[Image above] Credit: Dirk Ingo Franke; Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0 de
Wind energy is the fastest-growing source of electricity in the world, and harnessing it is one of the cleanest, most sustainable ways to generate power. That’s because wind power doesn’t produce any of the toxic and heat-trapping emissions that contribute to global warming (aside from the embodied energy and emissions associated with manufacturing).
According to the Wind Energy Foundation, turbines need wind to blow at 16–20 miles per hour. But, does it need to be that windy to generate any real power?
Not necessarily. Wind turbine designers at General Electric have developed ways to build more efficient wind farms for landscapes with slower-moving wind.
One of these machines is the GE 2.5-120 wind turbine—those numbers stand for 2.5 megawatts in output and 120 meters (393 feet) in rotor diameter. About 14 of them were installed at a wind farm near Rehborn, Germany, in 2014.
Germany is phasing out all nuclear sources of energy, and their clean energy policy is the driving force behind the country’s commitment to establishing more energy-efficient practices. Projects like the Rehborn wind farm are an important part of this energy transition, and will allow Germany to phase out nuclear power and generate 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050.
Credit: GE Europe; YouTube
The proof is in the numbers. GE’s technology already allows the Rehborn farm to leverage slow wind to produce enough electricity to power about 30,000 German homes.
Rehborn is currently the largest installation of these massive slow-wind turbines in the world. Their hubs measure 140 meters (460 feet) off the ground. To put it in perspective, that’s nearly half the height of the Eiffel Tower—so we’re talking big.
It’s not just the new substantial-yet-streamlined design that’s making the difference. Sophisticated data capabilities are also at the helm.
State-of-the-art sensors, software, and data analytics allow these reinvented turbines to be 25 percent more efficient and generate 15 percent more electricity than comparable GE models. GE then uses powerful algorithms to analyze the data and control functions like the turbines’ pitch, yaw, and rotor torque and make fine-tuned adjustments as needed to ensure efficiency.
And Germany isn’t the only country making waves with new energy-efficient solutions for generating wind power.
According to the Department of Energy, wind generation in the U.S. tripled in the past six years and now accounts for nearly 5 percent of the country’s total electricity across 39 states. But rather than focusing on slow-wind technology, researchers stateside are making wind turbines taller to unlock the wind power potential exclusive to higher altitudes.
So, what kind of ripple effect will this slow-wind technology have on a broader scale?
Because wind speed varies considerably with seasons, location, and day vs night, could these slow-wind turbines generate significant amounts of power at “off peak” wind speeds? Perhaps slow-wind turbines are quieter, which would mitigate noise disturbances reported by those who live in close proximity to traditional wind farms. Or maybe these turbines can be moved to more remote landscapes with slower-moving wind climates, so as not to obstruct property views in more desirable, but windy, areas.
How do you think harnessing slow-wind power will make a wider impact on clean energy? Share your thoughts in the comments!