The energy industry has long been wary of intermittent renewables that generate power only when the sun shines or the wind blows. But scientists in the renewable energy industry are increasingly using their deep knowledge of weather patterns to site wind turbines and solar panels and maximize power output.
A team of engineers at Stanford University recently published a study in Geophysical Research Letters that describes a complicated weather model that can determine optimal placement of wind farms. The team has already used the model to choose from 12 potential locations for the placement of four offshore wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. East Coast.
“It is the first time anyone has used high-resolution meteorological data to plan the placement of offshore wind grid,” senior author Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said in a statement. “And this sophistication has provided a deeper level of understanding to the grid plan.”
In the researchers scenario, four offshore wind farms were targeted for an area ranging from off Long Island, N.Y., up the Atlantic coast to the Georges Bank, 100 miles east of Cape Cod, Mass. Each site will comprise about 100 turbines and will be interconnected for a generating capacity of 2,000 megawatts (MW). By connecting the farms and placing them in locations that will optimize output, the engineers believe output will be more stable than single-site farms. The engineers also tried to match peak productivity with peak demand times, eliminating the need for significant energy storage or the possibility of excessive energy waste.
The researchers said that because the sites aren’t far offshore, daily temperature differences between land and sea are consistent, leading to similarly consistent sea breezes. They will also experience less frequent stormy weather. Meanwhile, the more stable output could make life easier for grid operators trying to balance generation and supply across the grid. And by connecting the farms, the engineers have cushioned the farms with another layer of consistency.