Wind industry depends on good forecasting

Canadian Energy Minister Jack Keir's wind-energy strategy could be a boon for New Brunswick, but the economic benefits of a wind industry simply depend on good wind forecasting, says an expert from Université de Moncton.

"As a generator of electricity, you need to be able to predict 24-hours in advance (what the wind will do) so the system operator can schedule where they will buy the energy to satisfy the demand by consumers," says Yves Gagnon, the K.C. Irving Chair in sustainable development.

"With wind energy, because of (its) intermittency, the organization that owns a wind farm must be able to forecast… There are financial penalties if they don't provide that power at the time they said they would provide it."

In forecasting, high altitude winds are studied by satellite, says Gagnon. This data is coupled with looking at that day's climate. Then, using a mathematical and physical model, a prediction is made of what the wind will be like at the level of the wind farm.

Based on that forecast, says Gagnon, the wind farm will relay to the New Brunswick System Operator (NBSO) the amount of energy production for the next day. The NBSO will plan energy distribution based on that. But if the wind farm falls short, the operator must look to other, more conventional energy sources.

Wind is an unpredictable force, says Robert Kelly, president of Precision Wind, and it is economically smart to be ready for when the wind is not blowing. "You're going to be putting up turbines, so someone is taking a financial risk to do this," he says. "Wind as a power source without forecasting becomes less valuable."

According to a New York Independent System Operator study, the value of a state-of-the-art forecast in 2005 was $10.70 per megawatt of wind.

Robert Leth, a wind energy adviser for Precision Wind, says his company uses a forecasting super computer. Information on atmospheric forces is collected, which is coupled with ground-force data such as roughness of the land and turbulence caused by man-made objects. All this is fed into the computer and a prediction is made.

If you know you are not going to have enough wind, says Leth, "you back it up" by having enough energy from other sources, whether that is hydro, nuclear "or even thermal."

According to the NBSO, state-of-the-art forecasting is essential for large scale wind integration in New Brunswick. The NBSO said at a conference last week it would start a search for wind forecasters next year.