Solar Forecast: More Power With New Weather Data

Three universities have teamed up to create a network of observation points across the West Coast and Hawaii to provide sensor data that will help forecast solar energy patterns.

Western Washington University, the University of California and the University of Hawaii are joining forces in a move they hope will eventually make it easier to integrate solar energy into regional power systems.

Installing solar power

image via Western Washington University

The monitoring stations have been set up at Western Washington’s campus in Bellingham, Wash.; near Ewa Beach on the island of Oahu, Hawaii; and at University of California campuses in Merced, Davis, Berkeley and San Diego.

Data from the six sites will be fed into a forecasting model that combines meteorological information, satellite data, ground sensor observations and real-time irradiance measurements.

Jeff Wright, the dean of Western University’s College of Sciences and Technology, said the forecast model would ” improve our ability to predict renewable energy inputs.”

“Once we are able to provide reliable predictions of renewable energy sources, we will be better able to integrate these important sources of energy into regional power systems,” he added, in a statement.

One of the key challenges for power companies in using solar energy on a large scale is the ability to predict and prepare for fluctuations in electricity generation due to changes in weather—cold and warm weather fronts, airborne dust and especially clouds can have a major effect.

Weather fluctuations in home solar energy systems matter less as the system automatically switches to drawing power from the grid if the amount of electricity being generated isn’t sufficient.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.