How 3Tier Wind Forecasts Enable the Northwest Smart Grid

11/13/12Follow @bromano

The Northwest is undertaking a grand project that could unlock a future of efficient energy use and smooth integration of renewables—two necessary pieces of a solution to the immense challenge of climate change.

The beating heart of the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project, one of the largest in the world, is an incentive signal to utilities about the current and future state of the power system, which will allow them to plan for and react to the price of power in ways they never could before.

In a region that already has one of the highest levels of wind capacity in the country—4,711 megawatts of wind, or nearly a quarter of the nameplate capacity of the 31 federal hydro dams in the region—forecasting is fundamental to predicting the future electricity supply and crucial to this project.

One of the Northwest’s quintessential cleantech companies, Seattle’s 3Tier, is providing those forecasts, using a combination of global weather and climate models, computing power, and the expertise gained from tracking wind energy production in the Columbia Gorge for 13 years. (Check out our update of 3Tier’s strategy under new chief executive Craig Husa at the end of this story.)

In mid-October, as fall finally took hold in the Northwest, a front approached pushing strong winds toward the hundreds of wind turbines built in eastern Oregon and Washington in the last decade. 3Tier’s wind energy forecast on Oct. 14 showed the potential for an extraordinary event: wind energy production on the morning of 16th would exceed hydroelectric output for the first time in the history of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).

The forecast came to pass. For a time that Tuesday morning, wind energy production on the BPA system was near full capacity and equaled about 85 percent of regional demand. 3Tier touted its prediction because “wind is almost always unfairly characterized as being unpredictable, and we’ve been saying for going on a decade, that’s not true,” says 3Tier chief operations officer Pascal Storck. “Wind is predictable with a high degree of accuracy a day or two in advance. That’s really all the grid needs to successfully integrate it.”

3Tier COO Storck

That accurate day-ahead predictability makes wind and solar less different from traditional forms of generation than is commonly believed. Storms, unexpected maintenance problems and natural disasters can knock power plants of all kinds offline at any time.

“Nobody can guarantee that a particular asset is going to be available weeks, months, years into the future,” Storck argues. “Same thing with wind. I can’t tell you that on Aug. 30 of 2013, it’s going to be a windy day in the Pacific Northwest, but the day before that day shows up, we can nail it.”

Combining accurate forecasting with smart-grid capabilities promises … Next Page »

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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