NCAR to forecast wind for Xcel Energy

Boulder, CO, Feb. 5, 2009 — The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has reached an agreement with Xcel Energy to provide weather forecasts designed to enable the utility to better integrate electricity generated from wind into the power grid. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will support the project by developing mathematical formulas to calculate the amount of potential energy produced by winds blowing at various speeds.

The forecasts will help operators make decisions about powering down traditional coal—and natural gas—fired plants when sufficient winds are predicted, allowing the utility to increase reliance on alternative energy while still meeting demand.

NCAR will use a suite of tools, including computer models, to issue wind forecasts for wind farm sites every three hours. If the prediction system is successful, wind forecasting companies may adopt the technology to help utilities in the United States and overseas transition away from fossil fuels.

Under the agreement, NCAR will develop a prototype advanced wind prediction system during the next 18 months and will begin to generate test forecasts for Xcel Energy wind farms in Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming after six months. NCAR will continue to improve the system over the following 12 months. Then the prototype forecasting system will be transferred to Xcel Energy for operational use, while NCAR continues to work toward making the forecasts still more accurate.

To generate the forecasts, NCAR will incorporate observations of current atmospheric conditions from a variety of sources, including satellites, aircraft, weather radars, ground-based weather stations, and sensors on the wind turbines. The information will be fed into three NCAR-based tools:

* The weather research and forecasting computer model, which generates detailed simulations of future atmospheric conditions.
* The real-time four-dimensional data assimilation system, which continuously updates the simulations with the most recent observations.
* The dynamic integrated forecast system, which statistically optimizes the output based on recent performance.

The project builds on forecast technologies that NCAR has developed for the U.S. military, National Weather Service, aviation industry, overseas governments, and other organizations in the public and private sectors.

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