The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has developed a wind energy forecasting system with Xcel Energy that they say enables the utility to capture energy from wind turbines more effectively and at a lower cost.
The system is designed to allow utility operators to anticipate the amount of energy produced by wind farms across Xcel Energy's service area. As a result, the utility can make critical decisions about saving money by powering down traditional coal and natural-gas plants when possible while meeting the needs of its customers, NCAR explains.
The wind energy forecasting system relies on a suite of tools, including observations of atmospheric conditions and an ensemble of computer models. It issues frequent high-resolution wind energy forecasts, updated with new information every 15 minutes, for wind farm sites.
To generate the forecasts, the NCAR system incorporates observations of current atmospheric conditions from a variety of sources, including satellites, aircraft, weather radars, ground-based weather stations, and sensors on the wind turbines themselves.
The system is being utilized for wind farms in states served by Xcel Energy, including Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin.
"The goal of this project is to make it more affordable for Xcel Energy to bring on more wind energy," says William Mahoney, an NCAR program director overseeing the project. "Xcel Energy has been very proactive in adding wind energy to its system, but one of the major obstacles is the difficulty in predicting when and how strongly winds will blow at the locations of turbines. Every fraction that we can improve the forecasts results in real savings."