I don’t know about you, but I’m hearing the word “quantum” more frequently these days, and the latest reference is to tools Qubit Engineering Inc. is bringing to the siting and operation of wind energy facilities.
“We’re merging renewable energy and mechanical engineering . . . using quantum computing,” says Marouane Salhi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the start-up that was founded in 2018. “Building and operating 100-foot tall wind turbines is a very expensive project.”
As noted on its webpage, Qubit Engineering is the only company to adopt quantum computing technology to solve wind farm layout optimization tasks and also offer an optimized control solution to operate wind farms in a way that improves production while also extending the lifespan of the turbines through load distribution optimization.
“It’s like a symphony or orchestra,” Salhi explains, noting that all of the turbines and windmills must work together for maximum efficiency to avoid what’s called the “wake effect.” The term applies to a challenge that occurs for turbines downwind of other turbines when the former have to cope with wakes with both slower wind speeds and increased manual vibration from turbulence. Those wakes can increase wear on the turbines and cause increased maintenance costs.
As such, siting is important, but so, too, are the ongoing operations.
In terms of siting, Qubit Engineering provides wind farm developers with optimized turbine layout designs that minimize inter-turbine wake effects. This significantly improves the return of investment, since more power would be generated by the wind farm and asset fatigue due to wake turbulence would be minimized. Qubit Engineering has developed quantum-enhanced optimization algorithms that preview all potential sites and automatically select the optimum location in a few minutes, but also provide the customer with the opportunity to modify the recommended best site and provide an estimate of the expected Annual Energy Production (AEP) for that revised turbine configuration.
“We give the best guess for the X and Y coordinates,” Salhi says. “It’s purely computational.”
On the operational side but currently under development, Qubit Engineering will provide wind farm operators with intelligent guidance on how to optimize their production. The company’s automated data analysis and quantum-enhanced machine learning and optimization algorithms continuously evaluate the state of all turbines in the wind farm and provide operators with tailored, simple control recommendations that facilitate their operational goals – maximizing energy output, minimizing asset wear, or reaching a predefined energy target.
The company was founded in 2018 by Salhi and two other individuals, all with ties to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). The CEO is a Computational Physicist who earned his doctorate at UTK, while Hatem Eldakhakhni, the start-up’s Chief Operating Officer, is a Biomedical Engineer, UTK doctoral graduate, and seasoned software developer. The third Co-Founder is George Siopsis, a Theoretical Physicist and UTK Professor who serves as Chief Technology Officer.
The idea for Qubit Engineering came to Salhi before he graduated from UTK, but it really began to take-off during the second year of his post-doctoral work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “We learned much in a theoretical sense in college,” the native of Tunis, told us in a recent interview. “I was intrigued with the idea of weaving physics with mathematical and computational skills.”
Salhi says he reached an inflection point after participating in a Creative Destruction Lab eight-week bootcamp in 2018. “It put everything together for me,” he says. “It was transformational.”
Qubit Engineering’s first customer is a large wind farm developer in Europe for whom the team is working on multiple projects.