What makes a new wind turbine exciting?
Wind companies are always trying to making their next turbine spin more efficiently and generate more power than the last, just as car companies are looking for better fuel efficiency and engine power. Advances usually come in small jumps in both cases, with a single percentage improvement cause for celebration.
GE announced a new line of wind turbines in May that generate between 20 and 24 percent more power than the previous best turbine in its class. It does this through traditional improvements in turbine design, but also through innovations that address one of the main issues that critics of wind power raise: intermittency.
The wind does not blow all the time, and the electric grid needs a regular supply of electricity. Wind has been a critical and climate-friendly addition to the grid portfolio, but as the industry continues to expand, people have started to think about what happens when more and more of our electricity is generated from intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar. Fossil fuel advocates try to make the case that coal and gas (and oil) can be burned constantly, but this is becoming less and less tenable. Rising carbon emissions are triggering extreme weather and sea level rise that endanger the very reliability of the electric grid.
Can advances in technology allow renewable energy sources to be reliable for second-to-second grid use? It’s already happening. In 2011, a concentrated solar plant produced power for 24 hours straight. A huge array of mirrors heated up a huge molten-salt battery system that permitted the solar plant to supply power when the sun was down. Reliable, steady wind energy is also becoming a real thing.