Grid Operators Want Good Wind Forecasts

Improving wind energy forecasts is critical for integrating the variable wind power source into the U.S. power grid. Technology advancements to cut production costs, as well as government incentives and mandates for adding more clean power, have boosted wind energy output from 6 billion kilowatt hours in 2000 to about 120 billion kilowatt hours in 2011, according to a report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.

However, making accurate forecasts is difficult because power production depends heavily on weather conditions.  Wind power plants cannot produce a steady stream of power like their coal and natural gas counterparts can. That variability makes it much more difficult for utilities and grid operators to predict how much wind energy they can expect to use throughout the day or over the summer.  That in turn makes it harder to figure out how to meet peak demand and draw up contingency plans in case of equipment failure or the demand exceeds expectations.

One way to make it easier to integrate wind and solar into the grid is the use of energy storage technologies, such as batteries, that take in the variable power from wind and solar farms and discharge it as a steady source of electricity into the grid. Some power producers and utilities are experimenting with different types of battery technologies to see which ones are more cost effective and efficient at charging and discharging power.

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