Wind Power Seeks Boost From Better Forecasts

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” Bob Dylan famously warbled. But what if you want to know how long the wind will blow? This is the information power-grid operators need when balancing wind power and conventionally sourced power – and a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aims to give it to them, potentially saving electrical ratepayers money and sparing pollution.

As it stands, forecasters trying to scope out conditions at wind-turbine height don’t have a lot of data to work with, which means they can be off by several hours in predicting big changes in the wind. Grid operators, fearful of being left without adequate power, respond by keeping online lots of reserve power – often generated by coal or natural gas.

wind forecast improvement project

image via Shutterstock

The Wind Forecast Improvement Project launched this month will gather data for a full year, with a network of sophisticated instruments taking measurements of atmospheric conditions in the upper Midwest and Texas, areas where plenty of wind plants are already taking advantage of abundant wind. Once the data is gathered, NOAA plans to incorporate it “into an advanced weather forecasting model to provide more accurate forecasts for wind speeds and directions” at the typical turbine height of 300 to 400 feet above ground.

wind forecast improvement project

image via U.S. Department of Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy is funding this project with up to $6 million over two years, with NOAA contributing its scientific expertise, instrumentation for collecting atmospheric data and modeling for weather predictions. Two private firms – AWS Truepower of Albany, N.Y., and WindLogics of Saint Paul, Minn. – also won contracts to lead teams of several partners and work with the government scientists on the project.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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