NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy and private partners launch project to reduce the cost of energy, including wind energy

July 18, 2011

There has not always been a need to know precisely how hard the wind blows 350 feet above Earth’s surface. Today, wind turbines occupy that zone of the atmosphere, generating electricity. So NOAA and several partners have launched a year-long effort to improve forecasts of the winds there, which ultimately will help to reach the nation’s renewable energy goals. The Wind Forecast Improvement Project (WFIP) is a collaboration among NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), two private wind energy companies and academic research institutions. The project began today as dozens of powerful, custom instruments designed to better profile and predict the weather and winds were powered up.

“The end goal is to lower the cost of electric power for the consumer and meet President Obama’s clean energy challenge,” said Alexander MacDonald, NOAA deputy assistant administrator for research and director of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo. “Our starting point is to improve the basic wind forecast for all users, including wind power and conventional energy companies, the aviation industry and the general public.”

Image of spinning wind turbines.

Photo credit: NOAA

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Last fall, through a competitive process, the DOE chose AWS Truepower, LLC and WindLogics, Inc. to participate in WFIP. DOE funds WFIP with about $6 million, while NOAA contributes scientific experts and expertise in collecting atmospheric data and in making weather predictions. The project targets the Upper Midwest and Texas, which were selected in part because WFIP industry partners support thousands of wind turbines in the areas.

For the next 12 months, WFIP researchers will gather atmospheric data from instruments such as wind profiling radars, sodars and anemometers, which will capture detailed images of wind speed and direction in the atmosphere. The team is especially interested in wind speeds and directions up to 400 feet above the ground.

The data will be used to help drive a high-resolution research weather model at ESRL. Scientists expect the additional observations will improve the accuracy of regional weather forecasts. WFIP researchers will evaluate the value of various types of weather data for improving the accuracy of weather forecasts, as well as the economic value of improved forecasts to the wind companies.

Turbines near the Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

Photo credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Turbines near the Dyess Air Force Base in Texas generate power for the base.

“Our private sector colleagues already use NOAA forecasts to make power production predictions and decisions,” said Melinda Marquis, NOAA ESRL's renewable energy program manager. “If we provide them with better wind and weather forecasts, they may be able to better forecast wind power production. In one year, we should know what kind of data energy companies need to better integrate wind energy into their power portfolios and how much money they can save with better forecasts.”

The Wind Forecast Improvement Project fits under a Memorandum of Understanding on “Weather-dependent and Oceanic Renewable Energy Resources” signed by NOAA and DOE in January 2011. The agreement set up a framework for NOAA and DOE to work together on renewable energy modeling and forecasting.

WFIP is one of NOAA’s efforts to help the country achieve 80 percent “clean energy” by 2035, a goal established by President Obama in his January 2011 State of the Union address and his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future. WFIP is one of a suite of wind forecasting projects over land and ocean conducted by NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

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Related Links

NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory

DOE Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Wind Forecast Improvement Project description

NOAA Renewable Energy Program

NOAA Renewable Energy Research