12 years after entering the wind power market, GE says that the industry is rapidly innovating to the extent that governments are showing a growing appreciation of wind’s competitiveness as an energy option.
Keith Longtin, General Manager of Wind Products for GE Renewable Energy, told Power Engineering International that incremental progress in a relatively short space of time augurs well for the sector’s future.
“What we see, globally, are places around the world where wind energy is more competitive than any other type of generation technology. These are places such as Brazil, India, and even some parts of the United States.”
“You’re seeing governments start to change their policies in response to the increased affordability and efficiency in the wind industry. Governments are moving from a regimented feed-in tariff model to an auction system because they realize how competitive wind can be. This is a really good sign for wind. Recently, there has been a rise of auction systems in Poland, Italy, and Brazil— locations where governments are recognizing that wind can be competitive on a broad scale.”
Responding to a general Q&A on the health of the wind sector, Longtin addressed what he saw as the main and persistent challenges to wind’s future success.
“Two main challenges in the wind industry are achieving scale and efficiency. To keep the wind industry competitive, we must continue to invest in technology to scale turbines in a cost-effective manner. We’re doing this at GE with hardware innovations like our space frame towers and software technology across our platform.”
How internet and wind technology intersect presents fascinating possibilities, and crucial ones from a GE (NYSE: GE) point of view. The company has invested strongly in its data side to cater for that aspect of wind energy development, and helping wind energy to better compete with more established rival power sources.
“We are investing in software technology to make wind turbines more efficient by harnessing the power of the Industrial Internet. With GE’s Wind Power Up technology, for example, we can increase a turbine’s output by up to five per cent,” Longtin says, adding “Since entering the wind space in 2002, we’ve improved capacity factor, reliability, and scaled upwards, which has allowed GE and the entire wind industry to take the overall cost of wind energy down by more than 60 per cent.”
Despite relatively impressive gains within a relatively short timeframe, Longtin knows too well big challenges persist, and he’s convinced the key lies in embracing data technology.
“The whole point for the industry is about a path forward. That path is where the industry can focus to improve the competitiveness of wind, and it comes down to using data to improve efficiency to help our customers. GE is using data to make informed decisions around how we predict, service, and maintain turbines.”
“An innovation we’re proud of is the space frame tower, which is changing the architecture of turbines to allow customers to scale taller and without increasing turbine weight.”
Recent policy upheavals throughout the world means renewables such as wind can no longer enjoy the support structures that helped get them on their feet and the need for accelerated innovation in the sector is more acute than ever.
“In the United States, developers have seen power purchase agreements (PPAs) reduced by fifty per cent over the last four years, and feed-in tariffs around the world are also being reduced. This is what developers are facing. GE’s response is to continue investing in technology to drive down the overall cost of energy of wind production.”
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Keith Longtin is General Manager, Wind Products for GE’s renewable energy business, a leading global provider of wind energy products and services. In this role, he is responsible for developing and executing GE’s product strategy, technology and competitiveness for wind.
With more than 23 years of experience at GE, Keith has held roles in Engineering, Manufacturing, and Product Management.