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The Largest Problem Facing Renewable Energy: Forecasting the Intermittent Power

According to Charlie Smith, the executive director of the Utility Wind Integration Group (UWIG), at first the integration of wind power in the US was not a high priority for utility companies and grid managers. “In fact, if there were any system disturbances, the typical requirement was that the wind plant get off the system,” he said. “Today, wind plants are an integral part of the system and are expected to ride through disturbances and provide power control and voltage control just like any other power plant.”  

With 47,000 MW of current wind capacity in the US, and an extra 8,000 MW expected to be completed this year, wind power is fast becoming an important part of the US electricity grid, and poses a real problem for grid managers due to the intermittent nature of the power levels produced. Last year wind power accounted for the second largest amount of new electricity capacity in the US (35 precent) according to the AWEA.

Within the energy grid there must be a balance between the load and generation, but with such varying levels of electricity production from renewable sources such as wind, this balance is very hard to maintain, and actually poses one of the biggest challenges to the power sector.

The best solution for integrating large amounts of variable wind power is increasing the transmission capacity of the power lines, but acquiring the land, applying for permits, and then installing the new lines can take many years. Instead, using sophisticated tools such as advanced turbine technology, best practices, forecasting techniques, and predictive models companies can predict to relative degrees of accuracy the power levels that will be produced from different wind farms throughout the day.

Telvent DTN, a leading provider of weather forecasting services, provides data to more than 100 wind power facilities in North America. Don Leick, senior energy project manager for Telvent, said that, “it’s a complex challenge to do an accurate wind power forecast for such a highly variable source. You’re predicting wind at a height that’s not at the surface level, which makes it more complicated;” but greatly improved techniques and data has made forecasting much more accurate than in previous years.

A reasonably new technique in wind power forecasting uses probabilities to determine the wind power output and therefore the amount of reserves needed to cover a specific wind farm. Using historical data on wind speeds and correlating power generation, as well as other variants from the weather forecast, probability forecasting can tell grid operators the amount of wind power they should receive at a certain time of day, to a very high accuracy.

As more and more renewable energies start to add a larger proportion of energy to the grid, a sophisticated, accurate, and effective method for predicting power levels must be devised in order to efficiently use the energy being produced. Anything less could prove to be very expensive, and impede the success of renewable energy in its constant effort to replace fossil fuels as the main source of energy generation in the US.

By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com

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