The device uses a fish-eye lens for a 360-degree view of the horizon that is then used to generate a 3-D weather model of the upcoming 15 minutes, an increasingly popular add-on for renewable energy installations. Improved weather modeling gives grid operators a better sense of how many megawatts will be flowing to them from the solar plant and how much power to use from other sources.
The technology for the sky imager was developed by UC San Diego environmental engineering professor Jan Kleissl with the help of a $1.5 million grant from the California Public Utilities Commisssion whose purpose is to help SDG&E better incorporate solar into the state’s power grid. It was also funded by Sanyo Electric, now Panasonic, the Department of Energy, and the California Energy Commission.
Kleissl said the impact of the sky imager device could be significant because to make up for the variability in output from wind and power plants, utilities often match each megawatt of the renewable power with a megawatt of backup from another source. Knowing how much and when power flows will fluctuate gives utilities the ability to schedule backup power more accurately, saving up to 50 percent of their operational costs, Kleissl said.