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Can 'smart' turbines give renewables a second wind?

New 'smart' wind turbines combine improved blade designs with batteries that can store electricity when the wind isn't blowing. 

By Charles KennedyGuest blogger / August 7, 2013

A wind turbine is shown near Arlington, Ore. 'Smart' wind turbines use improved blade designs that allow an increase of 20-24 percent in power.

Rick Bowmer/AP/File


Renewable energy is slowly catching up to fossil fuels and becoming more competitive, but it still faces the same challenges as ever. The fact that the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, and few systems can efficiently cope with the fluctuating energy demand placed upon them.

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Critics view these points as proof that renewable energy has no future, whereas advocates view them as challenges that must be overcome.

Many different techniques have been tested to try and smooth out the varying generating levels that clean energy sources produce, mainly some form of energy storage system, but none has yet managed to provide an adequate solution. (Related article: Airborne Wind Turbines Continue to Advance)

An exciting, new wind turbine produced by GE, shows hope as a potential solution to the constant problems that afflict the wind energy sector. The 1.6-100 and 1.7-100 wind turbines boast the ability of generating far more electricity when wind speeds are minimal, store excess energy for use in the future, and has a smart system that can analyse when more energy will be needed, and when the wind should blow. 

The new smart wind turbines use improved blade designs that allow an increase of 20-24 percent in power. This allows the turbines to generate energy at far lower wind speeds, giving it an unmatched capacity factor of 54%. MNN explains that “the capacity factor is the actual power output over time, compared as a percentage to the theoretical power output of the turbine if it was producing at its maximum output at all times.”

The turbines also contain their own battery storage system which allows excess electricity to be saved when not needed and then used once demand increases, or when prices increase. A sophisticated analytical software systems also helps the turbines operators to predict when power will be needed, and when the wind will blow; it also will allow for communication between turbines to more effectively provide a constant supply of electricity to the grid.

Andrew Burger of Clean Technica wrote that individually the developments made in GE’s new turbines are big steps forward for the industry, but together they have the potential to be a true game changer.

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