Big Wind Turbines Getting GE Makeover

Bigger is better when it comes to wind turbines. But reducing the cost of wind power could require designers to rethink an essential element of existing turbine technology: the generator. The electrical generator is the part of a wind turbine that converts the mechanical energy generated by the blades into electricity. Today, most wind turbine generators are connected to a gearbox, which steps up the speed of the spinning turbine blades, so that the torque requirements for the generator can be lower. While this technology is extremely effective in the field today, the larger wind turbines become, the heavier and more costly the generators must become. The result would be increased power – but at a higher cost.

GE Global Research, the technology development arm of General Electric, is trying to address this Achilles’ heel of wind turbine technology. The firm has announced that it is partnering with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop a generator to support large-scale wind turbines in the 10-15-megawatt (MW) range. Work has begun on the first phase of the two-year, $3 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wind power

image via Shutterstock

The goal is to reduce the size and weight of the generator, while reducing blade speed and increasing torque. GE’s approach uses superconducting technology to increase the efficiency of the generator and eliminate the gearbox. The machine will incorporate a novel architecture and cryogenic cooling technology to increase reliability. Researchers hope that the increased power, combined with higher efficiency, will achieve greater economies of scale, reducing the cost of wind generation.

Phase I of the project will focus on developing a conceptual design and evaluating the economic, environmental and commercial factors associated with it. Phase II will explore the potential commercialization of the technology.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

    • Anonymous

      And after the taxpayers of this country spend millions through the Energy department to develope this technology, how long will it take GE to ship it to China and build the new generation there?nThey have done it every chance they get and recently moved the whole X-Ray division to China.

    • Anonymous

      And after the taxpayers of this country spend millions through the Energy department to develope this technology, how long will it take GE to ship it to China and build the new generation there?nThey have done it every chance they get and recently moved the whole X-Ray division to China.