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GE's Haliade-X 12-megawatt offshore wind turbine

The world's largest and most powerful offshore wind turbine will test its wings at an innovative facility in northeast England.

The 12-megawatt Haliade-X, developed by GE Renewable Energy, stands 853 feet tall, or about three times the height of the Flat Iron building in New York City. Its massive rotor diameter of 722 feet is roughly the tower height of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge above water.

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Germany will soon be home to a groundbreaking wind farm that solves a big problem with wind power: What happens when the wind isn't blowing?

Max Bögl Facebook

General Electric's (GE) renewable energy arm has signed a turbine-supply agreement with German construction company Max Bögl to develop the world's first wind farm with an integrated hydropower plant capable of generating power even when there's no breeze.

According to GE Reports, project "Gaildorf" consists of four wind turbines scattered along a hill in the Swabian-Franconian Forest. These towers are unique in two ways. First, they will stand at a record-breaking height of 584 feet once built. Second, at the base of each tower is a water reservoir containing 1.6 million gallons of water. The four towers are daisy chained by a channel that takes water down a valley to a 16-megawatt pump/generator hydropower plant. The site will house another reservoir holding 9 million gallons of water for additional water storage.

Here's how it all works, as GE Reports simply explains:

"The big idea here is that the wind will generate electricity when it's, well, windy, and the water will act as a giant battery that will discharge and modulate output when it stops blowing.

"When electricity is needed, water flowing downhill from the reservoirs will power the hydro plant. When the energy supply is high, the hydro plant will pump the water back up the hill to the reservoirs and will act as the giant battery."

The four wind turbines are connected by a channel that takes water down to a hydro plant.GE Reports

The beauty of this project is that stored hydropower can offset the unpredictability of wind power.

"The Gaildorf project marks a major step forward in balancing power demand and supply fluctuations using renewable energy sources," GE said in a statement. "The combined wind and hydropower plant will provide balancing power for fast-response stabilization of the grid, maintaining a low cost of electricity for residents in Germany."

The wind farm alone will generate 13.6 megawatts of energy while the hydropower plant can generate 16 megawatts. The turbines are scheduled to be commissioned by the end of 2017. The Gaildorf project is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2018.

“We are very excited to collaborate with Max Bögl on this pilot project; a first for the industry," Anne McEntee, president and CEO of GE's Onshore Wind business, said. "We are committed to exploring innovative renewable energy technologies that have the potential to improve grid flexibility in Europe and around the world."

As GE Reports noted, this innovative plant will help Germany move toward its goal of generating at least 45 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030.

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