From Idaho's largest wind farm to 'self-healing' grids

General Electric

From the Western U.S., where construction has just started on a massive, half-billion dollar series of wind farms, to the East Coast, where Massachusetts is rolling out high-tech gear that allows power grids to “heal themselves” by isolating outages and rerouting power, it’s been a busy week for GE’s energy teams. The Idaho Wind Partners project comprises 11 wind farms — making it Idaho’s largest wind power project with the capacity to power approximately 39,700 average Idaho homes. The project is spread across 10,000 acres of active and inactive farmland in southern Idaho’s Magic Valley, which was a predominant migration route as part of the Oregon Trail in the 19th century, and is now becoming a critical renewable energy corridor in the 21st century.


Power pioneers: “Idaho Wind is among the projects helping us to reach our goal of accumulating investments of $6 billion in renewable energy by the end of this year,” Alex Urquhart, President and CEO of GE Energy Financial Services, told the crowd at the ceremony. The other investors include Reunion Power, Exergy Development Group and Atlantic Power Corp. One of the sites is pictured above.

As the Idaho Press Tribune summed it up, here’s the Idaho Wind Project by the numbers:

  • 122 wind turbines
  • 11 wind farms
  • 10,000 acres of land
  • $500 million total project cost
  • 331,000 tons of avoided greenhouse gasses per year
  • 57,000 cars off the road in equivalent energy savings
  • 39,700 average Idaho homes powered
  • 175 construction jobs created
  • 25 permanent technician jobs created
  • 346.5 megawatts wind power capacity statewide after the project is completed
  • 112 percent increase in statewide wind power capacity

The project will use GE’s 1.5-megawatt turbines, over 13,500 of which have been installed worldwide. In addition to supplying the turbines, GE will provide operational and maintenance services. The video below is from Idaho’s KTVB coverage of the event.



Meanwhile, Massachusetts-based NSTAR Electric is expanding its GE-powered “self-healing” grid project. The smart grid technology automatically identifies the location of power outages, isolates faulted sections of the network and re-routes power from other sources, essentially “healing” the system.

The initial rollout is expected to show a 50 percent decrease in the number of customers affected by failures on main line circuits. The technology is alreaqdy operating in a portion of network, but now with the expansion, it will mark the nation’s first utility system-wide deployment of its kind.

“Unplanned power outages are a major economic burden,” said Bob Gilligan, vice president — digital energy for GE Energy Services. “In the U.S. alone, they cost the economy over $80 billion each year. While we don’t have the technology to prevent a traffic accident or stop a tree limb from falling, we do have the technology to dramatically reduce how these events affect the flow of electricity. Now, in a matter of minutes, NSTAR’s power grid will make decisions and alter energy flow to restore power to a portion of customers almost immediately. That’s the new technology GE is offering today.”

And on the cleantech front, our data visualization teams have put their design skills to work on GE’s new “ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid.” Backed by $200 million in venture capital funds from GE and its partners, the goal is to find the best ideas from researchers and entrepreneurs that will help accelerate the adoption of smart grid technologies. But it can be a daunting task plowing through the more than 1,400 submissions to-date (and growing). So, as you can see in the data visualization below, the entries have been represented graphically, with the circles representing clickable ideas.


A galaxy of ideas: Click on the image to launch the data visualization. Each dot represents a submitted idea with bigger dots having more votes. The halo around a dot represents comments on that idea.

As Bloomberg Businessweek notes in its new feature today on the eco challenge: “GE is the first to meld an open call for ideas with such a large commitment to invest in outside companies….GE aims to commercialize ideas faster than startups could on their own, says Steve Fludder, the executive overseeing the challenge. ‘We can kind of bolt them onto our $40 billion energy business,’ he says.”

* Read the smart grid announcement
* Read the wind farm announcement
* See more pictures of the wind farm
* Visit the eco challenge website and vote on an idea
* Read more smart grid stories on GE Reports
* Read more Energy Financial Services stories on GE Reports

Subscribe to Machinery Lubrication