Digital Twin of the Month: How turbines are taking over Texas

By | 2 minute read | December 19, 2017

Our digital twin story this month is that of a wind turbine, used around the world to develop clean and sustainable energy; on some days it might even be free. During October storms in Germany these turbines generated enough wind power at the weekend to give consumers free energy,” meaning costs fell below zero where producers had to pay consumers to take extra energy from the network.

These towers dotting our landscapes can be found in surprising places. But no matter the climate, environment or wind turbine, we believe digital twins can help you get the most from this energy investment. The ‘twinning’ of wind turbines is especially important when considering the many external variables at play.

Big state is big “W”

Texas is known for oil. Its rigs and cattle ranches have long been iconic Texas images. But that might be changing. Texas is not only the biggest state in the Union, it’s also got the biggest appetite for wind energy. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Texas ranks #1 in megawatts (MW) of wind capacity (21,450 MW), amounting to 12.6% of Texas in-state energy production. Far behind and in 2nd place is Iowa’s 6,974 MW of wind capacity, one-third the wind capacity of Texas.

Windmills and engineer

Wind turbines are one of many beneficiaries of digital twin technology.

Wind is costly and competitive

Wind power is a good source of electricity because it’s a renewable source, simply and constantly replenishing itself. It’s also a costly and competitive engineering business that will require companies to leverage digital twins. There are more than 500 US manufacturing facilities, each looking for an innovative edge; blades, towers, and turbines, operating together, reach a staggering cost of $1.3m to $2.2m per MW capacity. Multiply that cost by the current Texas wind capacity of 21,450 MW and you’ve got plenty of reasons to use digital twins to keep your investment ‘spinning’ at peak efficiency. A typical lifecycle of a wind turbine is 25 years with 100% ROI (in terms of energy) in less than one year!  

Wind is complicated

Turbine efficiency relies upon five factors: wind power, altitude, air temperature, obstructions, and blade aerodynamics, all of which you can incorporate into a digital twin.  

  • Wind – There are four ICE Wind Classes (I, II, III, IV) and therefore many different product designs of wind turbines. Different regions have dramatically different wind speeds and require unique wind turbine specifications and designs.
  • Altitude- Higher altitudes create faster wind speeds along with fewer obstructions like trees, hills, buildings.
  • Temperature –  Near-surface air temperature changes the performance of a wind farm, resulting in more turbulence in the blade path and reduction in kinetic energy (KE). Power from a wind turbine can increase as the temperature drops. Colder air is denser and increases power output.
  • Obstructions – Complex topography can cause friction of airflow and turbulence, and turbulence can cause varying loads on turbines, which can make them to wear out too quickly.
  • Blade aerodynamics –  Blade materials, shape and angle of attack help improve lift for an airfoil. The rotor blades are mainly made of reinforced carbon-fiber plastics or glass fiber.

We cannot ignore the fact that wind energy comes with some political and environmental concerns in climate, sound, sight, and avian mortality. While some energy sources can be ‘clean,’ they cannot be perfect.

To learn more of how you can factor weather into building a better digital twin, visit our IBM Digital Twin page.