The Digital Wind Farm

Wind farms are another area where this merging of technologies is bearing fruit. “Every wind farm has a unique profile, like DNA or a fingerprint,” says Keith Longtin, general manager for wind products at GE Renewable Energy. “We thought if we could capture data from the machines about how they interact with the landscape and the wind, we could build a digital twin for each wind farm inside a computer, use it to design the most efficient turbine for each pad on the farm, and then keep optimizing the whole thing.”

A 2 MW wind turbine can be customized for specific locations using software that can monitor the wind farm as it generates electricity. In test cases, this has boosted energy production by as much as 20%. The digital twin is a cloud-based computer model of the wind farm that allows engineers to pick from 20 turbine configurations related to pole height, rotor diameter and turbine output.

“Right now, wind turbines come in given sizes, like T-shirts,” says Ganesh Bell, chief digital office at GE Power & Water. “But the modular design allows us to build turbines that are tailor-made for each pad.”

Further, the digital twin keeps crunching data coming from the wind farm and providing suggestions for making operations more efficient. This includes being able to use data to control noise.

If a house is near the wind farm, operators can change the rotor speed depending on the wind direction to stay below the noise threshold. The data comes from dozens of sensors inside each turbine monitoring everything from the yaw of the nacelle, to the torque of the generator and the speed of the blade tips.