Forecasting for dollars
Improved wind forecasts aim to bolster power grid efficiencies.
Though we may know wind is coming within a 24-hour period, what time, how strong it will be or how long it will last are often unknowns.
For those caught in sudden gales, the matter can be an inconvenience. For the renewable energy industry, a vague weather forecast can translate to lost dollars.
A recent $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to a coalition of organizations including CU-Boulder aims to boost wind forecast models, making wind predictions—and energy production from turbines—more reliable and efficient.
Advances could not only set up wind farms and power grid operators to be more successful, they also could lead to lower costs for consumers and strengthen nationwide efforts to transition to more low-carbon sources of electricity.
“We’re skilled at predicting that there will be significant increases or decreases in wind speed, but we have a lot of challenges anticipating the exact timing and magnitude,” said Julie Lundquist, an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and the CU-Boulder lead on the DOE project.
The grant is led by Vaisala, an international company based in Finland with offices in Louisville, Colorado, that specializes in environmental and industrial measurements.
Other partners include the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, the Louisville office of Lockheed Martin, Texas Tech University, the University of Notre Dame and the environmental consulting firm Sharply Focused, of Portland, Oregon.
The research ahead is made even more formidable by the fact that the large group of scientists and technicians involved are zeroing in on some of the most complex terrain in which to forecast wind, the Columbia River Gorge region of Washington and Oregon, where thousands of wind turbines are already deployed.
“Weather patterns in and around mountains, canyons, gorges and coastlines are difficult to predict,” said Lundquist. “So if we can fix the models and improve their performance in challenging areas like the Columbia River Gorge, then we should also improve their performance in easier locations.”
Armed with hefty super-computing power, the researchers will tackle the complex terrain by using a high-resolution technique to look at weather patterns there. Using advanced meteorological equipment, they’ll be able to examine what’s happening in a small area, such as a half-mile section as opposed to a 13-mile section.
Additionally, the researchers will run models more rapidly—every hour—to compare projected and actual atmospheric conditions, making corrections to data along the way for better forecasting accuracy.
CU-Boulder graduate students are participating in the research, and project measurements will also be incorporated into Lundquist’s undergraduate class, Wind Energy Meteorology.
Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and CU-Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) also are participating in the research.
“In order to address challenges with the wind, we also have to address other aspects of the weather,” said Lundquist. “We hope to improve representations of other physics that are applicable to other industries such as transportation and recreation.”