U.S. wind energy performance is expected to remain below normal in most regions into the final quarter, reports Vaisala. This is due to a persistent El Nino that is forecast to remain in effect throughout the end of the year.
The wind forecast anticipates that power producers in the Northeast, Northwest and much of the U.S. wind belt will see below-average wind speeds in the fourth quarter. Although the El Nino pattern mainly has a negative impact, particularly along the Rocky Mountains, it will have a positive impact in some areas with significant wind generation.
The Southwest, Southeast, Indiana and southern Texas are all expected to see above-normal wind speeds. California is an especially bright spot with a high likelihood of elevated wind speeds, which should signal a return to smooth profitability for investors following the lows of the last six months.
Vaisala has been following the evolution of North American wind anomalies in particular detail since the release of its Q1 study revealing 40-year record-low wind speeds. The low wind event caused significant reductions in generation for utilities and project owners, a number of whom reported expected shortfalls in quarterly and annual wind production.
In the first quarter, Vaisala noted that wind production in Southern California fell to just 64% of 2014 levels, recovering somewhat in the second quarter to 80% of 2014 levels. Texas wind production was 93% of 2014 levels over the first half of the year. However, it is important to bear in mind that year-over-year nameplate wind capacity increased in Texas by 10%, meaning actual production was much lower in 2015 than in 2014 given the number of plants in operation.
Since the end of the first quarter, wind speeds west of the Rocky Mountains have remained lower than average, though to a much lesser extreme, while an area from Texas northward to the Hudson Bay saw wind speeds 10% to 20% above normal in May. In June, widespread low wind speeds returned with most areas west of the Mississippi River seeing below-normal conditions. Rocky Mountain states and central and northern California were especially hit hard with wind speeds roughly 20% below normal.
Vaisala's forecast is based on the wide agreement of the atmospheric research community and all the major global weather models that the current El NiÃ±o climate signal will continue through the end of the year. The forecast was created using an ensemble approach blending mesoscale model predictions with three of the leading re-analysis data sets, each representing 35 years of climate data.