E has been cracking away to design and release a more efficient wind turbine – 25% more efficient in fact. Rather than increasing the size to generate more power like some other manufacturers have done, GE is designing longer blades and a more efficient drive train. GE hopes to release the new turbine, which will be 300 feet tall and have a rotor diameter of 360 feet, in 2012. The company is also investing $453 million in order to mass produce these next gen turbines for use offshore in Europe.
The next gen wind turbine by GE will only be 4 MW, which isn’t too big compared to the 10 MW turbine Norway is building, but it will have two significant design changes: a simpler and more efficient drive train as well as longer blades. A direct-drive mechanism will do away with the gear box, which is used to ramp up the RPMs to generate more electricity. Doing away with the gear box simplifies the system greatly, reducing need for maintenance and oil, both costly during the lifetime of the turbine. Additionally, permanent magnets will replace the electromagnets, which require starter brushes, coils and power from the grid every time the turbine starts up. The new drive train and generator are currently being tested in Norway.
Meanwhile the blades, which are being tested in the Netherlands, have been lengthened by 40%, and made even more aerodynamic and lightweight, all in order to capture more of wind. These new 176-foot long blades are also designed to twist as they are bent from the force of the wind, which means they’ll bear less of the gusts’ brunt yet still be able to capture a large part of the energy. With the help of the new drive train and more efficient blades, the wind turbine will be able to create more power when it is turning at slower wind speeds, which means that the turbine will be able to operate more often at its max 4 MW potential and power up to 1,000 homes with renewable energy.