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Wind Farms To Receive Future Wind Forecasts

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the as-well-they-ought dept.

Power 57

An anonymous reader writes "If the US plans to develop wind farms across the country they need a better way to predict the wind direction and the duration. NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) is looking to do just that. In December, NCAR signed an agreement with Xcel Energy to develop a wind prediction system for the company's wind energy farms in Colorado, Minnesota, and Texas. Experimental forecasts may start as early as May. At present, most wind forecasts rely heavily on statistical forecasting methods, since the numerical weather forecast products available from operational centers are produced with coarse-grid, larger-scale models. The RTFDDA system, however, is designed to provide a birds-eye view of local weather for small areas of special interest, like wind farms, through a multiple level downscaling algorithm." I hope that decentralized weather-data gathering stations (like many people have feeding data to The Weather Underground) would be useful for this purpose.

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57 comments

First Post! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26729657)

First post.

Let me be the first to say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26729661)

This story really blows. The author is rather long-winded.

Re:Let me be the first to say... (2, Funny)

glittalogik (837604) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730369)

Do you have to put up such a cold front?

Re:Let me be the first to say... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26730575)

Your puns suck

Why? (4, Interesting)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729747)

So what will they do with the wind forecast?

It's not like they turn off the windmills when there is no wind. The ones that cannot be rotated gain no benefit from knowing the direction. And the ones that can be rotated rotate automatically based on the current wind, not in anticipation of a future wind.

Perhaps I should be turning off my solar panels at night, or on cloudy days. (hmm... Actually, there are diodes to do that to prevent the panels from consuming stored energy)

Re:Why? (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729791)

Mod this up. I can't see any real reason for wind forecasts.

Re:Since it's their means of livelihood (2, Insightful)

von_rick (944421) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730141)

When your primary source of income is based on utilizing wind energy to generate electricity, it makes every sense to look into the wind patterns and predict those in the future.

The velocity of wind, the climate during those months, etc. is quite crucial in determining how many turbines would be required to maintain a constant supply/demand ratio.

I'm pretty sure that civil engineers and architects have to predict rain patterns when they are building dams or hydroelectric generation stations.

Re:Why? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730357)

Mod it up because you can't see a use for that?

That's a little short sighted, isn't it?

Maybe the energy company want to make a forecast of how much energy they will get from wind generation?

Re:Why? (1)

GuldKalle (1065310) | more than 5 years ago | (#26733729)

Mod it up because you can't see a use for that?

Maybe he thought it was a good question and wanted it answered.

Re:Why? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26729841)

What if you could tell the other electrical distributors that the wind farm would be producing a certain amount of electricity for a period of time? Perhaps the other producers wouldn't have to generate as much and cut their generation facilities back to conserve their fuel. They could purchase the "green" energy for resell to their consumers.

Re:Why? (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 5 years ago | (#26734361)

I think this hits the nail on the head.

There are several levels of peak energy demands and a base load for an area. The base load is sort of an average over the median usages in the area. This is what is needed from the primary power suppliers. Then as peak usages approach, extra capacity has to be added to the grid. This is often done by natural gass or diesel generators and are more expensive to operate then the coal or Nuclear or other superheated steam plants. There is no capacitor or battery at the other end that sucks up all the unused energy so some goes to waste. Currently, there is what they call a reserve requirement where something like 10% more energy that what is being used needs to be availible for use.

The problem with wind and solar is that it isn't as predictable as the other source which means that equipment needs to be in place to make up the differences. This provides a level of inefficiencies which is a driving point to why energy providers don't want to deal with consumer provided power. With weather forecasts, Solar is somewhat more dependable then wind and now with a wind forecast, Planning and routing of peak energy as well as base loads can be computed in advance and it can mean a much more efficient over all operation.

Re:Why? (1)

Deag (250823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729853)

Isn't that once the wind is a certain strength, the windmills are locked to prevent damage.

So they wouldn't be looking for no wind conditions, but strong wind conditions.

Re:Why? (2, Insightful)

rev_deaconballs (1071074) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729913)

Of my experience of main stream articles on research, it often completely misses the true reason behind the research. My guess is that they deemed this story more entertaining due to the interest in alternative energy. If that was the underlying reason behind the grant proposal I am sure they would not get funding for the very reason you mentioned. The data from that research seems highly valuable but for other reasons.

Re:Why? (4, Informative)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729927)

Why would an energy company want to have an estimate of how much or how little a particular portion of their grid is going to produce? What could they possibly do with that sort of information? It's not like our electrical grid is built to primarily rely on a very steady base load and doesn't tolerate spikes well...

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26730025)

There are a couple different reasons that highly accurate wind predictions are useful.

First, it makes it cost-effective to evaluate a very large number of places for suitability as wind farms. Believe it or not, but right now some wind-farms are very poorly placed, as on top of ridges, because the wind strikes the ridge and flows vertically upward, creating a "mountain wave" (this term is from atmospheric turbulence studies). Mountain waves cause vortices to form in front of the wind farm, and strongly reduce the power generation because the wind no lower strikes the blades head-on.

Second, once a wind farm is in operation, a reasonable guess on power generation allows the power grid to schedule and adjust for the changing power supply and loads. This is more important for regions that might eventually depend strongly on wind energy. After all, if the prediction is wrong, and the back-up methods cannot pick up the slack, then brown-outs or black-outs can occur.

Bottom-line is that yes, wind forecasts are useful. I am sure there are other reasons as well, I am not an expert on wind power.

Re:Why? (4, Informative)

Jason Pollock (45537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730055)

There are several reasons that power generators (of any kind) want accurate weather reports.

1) Thermal generation: They have consents that limit the temperature of their waste water. If the temperature exceeds a certain temperature, they can't shed it fast enough, lowering their generation capacity.
2) Wind generation: If the wind is too low, you don't generate. If it's too high, again, you don't generate. During the two points there is a curve indicating the amount of power you will generate.
3) Hydro: The rain you will receive needs to be rationed over the season. No rain in the forecast, you can't generate as much power.

It's all about forecasting how much power you can generate. These providers all have contracts to provide a fixed amount of power to their customers. If they cannot meet that obligation, they have to purchase it from other providers. The sooner they know if they will have to buy on the wholesale market, the cheaper it is for them.

Otherwise, they have to be even more cautious, since the power generation from hydro and wind can be bursty. This limits their ability to supply power to those requiring guaranteed power delivery.

Re:Why? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 5 years ago | (#26733855)

Point 3: Here in Australia we have found that a 20% drop in rainfall translates to a 60% drop in run-off to the dam.

Re:Why? (2, Insightful)

harperska (1376103) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730153)

Actually, it is very useful to know what output your wind farm will have in the next hour or in the next day. Utilities are constantly monitoring their generation resources so they can plan ahead. It would be beneficial to Xcel to know today that tomorrow windfarm A will not be producing as much electricity, so they can make a deal now to buy that electricity from someplace else at better prices than if they suddenly had to buy in that electricity tomorrow when they realized their windfarm wasn't producing. Or maybe, they know that it will be very windy next week, so they make a deal with another utility to sell that extra power that they know they are going to have. Electricity is bought and sold up to months in advance of when it is actually generated, so it is very important to know how much you will be able to generate in that time. It's all economics.

Re:Why? (1)

pdabbadabba (720526) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730237)

Easy. The wind forecast will tell you (about) how much power you can expect to produce from a given wind farm. This, I would think, would be useful in planning the allocation of power grid resources.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26730447)

insider here: they want it to better price the energy on the market.

ie the owner can sell futures for X energy at Y time (if they don't deliver, there's a large financial penalty; it becomes important to be able to predict with good certainty when and how much the wind will be blowing)

there's nothing altruistic about it.

Re:Why? (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730649)

Most windmills are only effective in a certain range of wind speeds, either unable to generate or suffering damage outside that range.

  If you know what the wind forecast was, you could either adjust gearing ratios more rapidly, or stand down those unable to cope and reduce wear.

Re:Why? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730701)

So what will they do with the wind forecast?

It's not like they turn off the windmills when there is no wind.

Perhaps having a reasonably accurate three to five day forecast will make it easier to schedule maintenance so as to maximize power output of the farm.

Re:Why? (1)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730975)

The economic value is in risk reduction. If we are to have a stable output of electricity, other utilities must compensate for the variability of wind power. In order to do that, they must anticipate as best as they can what the power output of a wind farm will be. If you expect that in the next 20 seconds the wind will blow less, produce more electricity with the hydraulic damn, if it will blow more, produce less, etc.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26732359)

Also if you have a predictable lull in the weather with a string of fairly calm or no wind days, that's when you should try to schedule all your major maintenance activity. Things like repacking grease, stress and other damage inspection, and replacing various parts if needed. If you know you're going to have downtime coming, may as well make it work for you.

But from what I can understand, the main goal is to know where the wind is most consistent. Having an area of strong winds isn't necessarily good if it's too gusty and variable, a place with moderate but fairly constant wind is easier to plan and build out for.

Re:Why? (1)

srussia (884021) | more than 5 years ago | (#26735077)

Why not go one step further and use the windmills to send weather data as well?

Re:Why? (1)

GPSguy (62002) | more than 5 years ago | (#26736247)

Most of the wind energy companies feel their turbine output data are proprietary. They only share it with the government if they are required to. They're worried that, if they made that data public, a competitor would use it to site another wind farm that could cause them to lose business... or could go a little upstream of the prevailing wind and cause them to lose wind flow. They don't even want to make the exact locations of their turbines public (although it's real hard to hide a whole windfarm!).

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26735951)

I'll treat this as a serious question, and not flame-bait.
1. Estimate output for individual turbines and windfarms overall for energy planning purposes (how many coal-fired plants will be needed to supplement the wind-generated energy?)
2. Use estimates (ibid) to check turbine efficiency and determine when non-routine maintenance might be needed
3. Warn of conditions that might require prior safety events, including gust-fronts and wind-storms that could cause turbine overspeed conditions causing blade loss, or other system damage

Re:Why? (1)

Kris V (1374979) | more than 5 years ago | (#26738995)

I would add that starting up windmills (getting them started) costs energy and one may want to optimize the decisions taken to start them up. E.g. if the wind forecast predicts good wind only for half an hour or so, it is probably not interesting to start it up. This is especially true for vertical windmills, which are more efficients but require more start-up work.

Also, in the long term, the forecasts may allow better location of windmill farms and their positioning.

So, it's all about the money. Listed so far:
- optimization of start-up, possibly allowing the construction of more efficient plants.
- propagation of forecast of power delivery
- prevent damage
- improved location and positioning

Just my 2 cents,
K

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26739623)

Obviously simply forecasting the wind is not good enough, what is needed is a way to control the wind so it can be directed wherever it needs to go. Perhaps acres and acres of giant fans could do the trick.

I'm questioning the value (2)

ruin20 (1242396) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729751)

Unless the concern is about freak high winds that exceed the capacity of the farm and pose a threat to the systems operating there, I don't see the point. Couldn't they be better served by surveying locations? Shouldn't their model be based on average output, and wouldn't historical data be a much better indicator for that? I mean it's not like there's a lot you can do to control how the wind will be blowing and the systems are hopefully already actively synced with the direction of the wind. The tie in to the grid has to be an active process anyways, in case of failure, and is produced as a byproduct of a conditioning system anyhow. Is there something I'm missing here? Is this really cheaper than sending out a guy with a weather balloon?

Re:I'm questioning the value (1)

BattleApple (956701) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730243)

I would think the blades would feather automatically in response to excessive speeds.

probably more operational information (3, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730305)

This doesn't seem to be a plan to better site windmills or increase their efficiency, but rather a way of predicting their near-future output to ease grid operation. If you know how much electricity your wind-farm is likely to produce tomorrow, you can better plan which non-wind power plants need to be operating, and at what levels. That can make things cheaper, because you can ramp up or down base-load power stations rather than having to rely on last-minute emergency generation when your wind farm produced less electricity than expected.

Re:probably more operational information (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26733295)

Its likely the first step in a greater project of weather modification; today we predict the winds, tomorrow we manipulate the weather to vector the winds to these sprawling compounds of rotors. The greenies fail to see that the environment consequences of wind and solar, as industrial production tools, will dwarf the impacts by petroleum as we will take a massive, active hand in controlling the climate to suit our power generation "needs".

Re:probably more operational information (1)

GPSguy (62002) | more than 5 years ago | (#26736323)

While you can get some value from a review of forecasts and observations, prior to building a wind farm, they go in, and use instruments to get measurements of the wind at various potential turbine hub heights, say, 60m, 80m, 100m, 120m, 150m. The most common instrument is a SODAR (http://www.sodar.com/about_sodar.htm) or a tall tower ("met tower") where measurements can be taken. Surveys often last up to a full year prior to data reduction and a decision on whether to use a site or not.

Use of model-based prediction can allow for load-balancing with other generation technologies, and provide information on turbine performance and degradation.

Re:I'm questioning the value (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730325)

To project how much energy will be created and plan accordingly.

NCAR (1)

ushering05401 (1086795) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729757)

I am always a little peeved when a private organization calls themselves the 'National' this or that.

They are free to do it, sure, it just seems like someone is angling for a little unwarranted validity when they choose names like that.

Re:NCAR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26729921)

Just to point out:

NCAR IS NOT a private organization, it is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal government entity, as well as through various grants and contracts such as the contract mentioned here. It is operated by a consortium of universities. This is very similar to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the facility is owned by NASA, but almost all the personnel are employees of CalTech, who operates JPL on behalf of NASA.

I have worked at JPL as an engineer, and I am working now with NCAR/RAL on my own research. There is no "unwarranted validity" in the name.

See the "About" page for NCAR:
http://www.ncar.ucar.edu/organization/about/

Re:NCAR (1)

ushering05401 (1086795) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730115)

My point is not to bash the organization, but I stand by my point.

NCAR could be a fantastic organization, and I has already seen the info that members of NCAR had participated in IPCC stuff, published public deicing info for aviators etc..

If anything, my point seems more valid in light of those things. However the organization has chosen to position itself, and however beneficial to the public, use of the word National implies a different level of accountability.

Again, thanks for the good work, but I feel there should be a clear distinction between organizations like this and those that answer directly to the GAO or equivalent at the end of the day.

Re:NCAR (1)

raddan (519638) | more than 5 years ago | (#26733013)

It's just a word, man. Get over it. See NBC, NPR, National Grid, and NCSA for examples that don't meet your criteria.

Re:NCAR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26736043)

You might want to see what they do... take a trip to Boulder and go up on the Mesa. Find a way into the Foothills labs and see the various things they work in.

NCAR, the NATIONAL Center for Atmospheric Research, is a meeting place and place of collaboration where the guys in that line of work spend a lot of time collaborating. Lots of students gain access to it. Lots of faculty researchers spend their summers there. NCAR participates, providing human and technical resources, in research worldwide.

Oh, and the NATIONAL Center for Atmospheric Research is a program funded by the National Science Foundation, to bring all these things together. The Universities' Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium/partnership of universities which runs the thing, was awarded the funding for NCAR by NSF. It should be noted that the consortium works well enough that there were no competitors last year when the program came up for renewal, but there WERE a number of changes mandated by NSF's review to try to make things even better.

No, I don't work for NCAR. I work with them, and I'm often sitting in a cubicle at Foothills 2 working with the folks responsible for the care and feeding of the WRF weather model. My institution is a member of UCAR, and I've been active in several UCAR programs. Consider this disclosure of interests.

Re:NCAR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26729931)

They're just the operational mission of a non-profit [wikipedia.org] .

Re:NCAR (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730333)

I agree. Federal is even worse.

They could be their own prediction system (3, Interesting)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730021)

If windmills were distributed widely enough, they could produce their own prediction data. i.e. windmill A, downwind from windmill B, should use windmill B's output as a predictor. Or, more broadly, windmill A would rely on a set of windmills within a given radius for prediction data. This would require a much larger distribution than will be available any time soon, but would probably be the best way to go in the long term. P2P wind power prediction. Me likey.

Re:They could be their own prediction system (1)

esocid (946821) | more than 5 years ago | (#26733843)

I'd also say they could create a set of historical records from sight A (22m/s @ 35 deg 10'55'') with anemometers on 1/10th of the turbines, and sight B, etc. to show wind associations with weather/climate/time of day, year/solar activity...
although I'd already assume they do this, but on a far lesser scale, size and timewise.

Wind forecasts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26730227)

Probably sponsered by Taco Bell

Effect of windmills on wind? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730289)

Okay, this may be a stupid question, but I just don't know the answer:

Could the actual wind speed that we experience on the earth's surface be noticeably reduced if we go crazy building lots of wind mills? (I don't mean if you're standing right next to the wind mill tower. I'm talking about a more regional effect.)

Re:Effect of windmills on wind? (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730329)

we have cut so many trees, that we have offset that effect allready.

Re:Effect of windmills on wind? (1)

mpsheppa (1088477) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730571)

Maybe - see http://www.computing.co.uk/business-green/news/2231469/wind-turbines-mess-weather [computing.co.uk] for example.

However, the effect is debatable, with no consensus on what it will be and whether it would be negative. If we were getting to 50% wind power then I'd want to see more research on the possible effects, but I can't see it having any noticeable impact one way or the other any time soon.

Re:Effect of windmills on wind? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26731663)

Of course. You don't get something for nothing. The key is to make it as close to nothing as you can.

Re:Effect of windmills on wind? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#26732061)

Which is really why we need DIVERSIFIED energy sources. Right now, Wind is doing good on its own. Solar PV is getting funding, but that has to be the biggest mistake going. Though to be fair, in another 10 years, it probably will not be. What is needed is development work on solar thermal as well as geo-thermal power and HVAC.

If we do all that, combined with more nukes, we would be better off (lower costs of energy).

Re:Effect of windmills on wind? (1)

GPSguy (62002) | more than 5 years ago | (#26736139)

Excellent question. And the short answer is, "Yes."

Modification to surface roughness is a consideration. Diminuation of down-stream wind velocities is a concern, and of interest, some of us are questioning how really big windfarms might qdversely affect or capability to forecast the weather as we do use surface roughness as an input into WRF. If we under-estimate surface roughness we can overestimate surface wind velocity, and see that mis-estimate propagate through the entire model. Recall, please, that the atmosphere is a complex thing to model (most gridded atmosphereic models are finite difference models with a PDE physics base rather than discreet solver solutions) so a single minor estimator error can cause some interesting later errors.

Anybody else misread NASCAR? (1)

jnmontario (865369) | more than 5 years ago | (#26732099)

Here I was trying to figure out how Dale Evans was going to help with the wind turbines....damn dyslexia!

Wind prediction is common in Germany (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26732961)

The research has already been done in Europe. There are about four serious companies offering more or less precise wind(-power) predictions.

Here in Germany there are five energy providers. Each of them relies on these predictions.

With these predictions the energy providers save millions of euros. The reason is that e.g. gas-fired power plants can be shut down while there comes enough power out of the wind mills. This requires some planning (normally with 1-3 day ahead predictions).

Re:Wind prediction is common in Germany (2, Interesting)

GPSguy (62002) | more than 5 years ago | (#26736187)

The state of prediction in Europe isn't as good as you might think. Nor is it in corporate America. That's a big reason NCAR is getting involved. Several of us are working on how to make WRF or a similar weather model work to forecast at the appropriate heights where the turbine blades work. AND at the resolutions required.

One wind prediction company I'm aware of here claims to have resolutions as fine as 250m for the whole US. What I know of the model they're using, however, suggests that the model isn't stable at that high a resolution. Getting models to behave as we adapt them for new tasks isn't always easy...

Whats the climate affect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26734011)

So what overall affect do all these windfarms have on the natural winds that blow across the surface have? As in whats the impact on the weather for one? Warmer temps maybe? I just see wind as being another hydro dam. Looks nice but look at all those problems it causes after we have it going for abit and realize it.

Power Planning and Wind Diversity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26736193)

The problem they are trying to address is supporting demand planning for the grid. Most conventional power sources require a long time to change their output. So in addition to the changes in grid load over time one has to be able to compensate for the short term variability of wind. That is one of the reasons why places that build a lot of wind power also build gas turbine generators -- these are the only power sources that can change their output fast enough to backfill wind. This is also the dirty secret of wind -- while wind is 'green' using it in a modern grid needs additional backup power from fuel-burning sources. So the carbon offset is questionable. What is worse is that wind results from large scale circulation patterns in the atmosphere -- studies in Canada and Europe have shown that wind levels are closely correlated over very large distances. So covering the landscape with turbines means that the power sag when wind dies will be huge, as will the need for backup power. Or we just get used to living like a 3rd world country with regular blackouts.

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