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GE plans to give offshore wind energy a supercomputing boost

GE plans to give offshore wind energy a supercomputing boost


Supercomputer Summit’s simulations could bolster offshore wind on the US East Coast

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Wind turbines, of the Block Island Wind Farm, tower above the water off the shores of Rhode Island.
Photo by Don Emmert / AFP via Getty Images

GE plans to harness the power of one of the world’s fastest supercomputers to propel offshore wind power development in the US. IBM’s Summit supercomputer at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory will allow GE to simulate air currents in a way the company’s never been able to before. 

The research could influence the design, control, and operations of future wind turbines

Ultimately, the research could influence the design, control, and operations of future wind turbines. It’s also intended to advance the growth of wind power off the East Coast of the US by giving researchers a better grasp of the available wind resources in the Atlantic. The simulations Summit will run can fill in some of the gaps in the historical data, according to GE.

Offshore wind has the potential to provide almost twice the amount of electricity as the US’s current electricity usage, according to the American Wind Energy Association. But to make turbines that are hardier and more efficient offshore, researchers need more information. That’s where Summit comes in. 

“It’s like being a kid in a candy store where you have access to this kind of a tool,” says Todd Alhart, GE’s research communications lead. The Summit supercomputer is currently ranked as the second fastest supercomputer in the world after Japan’s Fugaku, according to the Top500 supercomputer speed ranking. 

“That is really amazing, and cannot be achieved otherwise.”

GE’s research, to be conducted over the next year in collaboration with the DOE’s Exascale Computing Project, would be almost impossible to do without Summit. That’s because there’s usually a trade-off in their research between resolution and scale. They can typically study how air moves across a single rotor blade with high resolution, or they could examine a bigger picture — like a massive wind farm — but with blurrier vision. In this case, exascale computing should allow them to simulate the flow physics of an entire wind farm with a high enough resolution to study individual turbine blades as they rotate.   

“That is really amazing, and cannot be achieved otherwise,” says Jing Li, GE research aerodynamics lead engineer.  

Li and her team will focus on studying coastal low-level jets. These are air currents that don’t follow the same patterns as winds typically considered in traditional wind turbine design, which gradually increase in speed with height. Coastal low-level jet streams are “atypical,” according to Li, because wind speeds can rise rapidly up to a certain height before suddenly dropping away. These wind patterns are generally less common, but they occur more frequently along the US East Coast — which is why researchers want to better understand how they affect a turbine’s performance. 

There’s been a growing appetite for offshore wind energy on the East Coast of the US. America’s first offshore wind farm was built off the coast of Rhode Island in 2016. A slate of East Coast wind farms is poised to come online over the next several years, with the largest expected to be a $1.6 billion project slated to be built off the coast of New Jersey by 2024.