More accurate wind forecasts can save Americans millions in energy costs

Better wind forecasts could save US consumers millions of dollars a year on their collective utility bills, a new one study finds. The costs of wind energy are already plummeted thanks to more efficient turbines, but there is still a major hurdle to overcome when it comes to renewable energy: intermittent. Unlike coal and gas plants, wind and solar farms can only produce as much electricity as the weather allows.

Accurate weather forecasts are thus crucial for utilities to be able to plan how much wind energy they have on hand on any given day. Wind power has grown rapidly and provides nearly 10 percent of U.S. electricity to blend Today. The Biden administration aims to achieve a carbon-free energy grid by 2035, and more accurate forecasts could help wind become an even bigger part of the mix.

To avoid power outages, utilities are constantly trying to balance power supply with demand, which is where forecasting comes in handy. If forecasts predict a windy day, utilities are counting on being able to tap into that energy to meet consumer demand. They will usually choose the most affordable energy source, and wind is one of the cheapest in the U.S. (Renewable energy is now available) cheaper than fossil fuels In a majority of the world.) On the other hand, if forecasts warn of weak winds, utilities plan to source electricity from other, possibly more expensive, energy sources.

Miscalculations are costly. If less wind energy is available than initially forecast, utilities may have to pay extra high prices to buy electricity at short notice to meet customer demand. And if more wind energy is available than initially predicted, a utility company may needlessly buy more expensive electricity from a coal-fired power station. The costs associated with those bad weather forecasts are typically passed on to customers as higher utility bills.

Fortunately, forecasts have improved with dedicated research. In 2015, the Department of Energy launched a four-year study in the atmospheric processes that influence wind energy forecasts. That research informed a major National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather model that provides hourly forecasts of wind conditions.

The model, called the High Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR), has been updated a few times since 2015. Consumers would have saved $384 million between 2015 and 2018 if the most updated version of the model had been running all the time, the new study finds. That shows how valuable it is to keep improving weather forecasts. To conduct the study, the researchers compared the model’s predictions with real-time observations to see how the predictions improved over time. They then estimate the potential cost savings for utilities and their customers.

Spread across the US (with an estimated population of 329 million), the savings are small for each individual household. But those gains could grow as forecasts improve and more affordable wind power comes online in the US.

Researchers are still working to make renewable energy forecasts even better. Newer versions of HRRR should be able to better predict wind slopes, which occur when wind speeds change very quickly. The researchers say another study is underway to see how more accurate cloud cover forecasts could also boost solar power and lower energy costs.

SOURCE – www.theverge.com

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