Weather forecasting: wind industry funding ahead?

The Department of Energy spends millions to improve weather forecasting for the country's wind farms. Could the funding beget more funding from investors?

Investors, business managers and electric grid operators do not like uncertainty. When, where, how hard, and which way the wind blows isn't small talk to them. It's big dollars.

The Department of Energy announced yesterday almost $3.5 million in funding to two companies, AWS Truepower and WindLogics, Inc., to improve their short-term whether forecasting capability and incorporate their meteorological data into government weather models.

In terms of some DOE grants, $3.5 million may not sound like much, but accurate forecasting models can help renewable energy projects that rely on fluctuating weather conditions acquire further investment.

Greentech Media quotes Ken Westrick, CEO of 3TIER, a renewable energy company providing weather information globally:

Since this economic slowdown, now that money is being valued a lot more, people really do care about building productive projects. There has been a fundamental shift and we are getting a lot of acknowledgment that our technologies are objective, accurate and they quantify uncertainty. That's what bankers and financiers need right now as capital has become much harder to get.

Assessing what the weather might be like in coming decades can be a determining factor of where to place a wind or solar farm. Over the short-term, forecasting might inform utilities how to strategically integrate the power the farm generates into the grid. This is what yesterday's funds hope to achieve. For utilities, knowing when to expect, or not to expect, surges of wind power could lessen their need for back-up energy sources, such as natural gas or hydropower, says the DOE.

AWS Truepower, which says it has more than 17,000 megawatts of wind projects in its forecasting portfolio, will focus on meshing wind forecasts with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. This will be no small task. ERCOT handles the electricity for 22 million Texans. That's a lot of air conditioners. Texas also has more operating wind turbines than any other state, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

John Manobianco of AWS Truepower says in a statement:

We have a deep understanding of the region and believe that this project will enable us to develop a solution that will improve grid management and forecasting for the nation.

WindLogics, a subsidiary of NextEra (North America's largest operator of wind farms), will target their forecasting efforts on states in the northern Midwest.

To see projections for wind energy potential in your state, visit here. Below is a 3TIER map depicting the country's wind performance between April and June of this year.

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Image: Flickr_Maia C

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