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IBM partners on 'smart' wind system

Sensors and software coordinate data and function to make wind turbines more efficient, and alert utilities and smart grids of incoming electricity.

Alstom Wind Power

IBM announced today it has partnered with Alstom Wind Power and Ikerlan-IK4 to develop an automated platform for better manipulating wind turbines and predicting their output of electricity.

The product improves the amount of power that can be gleaned from wind energy, which is often debased by critics for its unreliable nature compared to other energy sources.

Using IBM's existing Rational Software originally intended for model-driven development, and its BigLever Gears, originally intended for product line engineering, Alstom Wind Power and Ikerlan-IK4 have developed an automated wind control development platform.

Real-time electronic sensors on wind turbines gather data on wind direction, speed, and temperature in their immediate environment.

The data collected from each turbine is analyzed to better control the wind farm as a whole for getting the most electricity possible based on the wind blowing in a given area at a given time. Each individual wind turbine can then be controlled from a remote location.

The software then uses that information to calculate the total amount of electricity to be generated by that particular wind farm for a given time period, and can coordinate that incoming influx of electricity with smart grids and utilities.

So, the system both collects data and manages the wind turbine itself, but also predicts and manages the amount of electricity that will be coming down the pipeline based on that collected wind data.

"The fact that the wind turbines can be customized to accommodate geographic differences and also adjust to ambient environmental changes adds a layer of complexity to an already a complex software development process," Salvador Trujillo, Ikerlan-IK4's chief product line engineer, said in a statement.

They're not the first companies attempting to better coordinate wind energy with the electricity grid. But many companies have been approaching the problem of wind and solar offering a variable electricity output from the storage angle.

In Hawaii, for example, a wind farm developed by First Wind uses a battery storage system from Xtreme Power to store excess electricity generated from the wind turbines at varied times due to the area's variable wind currents. It then coordinates with the area smart grid to feed the stored electricity to the grid as needed.

Many other projects have been trying similar approaches when it comes to wind and grid integration.

"If you want a greener grid, you not only need renewable energy, you also need storage," Imre Gyuk, the program manager for energy storage research at the Energy Department, recently told CNET after speaking on the topic at the IEEE conference on grid technologies.