Knowing about an area’s wind resource is a vital first step to assessing the feasibility of a wind farm. Armed with data on wind speed and characteristics, project developers can assess how much power a wind farm is likely to generate. However, this process becomes more complicated as wind farms move offshore. Despite ongoing research that could enable offshore wind data to be collected from land-based control stations, the process of collecting this data currently requires expensive, specialized equipment, such as buoys or offshore platforms.
One such buoy, the seven-ton WindSentinel – one of only three buoys of its kind in the world – has spent the past two months anchored four miles off the coast of Muskegon, Mich., in Lake Michigan. The buoy is equipped with a robust Vindicator laser wind sensor, which provides a predictive, three-dimensional view of actual offshore wind conditions every second.
The buoy has been collecting wind speed data, and transmitting it to researchers via cell phone since it was deployed last October. After successfully completing this round of monitoring, researchers from Grand Valley State University, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University have brought the buoy back to shore. In March, the WindSentinel will be re-deployed, and anchored farther offshore to measure winds at a height of 200 meters. The researchers hope the assessments will provide valuable information about the potential for offshore wind energy development on the Great Lakes.
The launch of the WindSentinel in Lake Michigan was the first use of this technology in North America. The project was funded by $3.3 million in grants and research funds, including a $1.33 million energy efficiency grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission. Other funding partners include the U.S. Department of Energy, We Energies, University of Michigan and the Sierra Club.