Subscribe to our newsletter

Wieringermeer is why the Dutch call their country the Netherlands. The area sits on a polder of reclaimed coastal flatland 13 feet below the sea level, sheltered by a series of dikes keeping out the cold, grey swells of the North Sea. The tallest hill in Wieringermeer is a terp, a modest man-made mound built by locals as a refuge during flooding. (Storms and, in 1945, German bombs have repeatedly breached the dikes and briefly turned the farmland into sea again.) That terp, however, now has a tall new neighbor.

GE has erected nearby one the world’s largest and most efficient high-output wind turbines. GE says that the turbine, which the company calls 2.5-120 (that’s for 2.5 megawatts in output and 120 meters (395 feet) in rotor diameter, is 25 percent more efficient and generates 15 percent more electricity than comparable GE models.

The turbine performs so well because of its size, but also because of the way it works with data.

Size obviously matters. The rotor is so large that the wind whips the blade tips at different speeds when one is 650 feet high and another 25 stories below. This could be a problem, but GE engineers found a way to alter the pitch of the blades as they spin. “Think about it like sails on a sailboat,” says Vic Abate, vice president of GE’s renewable energy business. “The fuel is free and you take this fuel and you concentrate it so that machine can produce more power more often.” This comes handy when the wind is not blowing so much.

But the turbine is not just big, it’s also got brains. Dozens of sensors inside the rotor, the generator, and on the blades gather tens of thousands of data points every second, and feed them to powerful algorithms for analysis.

GE’s Industrial Internet software can bring the entire wind farm together and make the turbines signal to each other like a flock of birds. They can even talk to other wind farms, compare data about wind speeds and wind direction, and store excess power in batteries to cover spikes in demand. “With this technology you are able to say to a utility, I am going to give you 70 megawatts over the next 15 minutes and with 99 percent accuracy,” Abate says.

The site where GE is testing the new turbine is operated by ECN, a Dutch independent research institute for renewable energy. GE expects to complete the testing in the fall of 2013.

How to build a wind turbine.