Wind power is the fastest growing source of electricity
in the world
In 2009, one industry blew past its predictions for growth
That is wind power, with an annual growth rate of 39%. This is the largest increase in capacity on record—helped significantly by economic stimulus funding for green energy. Since 2002, the country's installed base of turbines has jumped almost sevenfold. Today, wind power represents nearly two percent of the total power in the U.S.
Compare this to Denmark, the leading producer of wind power, at 20 percent. The Department of Energy is exploring a similar scenario for the U.S. with its "20 percent wind energy by 2030", a collaborative effort to research the benefits and costs of having a fifth of our electricity generated by wind.
"2010 will be a pivotal year for the industry. Stimulus funding will continue to provide growth which can help offset the credit crunch. Operators are focused on professionalizing their operations," says Jay Mashburn, IBM's lead consultant for wind power.
Wind solutions that span from turbine to trading floor
Now is the time to make both our existing and new wind farms smarter. IBM has created a portfolio of solutions that include software, field technologies, analytics and short-range weather forecasting to help wind farm operators optimize the performance of turbines, better predict and balance power output and commercialize wind output as a trading commodity.
Factors determining wind power
The IBM solution suite covers both the planning of new sites and the optimization of existing wind assets. The output of a wind farm is impacted by many factors, including altitude. The higher you go up into the atmosphere, the faster the wind blows. For example, if wind speed at 10 meters off the ground is six meters per second (m/s), it will be about 7.5 m/s at a height of 50 meters. In addition to height, the power in the wind varies with temperature and altitude, both of which affect the air density.
Winter winds in Minnesota will carry more power than the summer
winds of the same speed in southern California.
Converting velocity into volts for green energy
Overall, turbines can capture 20 to 40 percent of the energy in the wind and typically operate over a range of wind speeds. They intake the kinetic energy—or movement in the winds—and convert it into electricity which is then fed into the power grid. A wind farm can range in size from 10 to 1,000 acres and often includes turbines of different ages, models and manufacturers. The same operator can manage several farms.
The average wind turbine lasts 20 years and maintenance issues are not a matter of if but when. The turbines can be instrumented with sensors that relay field data, such as turbine output and temperatures, to a central repository. With advanced analytics, the field data can be used to generate proactive alerts and work orders and populate a dashboard that offers operators a single view of the health of the farm at a glance.
In turn, the whole system becomes more efficient, reliable, adaptive—in a word, smart.
Later this year, Deep Thunder will be added to the solution portfolio. This localized, high altitude weather forecasting software monitors and models weather conditions at the turbine height and can help fine-tune the management of both on-shore and off-shore farms in the event of changing temperatures, oncoming storms and shifting winds.
Feeding wind power to the grid
In the U.S. today, 29 states have mandates that power grids must accept alternative sources of green energy such as wind. The challenge is that since the nature of wind—and also by the way, solar energy—is intermittent, the grid must constantly be adjusting how much wind energy it can absorb compared to its other power sources such as hydroelectricity, gas and coal fire. For example, the grid may be set to accept 20 percent wind; when the level of wind power drops, the grid operators need to respond immediately and accurately by increasing the intake of another power supply such as hydroelectricity. IBM ILOG software is a decision engine that can help to stabilize the grid in the face of intermittent wind power by calculating the most economic source of power by the moment (wind, hydro or coal fire) according to pre-set formulas.
Such flexibility requires additional grid intelligence: the ability to recognize loss of a generation event through forecasting, modeling and other capabilities and the ability to reduce the load in the right place and time without impacting customers. Grid stability requires immediate and accurate modeling of the transmission system and rapid switching and manipulation of grid elements to reduce impact on the system overall. While the issues related to adapting new alternative energies into the grid are different from those associated with distributed generation, a smart grid is the key enabler to both goals.
Later this year, IBM will add a Cognos software component that can connect the wind farm to the trading floor. The Cognos Business Intelligence dashboard can aggregate and track data for the trading of carbon credits and wind outputs as a commodity to other utilities.
A fast-growing industry
Wind is a growing and diversifying industry employing some 85,000 people today. In 2005, there were five turbine manufacturers; today there are 14. For the past two years, IBM has been working with key industry stakeholders to establish common standards; about 25 percent of manufacturers have done so. In the meantime, IBM solutions work across all 14 operating systems. The single greatest challenge to the advance of wind power is the cost of extending the power grid to the wind farms. However, with pending climate and alternative energy bills being drafted for the U.S. Congress and stimulus funding earmarked for smart grids and green industries, that may soon be less of a stumbling block.
Wind power is one of the cleanest and most abundant forms of renewable energy. In fact, new figures show that the U.S. wind resources are significantly greater than previously estimated due to better turbine technology (the higher the better) and more refined wind measurements. It may well be that the wind is at the back of this nascent industry.