Catching more wind: GE’s 3D-printed concrete wind towers could lead to more efficient wind farms
The electricity industry around the world is going through a fundamental transition to renewable energy. This change requires a lot of innovation, and few companies are better equipped than GE to help make it happen. Just look inside a cavernous warehouse near Rochester, New York. The revolution taking place there is not yet televised. It is being printed.
On site, GE Renewable Energy employees use one of the world’s largest 3D printers to form the foundations of wind turbine towers from high-tech concrete. Their success could help the wind industry overcome the bottlenecks that limit the size and power of onshore wind turbines today and lead to more efficient wind farm designs.
Christopher Kenny, senior engineering manager for emerging technologies at GE Renewable Energy and facility manager, says the wind industry has evolved tremendously over the past few decades. But there are physical limits to the power of onshore wind turbines. “Bigger generators will require taller, stronger, larger towers,” he says. “If we do nothing, we will hit a roadblock.”
Kenny says attaching a pre-engineered steel tower to a 20 meter high concrete base could help wind farm designers build turbines with towers reaching 140 meters – 450 feet. Taller, more powerful wind turbines could help increase a wind farm’s annualized energy output (AEP), an important industry figure that describes a wind turbine’s efficiency. The number represents the actual amount of power the turbine produces per year and depends on the design of the turbine, the wind speed at a specific location and the number of windy days. “Hub height is critical to gaining AEP, and today it’s usually not fully optimized,” says Kenny, adding that the wind is generally stronger and more stable higher off the ground.
GE Reports visited the site in April and the team recently printed a smaller scale prototype of the tower base. We’ve got the photos for you in time for GE’s 2021 sustainability report, which the company released this week. (For more information, read our original report.)