The cost of renewable energy continues to follow a sharp downward curve and the technological advances to improve its generating capacity, flexibility and reliability are going upward just as dramatically.
“For renewable energy to keep going as strongly as it has been, we do need to keep bringing down the cost and to do that, we need the latest technology,” says Jérôme Pécresse, global CEO of GE Renewable Energy. “The product cycle for wind energy has accelerated greatly — we introduce new turbines or new platforms to the market every one to two years.”
GE Australia is already involved with 1.5GW of wind farms either installed or under-construction across the country. Pécresse was in Sydney at the end of November to meet with a range of customers and partners who are working with GE to put more wind energy into the electricity grid, and to talk about GE’s revolutionary new onshore wind turbine platform, Cypress.
“One of the key innovations with Cypress is the rotor blades will be assembled on site in two parts, which is a first for GE and for the industry,” explains Pécresse. “The jointed blade is new technology that will enable us to manage logistics constraints, because what you ship to site is a much shorter dimension.” The two-section carbon blade will unlock wind-farm sites that were previously regarded as impossible to cultivate because of their inaccessibility for conventional rotor blades, which can easily be more than 50m long. “It’s very promising technology.”
This clever wind-turbine blade was a joint effort: GE’s Onshore Wind business, the company’s Global Research Center and LM Wind Power, a global blade tech leader acquired by GE Renewable Energy in 2017, all worked on the project.
As well as the ability, then, to go where no wind farm has been, the Cypress platform also provides the flexibility to scale up. “Cypress is today the largest onshore wind turbine in the market,” says Pécresse. “We started with 4.8MW, it’s now being scaled up to 5.3m and possibly above. It’s very well suited to the wind characteristics of the Australian market, enabling wind farms to produce more energy with fewer turbines, so the economics are very attractive.”
Wind farm developers can mix and match from a suite of Cypress rotors sizes and tower heights to suit the topography of their site. “It’s inherently more flexible,” says Pécresse. “And it’s helping to keep bringing the cost of wind energy down. Wind is now on a par with solar in terms of cost.”
Wind energy is of greater value to the grid than solar, explains Pécresse, because it has better coincidence with peak load, meaning that the wind blows at times when energy demands are higher, such as early mornings and evenings and when solar farms do not produce energy.
GE wind turbines are all digitally enabled, with data from onboard sensors continuously reporting back to the company’s Remote Monitoring & Diagnostics Centre in Bangalore, India, and optimising operations through proprietary fleet service solutions, a capability that’s been enhanced with Cypress. “We optimise the availability and we use our software to predict wear and tear of components so that maintenance can be performed at a time when the wind is not blowing, minimising impact on generation.”
Australia is in the running to be the first country in the world to get the Cypress turbines. That would make Pécresse happy because, he notes, “Australia is one of GE’s top five markets in the world, and it’s a big part of GE Onshore Wind’s success.” More pragmatically: “There’s a natural fit between the Cypress turbine and Australian wind conditions and characteristics.”
The visiting executive doesn’t venture into politics, but he does offer: “In many countries of the world, we see that renewable electricity is more competitive in cost, and there are various ways to provide firming for the grid, including batteries and pumped hydro, so it’s reliable. In some European countries, they are running up to 50-60% renewables and it works well, and there are full weeks when some countries are 100% renewable. Platforms like Cypress will arrive on Australian shores much faster if there is energy policy stability and predictability here, giving certainty to investors.”