Count On The Future

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Predictability was the name of the game during the opening session of Winterwind 2014. Being able to predict icing, weather and wind can make or break a business case.

”We have seen up to 20 percent in lost annual production due to icing. That’s a catastrophy!” said Alberto Mendez, vice President Wind Power at Vattenfall, one of Sweden’s largest wind energy operators.

He went on to conclude that a 20 percent loss annually implies 40 percent loss of production during winter.

”And a fraction of a 20 percent loss is the difference between being in good shape or being bankrupt as a wind operator,” Mendez continued.

He gave the manufacturers an acknowledgement that things have improved during the last five years, with more and better de-icing systems on the market.

”But manufacturers are still not meeting our full expectations, the technology is not there. We spend seven months a year in Sweden with uncertainty, with icing issues. We get a lot of surprises. That’s a bit scary.”

”The very low power prices in Scandinavia makes it a very tough market. The margin for error and ability to absorb uncertainty is limited among developers and operators.”

The demand from operators like Vattenfall is not just better de-icing systems, but also performance warranties. How this kind of guarantees would look like is a matter of debate.

Among the manufacturers of turbins with de-icing systems there are a reluctance to make promises, due to the lack of ability to predict the weather and the performance of their systems.

So both operators and manufacturers have a lot to gain from better forecasting. That’s also why the delegates listened carefully when Sue Ellen Haupt, director of the Weather Systems and Assessment Program of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in USA, spoke about NCARS Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF).

The American research and development center is federally funded and the WRF modeling system is possible to download free of charge. It has become an important tool of the trade and has grown to have a large worldwide community of users (over 20,000 in over 130 countries), and workshops and tutorials are held each year at NCAR.

Basically you put your local data into the computer model and then use numerical weather prediction, statistical learning (blending all knowledge into one seamless model) and Nowcasting technology* to get a picture of how the weather is going to be the next hour, or the next 24 hours or the next week.

”It’s important to be able to forecast when the wind is going to be available, it really helps the utilities and and balancing authorities, both on a day-ahead-basis, with for example energy trading, and in real time, for grid stabilization.”

Andrew Garrad, President of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) and member of the supervisory board of newly formed DNV GL, concluded that it doesn’t matter if you have the best available turbines if you don’t have the right predictions.

”If you get the wind speeds wrong, you’ve had it. Money can fix a lot, but not the wind. It’s a thing money can’t buy,” he said.

He also stressed that wind energy now is being a major player in the energy market

”The more reliable we can make the production, the more valuable it will become. The aim must be to make wind energy look like a conventional power station.”

Alberto Mendez – from his perspective as an owner and operator of wind farms – agreed: ”It’s extremely important for us to get better weather prediction models.”

* Nowcasting combines a description of the current state of the atmosphere and a  short-term forecast of how the atmosphere will evolve during the next several hours. A convergence of technical developments has set the stage for a major jump in nowcasting capabilities. New communications technologies, including broadband Internet, wireless communication, social media, and smartphones, has made the distribution and application of real-time weather information possible nearly anywhere.