GE Hosts Future of Energy Technology Summit
“Hi folks! We recently held a ‘Future of Energy Technology Summit’ at Global Research, where we hosted four energy experts from industry, the government and academia, as well as more than two dozen media. I had a chance to describe to them some of our technology programs that are aimed at transforming the wind energy business. In particular, I addressed two fundamental themes that are driving our programs: improving the economics of wind energy, and achieving a high penetration of wind energy in the electrical grid (click on the picture at left to see a portion of my presentation where I discussed the economics of wind). How do these objectives drive our technology development programs?
1. Improving wind energy economics. The primary metric here is Cost of Energy (COE), which is measured in $/KWh, or how many dollars it costs to produce one Kilowatt-hour of electrical energy. It turns out that one good way to reduce the COE for wind is to make the turbines larger; essentially the energy production from the larger turbines outweighs the added capital investment. GE’s workhorse today is our family of 1.5 MW machines, which have rotor diameters between 75 and 80 meters; that’s about 80 yards, or the bulk of the length of a football field! Each blade today weighs about 6 tons, so you have 18 tons worth of blade material rotating on the turbine! As turbines get larger, the problems associated with making these blades will become more challenging. For example, a 6 MW wind turbine could have a rotor diameter closer to 140 meters, and each blade could weigh close to 25 tons! At the media day we described some advanced materials and blade design concepts that will dramatically reduce weight in future blades while increasing strength. As a result, the blades not only become more manageable, but the tower structure supporting the turbine does not have to be as bulky.
2. Achieving a high penetration of wind energy. The big challenges with getting a lot of wind in the electrical grid around us will be overcoming the intermittency associated with wind, and managing the integration of wind turbines and farms with the grid. A decade or so ago, grid integration issues were not as critical as they are today. Back then, during grid voltage disturbances wind turbines would essentially disconnect themselves from the grid and wait for the problems to be resolved before re-connecting. Today, and as wind penetrations increase, this approach is no longer acceptable since you are removing significant portions of the power generation capacity supporting the grid. At the media event we showcased advanced power electronics for our wind turbines, which not only make the constant 60 Hz power that the grid consumes, but also regulate voltage at the turbine point of interconnection and have advanced features that allow the turbine to remain connected to the grid through voltage disturbances. In fact, our turbine power electronics can provide voltage regulation even when the wind is not blowing, essentially helping to make some grids more stable.
At the event we also discussed some of the intermittency management strategies that will be needed to achieve higher penetrations of wind energy. While some studies, including a recent study for NYSERDA performed by GE Energy analyzing the NY state area, conclude that 10% penetrations of wind energy are in many cases manageable without affecting utility operations, additional technologies will be needed as penetrations reach higher, such as the 20% target the Department of Energy has in mind for the united States. Some of the technologies discussed at the event include balancing generation, such as natural gas turbines designed with good heat rates at partial loads that can be operated to level the variability in the wind, essentially mirroring it’s variability so that the combination is smooth. Energy storage technologies such as batteries, pumped hydro and compressed air were also discussed. Finally, the topic of load participation, a concept to control power consumption in certain loads to mirror the variability in the wind, was also discussed. Loads such as water treatment facilities, for example, could potentially be operated in this fashion to smooth the wind power production. Also included in this category are demand-side management technologies such as time-of-day or real-time pricing signals, which incentivize energy conservation by raising electricity prices during times of heavy consumption.
There is a lot of opportunity in wind energy, and we and our guests at the media event walked away energized and optimistic about the future of this area!
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