GE Global Research, the technology development arm of the General Electric Company (NYSE: GE), has begun working on the first phase of a 2-year, $3 million wind energy project by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a next generation wind turbine generator.
The wind energy project, expected to support large-scale wind applications in the 10-15MW range, is one of many in GE’s wind research portfolio that target scaling up wind power in the “most economically feasible way.”
These technologies are focused on making sure wind turbines are grid-code compliant and provide new, grid-friendly features to help utilities more reliably manage larger wind power loads.
The generator project will have two phases. Phase I 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.
The Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) will be a key partner with GE on the generator project, helping GE to investigate and mitigate high-risk technology challenges associated with the project.
“With the industry’s desire for higher megawatt machines to maximize clean wind power opportunities in the U.S. and around the globe, new technologies will be needed to support larger scale wind platforms,” said Keith Longtin, Wind Technology Leader, GE Global Research.
“The key challenge will be delivering solutions that achieve the right scale and cost. Applying more than 30+ years of experience with superconducting magnets for MRI systems in healthcare, we’re developing an innovative new generator technology that will deliver more power while at the same time helping to reduce the cost of wind power.”
For MRI systems, GE is applying superconducting magnets to make lower cost systems with higher image quality. For wind turbines, GE will apply them to generate more wind power at a lower cost of electricity.
“The applications are different, but the basic technology is the same,” Longtin said.
An electrical generator is the critical part of a wind turbine because it converts the mechanical energy generated by the blades into usable electrical power. The amount of wind that can be converted to electrical power depends on how effective a generator is.
Longtin explained that the innovative application of superconducting technology could enable significant improvements to the generator and make the elimination of the gearbox more economical.
According to GE, the keys are reducing the size and weight of the generator, while reducing speed and increasing torque. Utilizing superconducting technology reduces weight by virtue of the high magnetic fields that can be created by the superconducting field winding and the fact that the heavy iron in the superconducting generator can be reduced.
GE’s superconducting machine design will employ a new architecture and cryogenic cooling technology. GE’s proposed superconducting machine targets twice the torque density of competing technologies and will additionally reduce the dependence on the rare earth materials prevalent in all permanent magnet machines for wind.
The larger power levels of these machines, coupled with their energy conversion efficiency leads to more favorable economies of scale that will somehow reduce the cost of energy produced by wind turbines.
In addition to the next generation wind turbine generator project, GE researchers are driving other key technologies that will enable the economic scale-up of wind, including the incorporation of lighter, more advanced composite materials to enable longer wind blades that enhance wind capture without adding so much weight; delivery of more advanced controls, sensors and condition monitoring algorithms to dramatically reduce operating costs; and development of an array of grid integration technologies to integrate larger amounts of wind into the grid.