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How AI Helped Design A New Material For Wind Turbines (And Why That’s Important For Energy)

  • by: Conor McKeon
  • On: 31, Jan 2019
3 min read

Wind turbines have been a cost-effective way of generating clean energy since the 1980s. As time has gone on, the technology has become cheaper and more efficient, and today the wind energy market is worth around $44 billion and is expected to be worth $100 billion by 2025. New developments in technology are driving the market forward, but there is one problem that has always hampered the long-term viability of wind energy.

How AI Is Helping Green Energy Become More Efficient

The Problem With Wind Turbines:

The degradation of wind turbines over time is a huge problem facing the offshore and renewable energy sector which costs millions in repair and maintenance bills. Whether they’re on land or at sea, the turbines are constantly exposed to the elements, facing rain, dust, snow, and hailstones, which can cause significant damage and reduced efficiency over time. This reduces the amount of power generated by around 2-4%. Over time, this can amount to vast amounts of energy lost.

This only gets worse at sea: given enough time, salt water can cause almost any structure to massively deteriorate or rust, leading to unavoidable costs which eat into the profits of the industry. Over decades, this has become accepted as simply part of the inevitable entropy that comes with building anything at sea.

How Wind Turbines Can Be Improved:

If wind turbines could be built out of a material resistant to erosion, it could save time, resources, and money. But designing a new material isn’t easy, and synthesising one to resist the continual damage caused by the elements would be even more difficult.

That’s why the Technical Research Centre of Finland set an AI program on the task, able to simulate hundreds of compounds under the assigned parameters to try to combat this problem.

The AI was given conditions to work under to create materials that can withstand extreme weather, and simulated hundreds of different types with different tensile strengths, mailability, and durability.

The best material the AI generated actually hardens under stress, meaning it can protect itself from wear and tear as weather conditions change. Using 3-D printing, these materials can be made to any specification, and could in theory be designed and applied as a solution to any problem.

Why AI Will Be So Important To The Energy Industry:

AI has the power to revolutionise design, construction, and engineering, and could massively increase efficiency of new forms of energy production. New materials could conduct or withstand high temperatures, convert more energy into electricity, and store more energy for a longer time.

AI can regulate energy usage to better manage it during peak times, and have more reliable voltage regulation. AI is already at work in our phones to regulate battery usage, and will only become more central in our lives. Eventually AI will oversee the entire energy grid, taking into account all sources and managing how it is sent out to ensure maximum efficiency.

On top of this, AI can eliminate human error when it comes to energy management and maintenance. Human error can have a large impact on how much energy is generated or stored. AI can scan a grid or energy system to see any weak spots in the chain, highlight any energy loss, and could even be responsible for designing the solutions to these problems. This could save money, and even lives if that energy is needed in an emergency like a natural disaster.

As energy becomes more vital to our growing population, AI will likely take a central role in managing how it is generated, stored, and used.

Read more about upcoming engineering projects, or learn which countries will shape the engineering world in 2020 and beyond.

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