National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado and the electric utility Xcel Energy are collaborating on a new forecasting system to improve the company’s wind energy operations. Financial aspects of the two-year partnership, which continues an existing agreement between the organizations, were not disclosed.
NCAR is a federally funded research and development center devoted to service, research, and education in the atmospheric and related sciences. National Science Foundation is the organization’s main sponsor.
Xcel Energy, which has wind farms in eight states in the U.S. West and Midwest, says it is increasing power from wind energy and other renewable sources, but predicting the flow of wind energy over time is difficult. Electricity from wind and other renewable sources must be consumed soon after generation because of the lack of large-scale storage on the grid. Abrupt reductions in the availability of wind energy mean either powering up conventional coal or natural-gas fired plants to fill the gap or buying power on the spot market, both very expensive options.
NCAR, since 2009, has provided Xcel Energy with forecasting data from a wind energy prediction system that helped the company realize significant savings, valued in 2010 alone at $6 million. That system combines observations of atmospheric conditions, computer models, and artificial intelligence techniques to produce forecasts for the the company’s wind farms.
The new agreement adds more capabilities involving wind and solar power to the system:
- More advance notice of changes in wind energy. NCAR is building a variational Doppler radar analysis system that combines observations from radars with computer simulations to better predict “ramp events” that project changes over a few hours time from a passing front or another atmospheric event.
- Better predictions of ice and extreme temperatures. NCAR, with colleagues from Penn State, is applying technology to predict icing conditions for aircraft in flight to develop a 48-hour forecasting system to anticipate the impacts of freezing rain and fog on turbines at designated wind farms, which cannot operate when coated in ice.
- Improved solar forecasts. Xcel Energy customers with solar panels draw far less energy from the grid than conventional customers , and can sell back power to the company. NCAR will create a system, using computer models and specialized cloud observing tools, to help the company better anticipate when solar customers are getting power from their own panels.
Once the new systems are completed, NCAR expects to turn them over to Xcel Energy or a contractor for operation. NCAR anticipates publishing the results in peer-reviewed journals, to help other utilities and forecast providers learn about the technologies.
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