To Put Wind Power In Its Place, Weather Is Key

The energy industry has long been wary of intermittent renewables that generate power only when the sun shines or the wind blows. But scientists in the renewable energy industry are increasingly using their deep knowledge of weather patterns to site wind turbines and solar panels and maximize power output.

A team of engineers at Stanford University recently published a study in Geophysical Research Letters that describes a complicated weather model that can determine optimal placement of wind farms. The team has already used the model to choose from 12 potential locations for the placement of four offshore wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. East Coast.

offshore wind and weather

image via Stanford University

“It is the first time anyone has used high-resolution meteorological data to plan the placement of offshore wind grid,” senior author Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said in a statement. “And this sophistication has provided a deeper level of understanding to the grid plan.”

In the researchers scenario, four offshore wind farms were targeted for an area ranging from off Long Island, N.Y., up the Atlantic coast to the Georges Bank, 100 miles east of Cape Cod, Mass. Each site will comprise about 100 turbines and will be interconnected for a generating capacity of 2,000 megawatts (MW). By connecting the farms and placing them in locations that will optimize output, the engineers believe output will be more stable than single-site farms. The engineers also tried to match peak productivity with peak demand times, eliminating the need for significant energy storage or the possibility of excessive energy waste.

The researchers said that because the sites aren’t far offshore, tdaily temperature differences between land and sea are consistent, leading to similarly consistent sea breezes. They will also experience less frequent stormy weather. Meanwhile, the more stable output could make life easier for grid operators trying to balance generation and supply across the grid. And by connecting the farms, the engineers have cushioned the farms with another layer of consistency.

Shifra Mincer is a freelance journalist and passionate tweeter (@Shiframincer) currently living in Israel. Before moving to Israel to apprentice with a homebirth midwife, Shifra worked as Associate Editor of AOL Energy, and was a member of the launch team that got the site up and running. Shifra has over a half a decade of experience in journalism and has written on women's health, green technology, politics and regulation of the energy industry, energy financial news, and local news. While studying for her B.A. at Harvard College, Shifra worked as a news editor for the Harvard Crimson. Shifra is also a yoga teacher and a birth doula and is hoping to create an active Jewish birth community through her web venture www.layda.org.