system paired with an “industrial internet” — a sophisticated system that is able to predict when power will be needed and when the wind will be blowing. It’s also bigger. All of this increases efficiency and capacity factor, or how much energy a turbine actually can produce.

This is a big deal, for grid operators and wind energy producers. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has a rule that requires the people that run the grid to pay more for power that is more reliable and can reach the grid immediately — when demand spikes. Energy providers that take an hour or a few minutes to come online are worth less to those that work to ensure that when you turn on your lights, there is energy ready at hand. Historically, natural gas plants have been more valuable than, say, coal plants because it is easier to get spark a flow of methane to turn a turbine quickly than it is to get a coal furnace hot.

CleanTechnica has an excellent three-part series stemming from their visit to GE’s Research site near Tehachapi, California, with a guided tour into and on top of the GE Brilliant 1.6-100 turbine.

When the wind blows near one of GE’s Brilliant turbines, the “industrial internet” has already done a lot of work to let the power producers and the grid operators know when that energy can be expected. It is able to micromanage the most efficient way to position the turbines for optimal rotation. Still, turbines will produce energy at times that the grid is unable to use it. The battery system attached to the turbine allows it to feed excess electricity into the batteries, converting it to electrochemical energy that the grid can use upon request, with nearly immediate turnaround time.

This also allows the wind turbine operator to get into the frequency regulation business. Frequency regulation is the complex part of grid operation, where second-to-second peaks and valleys in demand obliterate any smoothness in the demand curve. This is ordinarily very difficult and expensive, because entire coal and gas power plants have to be operating full bore on “reserve” capacity to cover for this. But using battery-powered sources to smooth frequency regulation demand is much more efficient — it also allows the grid to dump extra electricity into the battery systems. This is worth more to the grid, and so such systems command nearly twice the price for frequency regulation as thermal (fossil fuel) systems. The U.S. military is already looking into using their growing fleet of electric vehicles on domestic bases to get into the frequency regulation business.

So where are these cutting-edge turbines headed? Sixty-seven of them will be built for installation in the mountains of New South Wales in Australia in the fall of 2013, with power expected to be flowing into the grid by the end of 2014. Fifty-nine of them are headed to the “thumb” region of Michigan as part of a wind farm planned by NextEra Energy Resources. And Invenergy Wind is building a farm in Mills County, Texas that will feature three 2.5 MW GE Brilliant turbines.

As more of these turbines hit the grid, the reliability of renewable energy increases, making it a feasible backbone to the electric grid. And with the cost of the energy produced by these turbines right now level with thermal coal, this seems like a game-changer.

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61 Responses to Gamechanger: Next Generation Wind Turbines With Storage Are Cheap, Reliable And Brilliant

  1. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Well I guess NSW will see another outbreak of ‘wind turbine syndrome’ which has never afflicted anybody in countries without campaigns of paid, organized denial, ME

  2. Omega Centauri says:

    I still see this as just another incremental step, as far as wind turbines are concerned. For grid storage it is more significant, as (hopefully) we are now reaching the point where the energy storage business can be profitable enough to grow.

    • wili says:

      Every “increment” that makes winds cheaper than coal dooms the latter to economic dustbin.

      It only take a tiny “incremental” change in the slope of a smooth level surface to cause all the marbles resting on it to roll of in one direction.

      And in this case, 24% more power is a hell of a lot more than an “increment” if those claims are accurate.

      But of course the main thing we have to do pronto is massively REDUCE our need for energy: walking, biking, mass transit, efficient well insulated buildings…NOT flying, driving much, eating meat and dairy much.

      Those changes in behavior could happen essentially immediately, which is when we need them.

  3. Greatgrandma Kat says:

    Is GE using this tech to power production of these new turbines? If so its good news if not it’s just another small step in the right direction.

    • NiCoCu says:

      “Is GE using this tech to power production of these new turbines?”
      The more of them that are installed, the more the power will come from existing ones to produce the new ones.

    • wili says:

      Sorry, but that argument is 100% BS. Stop making it. It just makes you look stupid.

      It is as totally obvious and not worth commenting on for a nano-second that nearly all power in this country still comes from death fuels.

      It is equally totally obvious to the non-brain-dead that the more fuel that comes from NON-death fuels, the more energy that goes into MAKING those alternatives will also come form alternatives.

      What part of that blindingly obvious tautology is so hard for you to grasp?

      (Sorry for the harsh tone, but I’m sick of hearing this lame a$$ whiny argument against alternative energy trotted out every time some news comes out. I’m afraid I have to assume it originated from the deathfuel industry itself, even if you might be an unwitting purveyor of their propaganda. Mind you, I think there are some rational arguments against alternatives, this just isn’t it.)

  4. Incremental? Yes. Important? Yes. Now if we can get the government to fund more R&D and deployment of wind/battery combination units, the same way they funded fighter planes and tanks in WW2.

    I hope this good news holds up as the units are installed.

    • James says:

      Because of that funding during the war, we can all now purchase cheap affordable fighter planes and tanks for sustainable use.
      Oh wait…

  5. Henry says:

    While the idea of a “grid-scale battery storage system” is exciting, I won’t believe it until I actually see it in normal operation.
    Large scale grid battery storage has thus far been the ‘holy grail’ of renewable producers. I’m honestly doubtful it’s been achieved just yet.
    H.

    • This looks promising for grid scale power storage: http://www.ambri.com/

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Yes, H, but it’s just a matter of time and determination. Really, this is a danger infinitely more horrific than the Japanese Empire cubed, but, unlike after Pearl Harbour, the response is still desultory at best. Imagine if half the US ‘Defence’ Budget was spent on green technology research, development and installation instead. We’d be laughing.

  6. Theodore says:

    How is putting batteries in a wind turbine different from putting them elsewhere?

    • Omega Centauri says:

      I’ve been thinking the same. Other than smoothing transmission it shouldn’t make much difference where the grid balancing storage is. Perhaps the way power purchase agreements work make it more incrementally valuable to the wind farm operator, than it would be for a stand along grid-support operator at another location?
      Now, if it was longer term storage -say it covered a few days, than it would make it profitable to build a wind farm with a nameplate capacity larger than the grid connection it is connected to -it could simply move some of the output from windy to non-windy days. But, thats not what we are talking about here.

    • Brian Smith says:

      Must be a matter of battery efficiency & transmission losses? Corollary question, why wouldn’t utilities want to store unused available available power in buildings say, or distributed storage along a bullet train line? Maybe they would if the battery tech were good enough. when I was a kid I imagined electroluminescent paint (for glow in the dark cars) and then paint-on battery material. Down the road…

    • Brian Smith says:

      Ted Talk: Donald Sadoway: The missing link to renewable energy

      http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/donald_sadoway_the_missing_link_to_renewable_energy.html

      2MW liquid metal batts. in the pipe.

    • rollin says:

      Just a matter of who controls it and therefor who gets the premium.

    • Joan Savage says:

      It could put the turbine and battery both on the DC side of a grid-tie inverter. That could reduce the energy loss in DC/AC conversion, and cut down on the number of inverters needed. Just a guess, really.

    • Omri says:

      “How is putting batteries in a wind turbine different from putting them elsewhere?”

      It means the utility that connects to the wind turbine doesn’t have to make any adjustments to their transmission and transformer array: the turbine owner has just taken that responsibility.

    • mulp says:

      You get paid for the quality of power delivered as demanded.

      A separate storage system will get paid a high price if it supplies high quality power on demand – stable voltage and frequency. It will be required to pay for the power is uses to recharge.

      A turbine without the storage will be paid a low price for poor quality power and be required to dump excess power if not needed.

      Only by combining the two can free power be used to charge the batteries and all the wind power is sold at the highest price to the grid.

      The storage does not need to be in the turbine, but could be in common for a farm.

      However, volume production and replication of identical units is the key to low production costs and highest quality, so it might be cheaper to build every turbine and tower with integrated storage. Identical to manufacture, sell, build, operate, maintain, upgrade. And continuously scalable.

  7. Robert In New Orleans says:

    How about an article about small wind turbines for residential use, especially for homes out in the country for people who want to get off the grid.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      I’d like to see that too, Robert. My understanding is that small house turbines are practically forbidden by building departments.
      Solar was enabled long ago, before everything got so corrupt, so this needs to change via pressure on ICC etc. PVC turbines are cheap, too.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        ‘…before everything got so corrupt’. Jeez, Mike, you want to go waaay back. Let’s fact it-things have been crook, and getting crooker, since the first ‘entrepreneur’ removed his neighbour’s assets by leveraging a bloody great stick to the back of his head.

    • John Atkeison says:

      Small scale “microturbines” have never worked as well as we all would like them to. When people ask me about a turbine for home or farm, I ask them if they really like to tinker and fix small machines… because when you put a machine up where the weather knocks it around, there will be plenty of opportunity to tinker & fix. OTOH, isn’t it cool to have a hobby that actually pays for itself eventually?
      Two suggestions: (1) check out the warranties offered by companies that are in good financial condition, (2) cruise around the website of Paul Gipe (he wrote the book) at http://bit.ly/GipeWindWorks. He evaluates a number of small turbines and discusses the difficulties.

      • wili says:

        Yes, it is my understanding that it gets hard to get most smaller scale wind to even ‘pay’ for the energy that went into making them.

        But I could be/hope I am wrong about that.

    • Joan Savage says:

      The last time I researched turbines was for a project four years ago, and a lot seems to have happened since then. An update on both technology and regulation would be a good idea, if it hasn’t already been done.

      In upstate New York, several town ordinances limit the negative effects of turbines on neighbors. Turbine vibration, including audible noise, electromagnetic interference with cell phones or TV or satellite reception, and distance of a turbine from a neighbor’s property line are included. I forget if shadowing is explicitly mentioned or not. On a statewide level, New York generally encourages renewable energy, but regulates the aesthetic effect of turbines on historic sites.

      I suppose the glare of reflected light off solar panels could end up being regulated too, but they don’t have the emotional impact of the big turbines. In the Fenner wind farm there are days when the turbines are quiet though moving, and on others, detectible noise.

  8. Joan Savage says:

    “But using battery-powered sources to smooth frequency regulation demand is much more efficient — it also allows the grid to dump extra electricity into the battery systems.”

    Nice in a nutshell!

    A previous iteration of a grid-scale battery system was a phone company grid, before fiber optics. The companies had warehouses full of enormous batteries ready to keep phones operating during an emergency. Fiber optics don’t carry current, so the battery system only works for phone areas that still use copper wire. Or so I’ve been told.

    • rollin says:

      The fiber optics may not carry current but all the amplifiers, converters and detectors require power along the system.

  9. Omega Centauri says:

    Thanks for the link to cleantechnia, I’ll add it to my list of toread sites. Although it feels a bit more like a place that simply echoes the manufacturers marketing points, it still should be a useful source of information.

  10. Dave Bradley says:

    These are examples of Low Wind Speed Turbines, which can deliver much better net efficiencies from low to moderate wind speeds. Very cool. Bigger blades and often taller towers for a given generator size than earlier made units. The battery in this case might be a sodium nickel chloride one also made by GE. However, this will only store small amounts of energy, but probably enough to energize the generator magnetic coils so that this does not have to be supplied by the grid. Avoiding the current inrush and the things that can do to the output frequency of the turbine and also the way that can mess with the grid is a good thing.

    But if you want to do serious electrical energy storage, pumped hydro is where is is at. Works with sea water, too. The coast around Sydney has lost of decent sized cliffs of a 100 meters and often more, which also means that fresh water (scarce in Australia, due to, rumor has it, Global Warming!) does not have to be used for this.

  11. Tom A. says:

    Another step in the wrong direction. Every home should have a battery system charged by a built-in wind-powered generator, one which does not have a propeller or need to be up on a tower. No conversion or line losses, thus vastly more efficient as well as inexpensive and easy to maintain. Wind farms are obsolete.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Circular firing squad comment. We need both. It’s not just houses that use electricity, you know.

      I’d also like to see evidence that distributed wind is cheaper. Likely not, just as solar is cheaper at scale than via individual installations.

    • wili says:

      See above on problem with efficiency of small-scale projects (but please do link to sources if you can back up your claims that these smaller systems can work as you propose!).

  12. fj says:

    From what I understand that line losses can be about 66 percent it seems that this distributed longer lasting regulated supply can provide significant advantages, especially when deployed in smart systems and micro grids.

    • Gingerbaker says:

      From what I understand, line losses are negligible once power is converted to AC from DC and voltage regulated.

      We really need to get a handle on this subject, as so many folks throw around very different ideas about this topic as if their position is a war-winning rhetorical grenade.

      “Wind farms are obsolete”, for example.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Line losses even with AC are nowhere near 66%, more like 10% of that, depending on distance from the source.

  13. John McCormick says:

    Ryan, a great piece well written and good links. Thanks.

    Maybe wind power is heading to second base even if it is the eight inning and the climate is way ahead.

    Also good comments. Learned a lot.

  14. John McCormick says:

    This from Bloomberg Report recently:

    “The U.S. wind market will likely crash in 2013,” he said. “Uncertainty over the Production Tax Credit extension this year means that little development activity will take place.” The credit provides 2.2 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity generated from wind.

    Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the world’s biggest maker of wind turbines, said it will cut 1,600 U.S. jobs if the credit is allowed to expire. Industry lobbyists are seeking to attach a four-year extension of the credit to legislation to renew the payroll tax cut that Congress is considering now.”

    Seems to me the extension of the tax credit for fur years is a heck of a lot more important and a strategic move than kicking the XL pipeline down the road.

    Are the big green capable of delivering that tax credit extension?

    • Sasparilla says:

      They definitely need to extend the credit, however one of the changes for the current one year extension was that it applies to wind projects that start development in 2013 (not complete it as previously) – so I would expect it to be a slow drop off.

      Everyone was saying the same thing in 2012 as well (when it expired before) and we added more wind than any fossil fuel source.

  15. John McCormick says:

    A link to the tax credit extension article:

    http://tinyurl.com/7r87w3x

    • Sasparilla says:

      Yeah John, that article was written in January of 2012 so its totally out of date.

      The tax credit was extended one year (not very good), but the language was changed so that all that had to happen for the tax credit to apply was that the Wind Project get started (awesome). Hopefully the credit will get extended further but in the mean time alot of wind projects will have locked it in for years to come (even after a 2013 expiration).

  16. Sasparilla says:

    So GE has essentially made a Wind Turbine Hybrid with an associated large bump in the economics of the turbine, beautiful. This is great to see – I’d guess this would take the cost per kWH and bring it down below natural gas (at this point) and maybe below coal (I know the article is saying it but there’s not alot of detail on it) – hallelujah if that’s the case.

    That is one of the holy grails here, if we can get a new wind turbine to have lower costs per kWh than existing coal and existing natural gas, its game over for those technologies (on a large scale) and the market will pour money into Wind – it can be dropped into place and undercut the economics of fossil fuel based energy generation while making a profit.

    Now GE needs to deliver on this promise and show the economics are really there with several installations – then it’ll be off to the races with commercial money pouring into wind like we’ve never seen before.

  17. gerald says:

    So its GE vs Big Oil.that would make for a great Pay-per-View sporting event!

  18. BillD says:

    This is great news,since it verifies that the “intermittent” problem with renewable energy is a technological problem that can be is being solved in the short to intermediate future. We can safely predict that solar and wind will soon be cheaper and more efficient that coal, independent of coal’s environmental costs.

    • wili says:

      It was always mostly a fake “problem” anyway.

      The term ‘base load’ itself was first coined to identify a major problem with a coal-plant-based grid: what do you do with all that ‘base load’ when no one wants your energy?

      Now suddenly they are trying to turn in into some kind of absolute necessity, as if load management and storage have not always been around at various levels to handle these things.

      Don’t believe the hype!

    • The example cited by CleanTechnica had 50kwh of storage on a 1.6MW turbine. That’s 3% of maximum output, around 40 minutes. This is advertised by GE as short-term storage for frequency regulation. Wind needs balancing power over longer horizons than this; days or weeks. Wind, or a wind/solar combination, can’t replace everything else. We will always need a lot of dispatchable power: gigawatts of batteries or geothermal or synfuels or hot salt CSP or good old pumped storage hydro.

  19. Martin says:

    If the grid operators are anything like the Enron operators this will fail. The smartest guys in the room can screw up anything. Only by valuing community over money will the right decisions be made

  20. For sure there appears more hope for the future in clean energy and less environmental damage in Wind than Hydro. In the Territory I live in, the Government of the day is busy building a 12 billion dollar dam to generate 825 meg. of power. The loss of the these eight rivers will be earth changing, affecting fish and water habitat for thousands of square miles, and poisoning food in the bargain.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Yes, James, but the usual suspects will makes lotsa money, and that’s all that counts.

  21. John Atkeison says:

    Wind is directly cost-competitive with coal-fired electricity. Offers with 20 PPAs are coming in at around 2.5 cents/kWh, which is what utilities were bragging about last year as the generating cost before it left the power plant.
    These are Nebraska numbers from the recent three months. Even some of the fossilized management is sitting up and paying attention.

    • John Atkeison says:

      Please pardon the hurried typing- I refer to a 20 YEAR Power Purchase Agreement. (This is the practical way to get wind power here- we are the one 100% Public Power state, but Congress gave the little PTC subsidy to privately-owned companies. More corporate welfare…)

    • John McCormick says:

      John, open our eyes to the value and strength of PPAs. Thanks.

  22. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Congratulations GE for the advancement of Wind Technology. Infact Wind is seasonal and intermittent. This new technology will bring in more popularity for Wind Energy.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  23. Ken says:

    This would be progress if it were not for the House of Representatives blocking the new Light Bulb Standards Act. Our savings come from total conservation but many companies would rather hold on to the old wasteful ways and they buy off our Cheap Politicians to keep improvements from taking place. If we really want to conserve energy and move to a more efficient future we need to put our old politicians in the recycle bin and get new more efficient legislators in office least we are doomed to continue our old wasteful ways and rapidly become the Third World Country we are becoming now.

  24. GE may be ahead, but its competitors aren’t far behind.

  25. Kladinvt says:

    Instead of making these enormous turbines, that are eyesores on many landscapes, such as mountain tops, how about investing in smaller, individual wind mills, much like rooftop solar panels. We don’t need to destroy the environment in an attempt to save it.

  26. James Richard Tyrer says:

    Since wind can’t replace coal without full backup, I don’t see how it makes any difference.