Wind power forecasting: Looking forward, not back

Catch the Wind's 'Wind Vindicator' sensor orients the turbine toward approaching wind

To date wind forecasting models have been retrospective and have fallen short of accuracy. New products, however, promise to break ground on these issues.

By Andrew Williams, UK correspondent

As the wind power industry expands, the ability to accurately predict output from wind farms is becoming critical.  Wind-forecasting tools help the industry better determine the economic viability of projects before development, and get the most energy and revenue from existing infrastructure. 

For wind-farm operators, robust forecasting models are a key way of handling variability and uncertainty in power generation and are essential for improving operations and maintenance planning, and reducing health and safety risks. 

They also play an important role in enabling operators to effectively schedule and sell power into the electricity market, helping energy companies to manage their generation portfolio and balance output on a regional or national scale.

Sound models allow energy analysts and traders to produce more accurate wind power forecasts and predict electricity prices, leading to more informed strategic decisions on the trading markets. 

For investors, better forecasting brings higher revenues, and is an important source of competitive advantage for both debt and equity investors who have previously invested in under-performing wind assets.

Weaknesses in current approaches

Operators can currently choose from a number of different forecast providers, and the accuracy of wind power forecasts have improved steadily over the last decade.  

Most models use the same basic framework, a combination of physical and statistical models, used to predict the wind power output over a set period.  However, whilst each of the available models is being continually refined, there is room for improvement.

“No weather or power model is 100% perfect – you can only try to minimise the errors,” says Lesley Robertson, Marketing Manager at the UK Met Office.

In broad terms, a key weakness of many forecasting models is their inability to forecast ramping events, or rapid changes in the output of wind power farms.  There is also a need to develop better estimates of forecast uncertainty and to analyze how forecasts can be tailored towards the specific needs of various users.

On the technical side, a key limitation is that many operators currently use rotating cup anemometers and wind-vanes, placed on the back of the turbine, behind the rotor blades, to measure the wind and control their turbines.  The problem is that this instrumentation often generates inaccurate measurements, using turbulent wind, which is disturbed as it passes through the turbine blades. 

“It’s like driving a car by looking through the rear-view mirror: it’s far from accurate in determining where the wind will go next and makes turbines less efficient and more expensive to operate and maintain,” says Paul Rogers, President and CEO of Virginia-based Catch the Wind.

Emerging technology

To help improve the predictability of wind supply, several organisations have made great strides in improving forecasting models.  In the UK, the Met Office has developed VisualEyes, a web-based system to manage site conditions for wind farms.  

The system uses Numerical Weather Prediction models to produce weather forecasts, taking thousands of observations from sites around the world.  It can produce site-specific forecasts, as well as probabilistic forecasts describing the likelihood of certain weather conditions occurring.

A web-based map viewer allows operators to monitor conditions like lightning, wind-speed, rain, temperature, snow and visibility across multiple sites, and alerts them when pre-defined thresholds are crossed.

In the US, the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), in collaboration with INESC Porto, is conducting research on forecasting and its use in electricity markets.  They are working on improving the statistical models used to generate the best possible forecast from all available information.  

On the operational side, they are also investigating how to incorporate forecast uncertainty into the procedures used by operators throughout the power system.

“Consistent and representative uncertainty information is of high importance for many operational decisions, such as scheduling, trading, and dispatch,” says Dr Audun Botterud of ANL.

Also in the US, Catch the Wind has developed the Vindicator, a laser wind-sensor that is mounted on a wind turbine to determine wind-speed and direction, and orient the turbine into the wind.  This enables turbines to ‘see’ the wind in 3D before it reaches a turbine’s blades and realign for optimal power output.

The system was recently successfully tested on the WindSentinel, a wind resource assessment buoy developed to assist offshore developers in determining the available wind resource at potential wind-farm sites.

The Vindicator sensor emits laser beams, which reflect back from air-borne particles, to measure wind-speed and direction, gusts and turbulence, at ranges up to 300 metres. Data is run through computer algorithms to measure wind-speed and direction before it reaches the turbine, giving the control system time to proactively adjust to the approaching wind.

“We believe our approach will change the way wind-farm operators measure the wind and, in doing so, allow them to generate more power by operating more intelligently and efficiently,” says Rogers.

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