BT to go big on wind energy with $230 million deal



U.K. telecoms operator BT has announced the signing of a new power agreement with a Scottish wind farm.

The power purchase agreement (PPA) is worth £185 million ($230.79 million) over 15 years and, in a statement earlier this week, BT said that thirteen wind turbines in the north of Scotland were providing the business with 100 gigawatt hours of renewable energy annually.

BT’s general manager of power procurement said that the company had been purchasing 100 percent renewable energy in the U.K. since 2012.

“By 2020 we aim to be purchasing 100 per cent renewable electricity worldwide, so soon all of our power will come from sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat wherever we operate across the globe – where markets allow,” Rob Williams added.

Scottish Renewables’ director of policy welcomed the deal. “The fact that we’re seeing more and more large companies like BT contracting most or all of their power from sources like wind, solar, hydro and biomass shows that renewable energy makes good business sense,” Jenny Hogan said.


“Renewables are already Scotland’s biggest source of power – ahead of nuclear, gas and coal – and have the potential to provide half of all Scotland’s energy – electricity, heat and transport — by 2030.”

Wind power is fast becoming an integral part of Scotland’s energy mix. Scottish wind turbines sent more than 1.2 million megawatt hours of electricity to the National Grid in March, according to recent analysis of data from WeatherEnergy by WWF Scotland.

The environmental group said that turbines produced enough electricity to meet, on average, the electrical needs of 136 percent of Scottish households, equivalent to 3.3 million homes. This represented an increase of 81 percent compared to March 2016.

Wind energy industry surging



The nation’s wind energy industry is surging, adding jobs at nine times the pace of the US economy as a whole. And Xcel Energy remains the top utility producer of that renewable source.

Those were among the trends announced by industry players in a State Capitol press conference that coincided with the release of the American Wind Energy Association annual report.

“We added over 14,000 jobs in one year, over 14,000 jobs hired in the wind industry,” Tom Kiernan, the association’s CEO told reporters. “Now we have over 100,000 men and women working in this industry, and that includes 25,000 in manufacturing.”

President Trump last month signed an executive order loosening restrictions on coal burning power production, but in the Upper Midwest utilities are embracing wind as a lower cost alternative that also happens to be cleaner.

“The fuel of tomorrow is literally on sale today,” Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke remarked, explaining that the technology is becoming more cost effective.

Currently 19 percent of Xcel’s power across its eight-state service territory is derived from wind turbines, and Xcel expects that number to grow to 34 percent by the year 2021. And as wind energy becomes more efficient, it should translate to savings in customers’ electricity bills.

Fowke said investments in transmission capacity has also made it easier to add wind power to the grid and draw on that source when production is peaking. It’s one of the reasons Xcel is moving ahead with more wind farms.

“I look at wind as a fuel, so I might have to have that natural gas plant on the ready. But if I’m not firing up with natural gas, and instead I’m letting wind — which is more economical — do it’s work, then everybody benefits.”

Kiernan conceded the wind generation industry has benefited greatly from federal and state policies and tax incentives intended to offset the high startup costs of wind power. He thanked Minnesota lawmakers who attended the press conference for their support of clean energy, and Congressman Tom Emmer who wasn’t able to make it.

He said the wind industry is generally in agreement with the idea of phasing out those incentives over a five-year period, as long as the rules aren’t changed to the advantage of competing energy sources.

Chris Brown, the president of Vestas Americas, which manufactures turbines and blades, said wind power is in a much stronger position now than it was a decade ago.

“From our perspective wind energy will be here,” Brown told reporters. “We’ll have to compete with solar, we’ll have to compete with natural gas. We say bring it!”

The booming wind sector has also meant more jobs for those who install the wind turbines, and the companies that build the transmission infrastructure.

One of those companies, Minnesota based Blattner Energy, is riding the wind energy wave.

“Wind power’s steady growth and policy stability helps Blattner create thousands of new American construction jobs at our projects throughout the US,” Doug Fredrickson, Blattner’s vice president of operations, said.

German Power Company Examining New Wind Energy Options



Technology for wind energy could use fixed-wing or sails for power in a way that would make deployment easier for deep waters, a German company said.

German energy company E.ON said it made an investment commitment with Ampyx Power to test so-called airborne wind energy technology.

“This novel technology has the potential to transform the global offshore wind generation market as airborne wind devices are cheaper to manufacture and easier to maintain than conventional wind turbines,” the German company explained. “Additionally, they are easier deployed in deeper waters surrounding countries such as Portugal, Japan and the United States.”

Ampyx Power is a pioneer in the development of novel wind energy technologies and the company said teaming up with E.ON was “clear proof” of market interest. The collaboration in airborne wind energy is the second for E.ON, which invested in a Scottish start-up last year.

Anja-Isabel Dotzenrath, the CEO of E.ON’s climate and renewables division, said investing in novel technology could help wind energy be more competitive.

“Airborne wind supports one of our overall targets to drive down cost for renewable energy,” the CEO said in a statement.

A 2015 study sponsored by the European Wind Energy Agency finds offshore wind power is still a costly venture and the industry will need to pursue more efficient and more competitive options if it’s to have a viable long-term future. In response, the study found the industry is using bigger turbines, which could pay off in the long-term, but require more capital up front.

E.ON said its investment decisions could lead to the development of a demonstration project off the coast of Ireland. If successful, the company said it would be a “stepping stone” toward making airborne wind a commercial opportunity.

Nine countries that share a border with the North Sea — Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden — agreed last year to improve infrastructure to support offshore wind. Britain, meanwhile, has more offshore wind farms than any other country.

Huge wind turbines are to combine with hydropower in a German forest



In Germany, two renewable energy sources are being combined in a novel project looking to break new ground and transform the scenery of a German forest.

GE, through GE Renewable Energy, has signed an agreement with Max Bögl Wind AG to both deliver and commission what it has described as “the world’s tallest and first ever wind turbine integrated with pumped storage hydro-electric power.”

In and of themselves, wind and hydro are becoming increasingly important sources of power. The International Energy Agency (IEA), for example, describes hydropower as “the largest single renewable electricity source today.” Wind energy, it states, is moving towards becoming a “mainstream, competitive and reliable power technology.”

The scale of the project GE is involved in, which is based in the Swabian-Franconian Forest in Germany, is considerable.

The wind turbine towers used in the project will have a “total tip height” of 246.5 meters, with each tower’s base and surrounding area used as a water reservoir.

“We’ve got a series of wind turbines, that are kind of… conventional, except that in the base of them we’ve got a storage reservoir that actually surrounds the base of the wind turbines,” Cliff Harris, who manages GE Renewable Energy’s onshore wind portfolio in EMEA, told CNBC in a phone interview.

In addition, a valley nearby – around 200 metres below the turbines – will be home to a lake and a pump/generator hydro plant with a capacity of 16 megawatts.

“When the wind blows, we generate electricity from the wind turbines,” Harris said. “When the demand for electricity is high you can release water from the reservoirs that are held around the base of the turbines down the hill, through the turbines and into the reservoir,” he added.

“And then, at times when there’s not so much demand you can actually pump the water back up hill and it’s ready to use again.”

Construction of the project is underway, Harris added. GE has said that the four turbines are anticipated to be commissioned by the end of the year, with the “full” power plant expected to be in operation by the end of 2018.

Wind Energy Takes Flight In The Heart Of Texas Oil Country



Georgetown, Texas, is a conservative town in a conservative state. So it may come as something of a surprise that it’s one of the first cities in America to be entirely powered by renewable energy.

Mayor Dale Ross, a staunch Republican who attended President Trump’s inauguration, says that decision came down to a love of green energy and “green rectangles” — cash.

When Georgetown’s old power contract was up in 2012, city managers looked at all their options. They realized wind and solar power are more predictable; the prices don’t fluctuate like oil and gas. So, a municipality can sign a contract today and know what the bill is going to be for the next 25 years.

That’s especially appealing in a place like Georgetown, where a lot of retirees live on fixed incomes.

“First and foremost it was a business decision,” Ross says.

City leaders say the debate over renewables never even mentioned climate change, a wedge issue in Texas politics.

It’s not just Georgetown that is defying expectations of conservatism and renewable energy. As a state, Texas is by far the No. 1 producer of wind energy in the United States; it produces more wind energy than the next three states combined. In fact, if it were its own country, Texas would be the fourth-largest largest wind-producing country in the world by the end of 2017. Ross says former Texas Gov. Rick Perry deserves the credit: “I truly believe he was a visionary.”

Today, Rick Perry is the head of the U.S. Department of Energy. At his swearing-in last week, Perry described what President Trump told him when he offered him the job: “I want you to do for American energy what you did for Texas.”

If that request extends to wind power — after all, Trump is seen as emphasizing fossil fuels, with his support for coal and through his Cabinet picks — the U.S. can expect a further explosion in wind energy production and in the jobs needed to support the industry.

Already, the fastest-growing job in the U.S. is wind turbine technician. Though the absolute numbers are small — 4,400 in 2014 — it’s growing at more than double the pace of the next closest profession.

That explosion is apparent in Sweetwater, Texas, which sits on a vast open plain — an area that the town’s former mayor, Greg Wortham, describes as the wind capitol of the world. In every direction, row after row of 300-foot-tall wind turbines dot the horizon.

The construction and maintenance of these three-armed behemoths has created a new industry in town. Heath Ince teaches in the wind program at Texas State Technical College, Sweetwater.

“A lot of people don’t realize how physically demanding and even mentally challenging it can be at times,” Ince says of the job maintaining machinery in an environment that is scalding hot in the summer and frigid in the winter.

And yet, the program has doubled in size since its launch, to 52 students from 25 in 2008. Demand is high — renewable energy companies are hiring Ince’s students, sometimes before they even finish the program — and the salaries are good, too: Median pay in 2015 was about $50,000.

In policy circles, the debate surrounding renewable energy and fossil fuels often pits them against one another. Liberals are supposed to support solar and wind; conservatives are supposed to support oil and gas.

In Texas, the attitude is “all of the above.”

“Any time there’s an opportunity to put a little extra income in people’s pockets, we’re all for it,” says Russ Petty, who owns a print shop in Sweetwater and whose relatives have been ranchers in the area for generations.

The income derived from leasing a single turbine varies. But Wortham, the former mayor, says $10,000 per turbine per year is a good estimate.

That’s significant, says developer Monty Humble.

“For a land owner, a ranching family to have the opportunity to produce oil and gas or the opportunity to have a wind turbine or a solar farm, it may well mean that another generation can remain on the land,” Humble says.

But just because West Texas towns like Sweetwater had the potential to produce a lot of wind energy didn’t mean that energy had anywhere to go. That changed when Gov. Perry signed into law a 2005 bill to build transmission lines connecting the windy plains to population centers like Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. And Perry made every Texas citizen pay for it in their energy bills.

That’s not the most conservative position in the world, says David Spence, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who specializes in energy and the environment.

“It’s a full socialization of the costs,” Spence says. “We don’t use that word in the public discussion. But, yeah, we socialize the costs across all Texas ratepayers.”

Texas has a unique advantage that enabled some of these changes. Continental America is divided into three electrical grids: East, West and Texas. Since the Texas grid is self-contained, wind energy doesn’t cross state lines and isn’t subject to as many federal regulations.

Even so, the simple abundance of wind and an independent grid by no means guaranteed the explosion in wind energy production in Texas. Jay Root, who covered Perry’s governorship as a reporter for The Texas Tribune, says Perry pushed for wind energy and “if he hadn’t, we would not be where we are today.”

But, Root adds, “I don’t think anyone would call Rick Perry an environmentalist, including Rick Perry. … But the guy knows how to sniff out a dollar. Here’s a guy from West Texas who saw that you can make money off of the wind blowing. Like, that’s a no brainer.”

Of course, this Texas wind revolution was begun before the Tea Party revolution, when it was easier for Republicans to buck strict conservative principles on a case-by-case basis. So Perry, as U.S. energy secretary, faces challenges at the national level that will make it much harder for him to expand what he did in Texas.

But if he does, it would be almost as surprising as what happened in his home state when a red-state, conservative guy from oil country managed to help build one of the biggest renewable energy systems in the world.

Scotland’s Wind Power Output Takes “Massive Jump”



New data published this week shows that wind power output in Scotland jumped by more than two-fifths compared to the same period a year earlier, and generated more than Scotland’s total electricity needs on four separate days.

WWF Scotland, commenting on the new data provided by WeatherEnergy, subsequently urged politicians to make the most of Scotland’s renewable energy future, and build on the already amazing progress made in the country.

According to WeatherEnergy, Scotland’s wind turbines provided 1,331,420 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to the National Grid in February — enough to power the equivalent of 3.9 million homes, or 162% of Scottish households. This was the result of a 43% increase compared to February of 2016.

Most impressively, however, was that wind power in Scotland accounted for 67% of Scotland’s entire electricity needs for February — Scotland’s total electricity consumption was 1,984,765 MWh for the month of February. Further, on Thursday the 2nd, Monday the 13th, Monday the 20th, and Sunday the 26th, wind energy generated an output equivalent to more than Scotland’s total power needs for that day — 118%, 110%, 127%, and 128% respectively.

“Thanks to a combination of increased capacity and stronger winds, output from turbines was up more than two-fifths compared to the same period last year,” said WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks.

“This was enough power to provide the equivalent of the electrical needs of almost four million homes. As well as helping to power our homes and businesses, wind power supports thousands of jobs and helps Scotland to avoid over a million tonnes of polluting carbon emissions every month.

“Every one of the main political parties supports the aim of generating half of all Scotland’s energy needs from renewables by 2030 – including heat, electricity and transport. With this level of political backing, we call upon all of the parties to now bring forward policies that will help maximise the benefits to Scotland’s economy, as we transition to a renewable future.”

“Compared to last year, some very powerful winds across the month helped increase the total electricity supplied to the National Grid from Scotland’s wind turbines,” added Karen Robinson of WeatherEnergy.

“As we began to witness for the first time last year, this February has also seen a few days where the power output from wind farms exceeded the total electricity demand for an entire day. This is quite an achievement.

“With the increasing occurrence of ‘100% wind power days’ there can be little doubt that Scotland is well placed to begin the next step of increasing the role that renewables could play in cutting carbon emissions from its transport and heating sectors.”

This should really come as no surprise to anyone who has been watching Scotland’s record-breaking renewable energy sector over the last few years. The country has regularly reported days where renewable energy — dominated by wind energy — accounted for more than the country’s total power needs. And the country is a leading European renewable energy developer and technical expert, providing services around the world.


The South Has Been Slow To Harness Its Wind, But That’s Changing



 Wind power is the largest source of renewable energy in the United States. But a broad swath of the country has had no large, commercial wind farms — until now. A new one with 104 towers is up and running near Elizabeth City, N.C., where it spans 22,000 acres.

Horace Pritchard is one of about 60 landowners who are leasing property to the project known as the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East. Developers say it will generate enough power for 61,000 homes per year — power that the Internet retailer Amazon has agreed to buy from the electric grid.

Pritchard’s farm is about 30 miles from the Atlantic coast — close enough to be windier than areas farther inland. The project is a good deal for Pritchard, who gets an annual payment for each turbine on his land.

“When corn’s down, that you’re not making any ends meet, this will help us pull through a bad year or a hurricane or a drought,” he says.

The wind farm is considered the first of its kind in the Southeastern United States. But why has the region been so slow to harness its wind?

Slow Southern breezes

In the Southeast, the strongest winds tend to be higher up than in places like the Great Plains, with their wide open spaces.

“There are decent and actually quite good wind speeds at very high elevations above the earth’s surface in the Southeast,” says Michael Goggin, senior director of research at the American Wind Energy Association. “Thus far, we just haven’t had turbines that were large enough to get up there to capture those winds.”

That’s partly a quirk of geography, he says, and partly because the Southeast has a lot of trees and forests.

“That interferes with the flow of wind, you know, just basically friction — the wind is slowing down as it hits those trees,” Goggin says.

All of that explains why, aside from a small amount of wind power in Tennessee, the region has lagged far behind the rest of the country in wind energy.

That might sound counterintuitive if you’re thinking of the robust winds that blow along the ocean. And you’d be right, but coastal wind development can be logistically complicated because of homes, businesses and other structures, and often faces public resistance.

“On the beach, there is a lot of wind — that’s why people go to the beach in the summer to get cool and be near the water,” says Craig Poff, director of business development at Avangrid Renewables, which runs the project. “But you have to balance the placement of wind turbines with the geography.”

Wind towers weren’t tall enough — until now

The wind turbines on Pritchard’s farm dot the landscape, along with his tractors and other farm equipment. They’re tall: The tip of the highest blade stretches close to 500 feet in the air above the base, longer than a football field. The blades make a faint whooshing sound as they slice through the air.

Poff says it’s hard to tell with the naked eye, but these towers are a little different from the ones you might see in other parts of the country.

“They’ve gotten a little bit taller and the blades have gotten a little bit longer,” he says.

About 10 years ago, he says, the tower itself would have been about 250 feet tall. Now the tower alone is about 330 feet. That extra length is possible because of technological advances that make taller towers feasible and more affordable than they would have been a decade ago.

“I think it has changed the energy map of the country,” says Goggin, of the American Wind Energy Association. “Traditionally, people didn’t think there was wind in the Southeast, and now there are projects being built there.”

Competition from traditional fuels

Historically, the Southeast has relied on easy access to coal, and in some areas, nuclear power. As the industry has matured and technology has advanced, Poff says the cost of generating wind power has dropped about 65 percent over about the past five years.

“Wind energy has to compete with what the cost of energy is in the area,” he says. “So here, it took a while for turbine technology to catch up to make this project competitive with what energy would otherwise cost. And here we’re competing against old infrastructure.”

Between cheaper wind, and a recent volatility in coal prices and competition from natural gas, Goggin says renewable fuel is becoming more attractive in the region. Several utilities, from Georgia to Tennessee, have a history of buying renewable energy — from outside the region.

“It makes sense that utilities are looking to diversify their fuel mix and lock in a low price with wind energy,” Goggin says.

Transmission and the grid

Another challenge for wind development in the Southeast and elsewhere is the fact that the nation’s electrical grid wasn’t designed with renewable energy in mind. Goggin describes the grid as a system of regional fiefdoms with a “little dirt road between them” that aren’t set up to efficiently exchange energy.

“This is just kind of a historical artifact of how we built the power grid in this country,” Goggin says. “We didn’t really have a national power system or a national electricity market, until the last decade or so.”

In some areas, utilities wanting to buy and sell wind energy are running against limitations of the existing transmission lines.

“So I think that’s part of also what’s driving interest in wind projects in the Southeast, is that we’ve hit limits on how much you can bring in from other regions,” Goggin says.

Politics and public opposition

Wind farms in new areas often run up against pushback from the public. For the project in North Carolina, there were several obstacles. Republican state lawmakers raised concerns that it might interfere with military radar. The Navy reviewed the project and said interference is unlikely.

Lawmakers then made a last-ditch request to President Trump to block the project. That has apparently failed, but Trump has expressed skepticism about wind power; he famously objected to a wind farm he said would disrupt the view near one of his golf courses in Scotland.

Those concerns, along with worries about noise, land use, and the impact on birds and other wildlife, often pop up around new wind developments.

Officials with Avangrid say they hope the North Carolina project will pave the way for more wind power in the region. Spokesman Art Sasse says he believes growing demand from technology companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook will drive growth in the renewable sector, regardless of politics.

“All of those companies now that are going out and purchasing large-scale, commercial, renewable projects — that’s not going to stop,” Sasse says. “That is where our industry is headed, so it really is about the marketplace.”

For Horace Pritchard, the economics are working out well; he says the $54,000 he’s getting each year for the nine towers on his farm more than offsets the land taken out of production beneath them. Some of the neighbors who initially scoffed at the wind farm are now asking if they can get in on the deal, he says.

With a laugh, Pritchard adds, “Over the long-term, nothing I could grow legal[ly] would produce what these are doin’.”

Wind Energy Is Now The Largest Source Of Clean Energy In The U.S.



Wind power has now overtaken hydroelectric as the largest single source of clean energy in the United States. With 82 thousand MWs of total installed capacity at the end of 2016, wind turbines exceeded the 80 thousand MWs generated by the nation’s hydroelectric dams. This comes on the heels of the EIA’s short-term energy outlook which predicts wind and solar power will continue to account for the fastest growth in the U.S. energy sector, repeating a trend from last year. The EIA predicts wind power will reach 94 thousand MWs by 2018.

Wind hasn’t surpassed hydroelectric power in all categories, however; in terms of actual power generated, dams still out-perform wind turbines, as they tend to stay on for more of the year. But with few dams planned for construction, it’s likely wind power will exceed hydroelectric in actual power produced in the next few years.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has reported that 10 thousand MWs in new power is currently under construction, including the Amazon Wind Farm off the coast of Elizabeth City, NC, the nation’s first large off-shore wind farm. Last year, 8200 MWs was added, most of it in the year’s final quarter.


Much of the growth is being driven by Texas, by far the country’s largest producer of wind power and the industry’s leader in adding new capacity. Texas produces 20 thousand MWs, around a quarter of the national total, and maintains more than 11 thousand turbines, which produce 13 percent of the state’s total power. Texan interest in wind power, which grew under Governor Rick Perry, has wind energy advocates hopeful that Perry’s current role as Secretary of Energy won’t prove an impediment to additional growthFurther interest in wind power may be generated by the sector’s growing role as a job creator. Wind power provides employment for about 100,000 people nationwide, far more than the coal industry. Bloomberg has reported that wind power advocates and developers have been urging the federal government, which has shown considerable interest in rejuvenating the U.S. coal industry, to instead shift their attention to wind power.

Much of the sector’s growing capacity is coming in rural areas, chiefly in the Midwest. North Dakota, to name one example, has seen 3 thousand MWs installed in the past decade, and one-third of that total in just the last 10 months.

Internationally, the U.S. remains way behind China in terms of wind power capacity. Of the 54 GW installed worldwide in 2016, China accounted for 42 percent, or 23.3 GW. According to Chinese projections, by 2030 wind turbines will supply 26 percent of total electricity demand. China cannot produce electricity with the same efficiency as American turbines, according to Bloomberg, chiefly due to inadequate transmission lines.In Europe, another leader in wind power, 12.5 GW was added, a slight decrease from 2015.

Since the U.S. election last year, the big question facing renewable energy is whether the new Trump Administration, outwardly hostile to non-fossil fuels and critical of climate change advocacy, will prove a hindrance to growth in their sector. Some investors are optimistic, confident that the plummeting cost of wind turbines, the attraction of constructing new wind farms in rural or low-income areas, and the strong demand will continue to propel growth. As one advocate for wind power noted in the Dallas Morning News“88 percent of wind capacity installed…was in states that voted for Trump.”

Wind power has attracted strong interest from major U.S. corporations. Google is backing a plan to build a 225 MW wind farm in Oklahoma, bringing the company’s renewable energy portfolio to 2.6 GW. Amazon is constructing turbines in North Carolina to power a server facility. The GM factory in Arlington, TX receives half its power from wind turbines, and plans are set for that figure to reach 100 percent by 2018. The car manufacturer announced plans last November to power fifteen of its factories with wind power and plans on meeting all of its energy needs with renewables by 2050.


The announcement of New York’s planned 90 MW off-shore wind farm offers further indications of potential growth in the wind power sector. Despite the potential obstacles, economic and political, wind power will continue to be an attractive option for adding new electricity capacity.

Wind energy supplied all of Denmark’s power needs one day last week



Renewable energy can generate enough power for entire countries–a fact Denmark can confirm. Last week on Wednesday, the nation met all of its power needs via wind energy, according to information from wind power trade organization WindEurope. The group said the energy Denmark produced from onshore and offshore wind was sufficient to power 10 million European Union (EU) households.

Denmark produced 27 GWh via offshore wind and 70 gigawatt-hours (GWh) via onshore wind on February 23, according to WindEurope. This isn’t the first time wind power has achieved renewable energy feats in the country; 2015 saw several big days for wind energy. By the end of that year, 1,271 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind and 3,799 MW of onshore wind was installed in Denmark, amounting to a little over five gigawatts (GW) of wind energy.


Related: Germany generated so much renewable energy last weekend electric prices went negative

The industry did experience a slight slump in 2016, owing mainly to low winds. Before that year, Danish Wind Industry Association CEO Jan Hylleberg said since 2008 they’d “experienced continuous growth in the wind energy production and each year set a new world record.” Although the industry expected the trend wouldn’t continue in 2016, Hylleberg said the fact they didn’t maintain that upward movement was frustrating, but it appears 2017 is off to a soaring start. MHI Vestas Offshore Wind‘s new nine MW wind turbine already smashed the record for energy generation in a 24 hour period during testing at a test field off Denmark’s coast.

Hylleberg described Denmark as world champions at harnessing wind. But the Nordic country wasn’t the only nation to obtain a large amount of power via wind energy last week. WindEurope also reported Germany and Ireland respectively met 52 and 42 percent of their electricity needs with wind. According to the organization, “Wind power in the EU as a whole covered almost 19 percent of the bloc’s electricity needs.”

Why Wind Turbines Should Talk to Each Other



A wind turbine spinning its blades in a valley in southeast India asks a turbine on a plain in Iowa if it should slow down or speed up its rotation. Sound like the stuff of science fiction?

It’s not, according to GE’s VP of Software Research Colin Parris. GE has been developing software, sensors and networking technology that enable wind turbines to talk to each other, not only within the confines of a particular wind farm, but even across the planet.

Such technology, and others like it, could help boost wind farm capacity, lower costs of operating wind farms, and potentially help wind energy compete more effectively with fossil fuel power. “A machine consulting with another machine…now that could be transformational,” said Parris, in a recent interview.

Much of the success of wind energy around the globe has resulted from larger and lower-cost turbines that can produce more power, combined with increasingly savvy and maturing wind developers and financiers, as well helpful subsidies from governments. However, computing tech can also contribute, adding smart intelligence to machines, helping them operate more efficiently, and alerting developers about needed maintenance.

According to some research, these types of technologies could add a 4 percent to 8 percent increase in annual energy production of a wind farm. That could be a lot on a large wind farm with hundreds of megawatts of capacity.

GE, one of the world’s largest wind turbine makers, has built a number of computing and data-dependent technologies that are working on what some call “wind orthodontics.”

Here are five ways computing technology is boosting wind energy.

Wind energy forecasting: Predicting when and how much the wind will blow is a major issue for power companies and grid operators. Because solar and wind energy are variable, that makes it harder to predict just when these resources will generate energy, compared to natural gas, coal and nuclear plants. If a cloud drifts over a solar field, or the wind suddenly picks up, the energy produced can drop or soar significantly.

In India, the government relies on accurate GE wind forecasts to help determine how much extra power needs to be spun up from coal and natural gas plants to make up for any wind shortfalls, said Parris. If GE forecasts more wind power than actually is generated, the Indian grid might face a blackout. If GE forecasts less wind power than actually occurs, grid operators could be wasting energy and money.

GE isn’t the only company that has invested in energy prediction engines. IBM has its own wind and solar forecasting systems. GE is also looking at doing solar forecasting as well, but currently isn’t offering the tech commercially.

Wind farm optimization: If you have a wind farm of, say, 50 or 100 turbines, the turbines in the front of the pack might access more wind flows, while blocking some of the wind turbines in the back. To overcome this issue, GE connects wind turbines with wireless networks and control devices and uses data and software to adjust the angle and speed of blades and rotors so that the most wind energy can be produced by the turbines collectively.

Called “wake management,” the computing tech can deliver 0.5 percent to 2 percent more annual energy production from wind turbines. While that might sound like a drop in the bucket, at a big farm, it adds up.

According to consultants SgurrEnergy, some wind companies are also using lidar technology to ensure that the plane of a wind turbine’s rotor remains perpendicular to the wind, enabling it to access as much energy as possible.

Wind farm maintenance: When a wind turbine breaks down, it’s a big deal. Turbines are commonly hundreds of feet tall, and when they become inoperable, that sometimes means that a worker has to go to the top and check out what’s wrong. And when the blades of a turbine aren’t turning, electricity isn’t being produced, which means money isn’t being made.

GE has built algorithms based on historical wind turbine activity and real-time wind energy data that can predict when wind turbines need to be maintained and alerts developers to when they could break down. The industry calls it “predictive maintenance.”

The American Wind Energy Association says that in 2011, close to $40 billion worth of wind turbines in the U.S. went out of warranty, meaning the owners of the wind turbines will need to invest in their maintenance directly. Algorithms could help reduce upkeep costs.  

Drone inspections: Drones could play a new role in helping wind developers maintain turbines, and GE has already been experimenting with such technology.

Drones, carrying cameras, can fly up to the rotor and blades and inspect turbines to see if anything is out of place. Those cameras could use computing vision software to detect failures, rust, or corrosion.

Talking wind turbines: There are a lot of reasons why wind turbines might want to talk to each other across a farm, across a state or across the planet.

An older wind farm that’s been generating electricity for years could give advice to a newer, younger farm that’s operating under similar conditions. Or a wind turbine at the front of a pack could let its fellow turbines at the back of the pack know it’s adjusting its blade and rotor angle or speed.

“We have wind turbines talking to each other, and they can ask each other questions about failures, wind direction and security, or about collaborating more effectively,” explained GE’s Parris.

Such communication technology would require the turbines to be networked with wireless connections, and use sensors and software to let other turbines know how they’re operating and how they should operate