Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wind Energy Database Designed to Speed up Development of Wind Power Projects

Renewable Energy Access is reporting today that Scientists with Environment Canada's Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) have released the Canadian Wind Energy Atlas, which is a database that provides wind characteristics and statistics across Canada. According to the report:
The Wind Atlas was created with the Wind Energy Simulation Toolkit (WEST). . . . WEST allows planners of wind energy projects to look both backward and forward in time to generate a detailed picture of wind patterns for any location in Canada. A wind map should allow developers to site wind farms with greater precision, and should reduce the need for extensive field studies to verify wind conditions in a given area. It is hoped that this technology will move the development of new projects along quicker than before.
Canada Newswire has the full press release on the Wind Atlas, which makes note of one very intriguing feature of the database. Apparently the WEST system can also be used for forecast wind energy levels two weeks in advance, thereby allowing electricity generators to predict when auxiliary power sources may need to be brought on-line to supplement the wind generation system.

Improvements in accurate forecasting of wind energy levels is particularly important to the future development of the wind power industry. Improved forecasting would not only allow for more efficient and economical use of different power sources at any given time, but also could allow wind generators in the U.S. to avoid financial penalties associated with some regulatory systems. For example, in many portions of the U.S., electric utilities are still subject to stiff fines if their estimates of available electricity prove to be inaccurate. A recent article on a wind project in Oklahoma emphasizes the impact of these punitive regulatory mechanisms. The article notes that the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority (OMPA), which makes use of power produced at a wind farm in Woodward, OK, is fined $100 dollars for every megawatt hour that departs from their forcasts of available electricity. The fine is paid to the Southwest Power Pool, a regional organization that supervises electricity transmission issues among the 48 electric utilities it comprises. Because of inaccurate forecasting methods, OMPA has wound up paying more money in fines than it makes on electricity generation from the wind farm. According to Max Speegle, general counsel to OMPA, "the transmission costs for the errors in wind forecasting are far exceeding the actual wind generation for [the project], which is making that a pretty tough project economically."

Not sure how accurate the WEST forcasting methods will be, but it will be interesting to watch as those methods develop.

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