GE Digitizes Wind Energy Large-Scale

May 22, 2015

In an effort to cement its presence in the renewable energy market, General Electric is employing cloud computing and holographic technology to advance wind farms.

Credit General Electric

General Electric has unveiled two projects: the company already has been monitoring 6,000 wind turbines around the globe 24 hours a day from a station in Schenectady.  Through Digital Wind Farm technology, sensors will interconnect turbines, allowing them to communicate with each other, working as a "team" to share and send back data through GE's Predix software, streamlining the efficiency of wind farms to better operate, avoiding downtime and unneeded maintenance.

GE Power & Water CEO Steve Bolze says new tech will infuse the power industry with $50 billion in added revenue. Some 50 gigawatts of wind power are expected to be installed across GE Digital Wind Farm projects this year.  "Think about the world's power. The world needs over the course of the next 20 years, about 50 percent more electricity generation than exists today. And even today, 1.2 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity."

Bolze says 4 percent of the world's power is wind-generated: he sees that doubling in five to seven years. The World Bank said Monday that one in seven people across the globe still live without electricity.  "And with the application of not only wind turbine hardware, but big data, sensors and analytic software, these wind farms will have 20 percent better electricity performance than non-digital wind farms."

GE will now also be able to replicate a physical wind farm installation using what the company calls "Digital Twin," software capable of simulating a future wind farm, planning where turbines would be located, how fast they would turn and how high they could be built, transforming collected data into what GE calls "a hologram of that future site" where engineers can examine the farm and possibly discover potential problems computers alone cannot see.  "For Schenectady, this continues to mean global leadership as far as product and software technology. And this technology is not only applicable to the U.S. but it's applicable to the world."

According to a report recently published by the Department of Energy, current wind energy installations in the U.S. account for 65 gigawatts, just under 5 percent of national demand.  President Obama is looking to expand renewable energy around the country.  New York's first wind farm started delivering power in 2000, and this March The American Wind Energy Association says New York state got more power from wind energy than ever before. 

Despite some initial concern about system reliability, Susan Tierney, former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy, now a senior advisor with consultancy firm Analysis Group, says the state's energy grid has been adapting to changes brought by renewable sources. "There’s a lot of wind on the system that changes the way the power system operates. When people put solar panels on their roof, or they put energy efficiency on their windows, that actually changes the power system."

According to the Times Union, GE Power & Water had $5.7 billion in revenue during the first quarter of 2015, but the company doesn't break down revenue from its wind power operations.

Eric Rosenbloom, President of the all-volunteer National Wind Watch, Inc., downplays GE's announcement. In an email, he says "...all the technology in this world and the next can’t change the fact that wind energy is unavoidably subject to the whims of the wind. It appears instead to be merely an effort to squeeze more sales out of a competitive market that GE no longer dominates."