Without technology where would we be? When we look at energy generation, the vast technological advancements over the last fifty years have radically helped to tackle climate change and improve energy security — two of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. It is advancement in technology that has given renewable energy the opportunity to challenge traditional methods of energy generation in the energy mix.
Looking at wind power in particular, the stronger performance and increased production of wind turbines are the result of technological innovation, materials science and operational improvements. Fighting to make the world a cleaner and more sustainable environment to live in, wind turbine and component manufacturers have been diligently working to develop longer, lighter blades, using sophisticated technology to achieve increased power generation, whilst driving down costs.
Today, wind turbines are immense machines which integrate aerodynamics, structural dynamics and hundreds of often tiny components to connect it all to the grid. As wind turbine manufacturers continue to battle against rising costs, implementing improvements to reliability and efficiency can boost output, reducing the cost per megawatt-hour (MWh), to the point where onshore wind energy in some markets is down to below $50/MWh.
Pitch motors, which change the angle of the rotor blades to better catch the wind and optimize power output, have a huge part to play in the this battle. The very nature of a wind turbine means that it is constantly exposed to high stresses caused by wind. This means that the pitch system is also one of the most critical safety subsystems of the wind turbine, as it protects the turbine in extreme weather conditions and is the “central brain” to optimize energy output. In fact, due to advancements in rotor diameter, today, a pitch motor’s power output has increased 125 percent compared to what was designed 10 years ago.
The evolving wind industry landscape raises new requirements for pitch motors. Here, I’d like to share some thoughts as to what tomorrow’s pitch motors must be like to continue to compete against traditional energy sources:
1. Highly durable
The industry is moving at an unprecedented pace. Due to the capabilities of new technologies, what was once achievable in years can now happen in mere months, and the trend within the industry to build bigger turbines that enable power production at lower levels of cost of energy is expected to continue at an even faster pace. Emerging technologies are allowing this trend to thrive.
What’s driving this trend is the growing size of the blades. In fact, the average blade length has now reached almost 60 meters. Given the remote locations of many wind farms, high quality and reliability of equipment are key priorities for the industry to reduce operations costs. It’s, therefore, important that pitch motors have the necessary power to move the massive blades, reliably.
With this in mind, DC wind pitch motors from GE’s Power Conversion business have been built for resilience and durability in situations with extreme temperatures, high vibration and high humidity. The powerful motors are robustly constructed, with minimal maintenance required over long intervals. This is critical when you consider their remote locations and the fact that global maintenance expenditure on wind turbines is expected rise from $9.25 billion in 2014 to $17 billion in 2020, driven by a growing number of installations as well as aging turbines.
Consultancy firm EY predicted installed offshore wind capacity would triple in Europe by 2024. As this market is set to thrive, changes in design and hostile environments are creating new challenges for wind turbine producers and operators, both in terms of aerodynamics and durability. GE will soon be offering pitch motors that are set for the offshore industry to help support anticipated large-scale offshore wind turbine deployment.
2. Created by the right partner
Due to the growing size and scope of wind turbines, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are increasingly looking to work with a partner that can provide multiple components as well as meet their servicing needs. This drives efficiencies and reduces risk — a single supplier simplifies the communication interface — can help better integrate systems and troubleshoot issues more easily.
GE Power Conversion has manufacturing footprints globally: Europe, China, Brazil and Mexico, to name just a few. Through the GE Store, GE’s strength in the wind industry goes far and wide, from high performance drive trains to pitch motors and control systems, for example. This means more streamlined support and maintenance as well as a simpler deployment of the finished product on-site, making it a strategic partner of choice for wind operators globally.
It’s safe to say that the adoption of renewable energies across the globe scale has been nothing short of remarkable over the past decade. Safe in the knowledge that wind is never going to run out, this technology is rapidly developing in practically every part of the world. In fact, the wind industry’s development in the past few years has created jobs, spurred economic activity and helped to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions — helping us to realize energy security.