The winds of change may be unpredictable, but forecasts are improving. New partnerships between energy companies and government agencies are helping to predict wind speeds far enough in advance to save energy companies billions of dollars.

Power companies, grid operators, and energy traders often pay close attention to the nightly forecasts on television news, but it isn’t easy to predict wind speeds far into the future. Even small fluctuations can make a big difference. But by improving the forecasts and predicting when the winds strengthen or change, these forecasts make the difference between a reliable power system and one that’s expensive and unpredictable.

Several U.S. agencies now have projects to improve forecasting. The Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are each working with two private companies on a year-long Wind Forecast Improvement Project, which is focused on atmospheric conditions above ground. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is also developing new technologies by partnering with Xcel Energy. So far this partnership has saved $6 million by using the data from satellites, aircraft, weather radars, weather stations, and turbine-mounted sensors for improved forecasting.

According to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, better wind forecasting could cut U.S. energy costs by between $1.6 billion and $4.4 billion, depending on the level of production. Other nations are also looking for ways to improve forecasting. Natural Power has signed up 20 wind farms in the U.K. to produce forecasts for between 30 minutes and five days ahead.

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