Setting the standards for wind power
28 March 2012
As world supplies of coal, oil and gas dwindle, energy markets around the world are looking to renewable sources of power to fill the gaps. Which is why the Met Office has developed a new suite of innovations to help shape the renewables industry.
Renewable sources of power in the UK are big news at the moment, as the industry grows rapidly to meet the country's commitment to a lower carbon economy. Dominated by wind power, its growth over the last year is partly down to Government incentives.
"We provide the very best weather and climate information at every stage of the renewable energy lifecycle, from identifying sites to looking at the effects of climate variability and risk in the future."
But all renewable energy sources in the UK - whether wind, wave, hydro or solar - are highly sensitive to the vagaries of our weather. And this means the Met Office's forecasts are crucial to the success of renewable developments. They help increase confidence in the industry and enable a wide range of interested parties to make informed decisions - from developers and operators to turbine manufacturers, investment bodies and consultants.
"We provide the very best weather and climate information at every stage of the renewable energy lifecycle, from identifying sites to looking at the effects of climate variability and risk in the future," says Rob Harrison, Business Manager, responsible for the development of the Met Office's renewable services.
The wind lifecycle
Today, nearly half of all renewable electricity comes from wind alone. The challenge facing developers is accurately assessing how much wind they can rely on over the life of the turbine - and whether this can generate enough electricity to make the investment worthwhile. Using the Met Office's new modelling technology, Virtual Met MastTM, the Met Office can assess wind conditions at the early stages of a wind project, without having to take real wind measurements that can be very expensive and time-consuming.
"Virtual Met MastTM is highly accurate, cost-effective and innovative. And we've seen our business grow in line with developing this great new capability and the growth of small wind projects," says Rob.
Wind assessments using Virtual Met MastTM take into account topography and land use which gives a more accurate long-term wind climatology and therefore a more accurate prediction of revenue. All this information can then be used to help fund the project.
Onshore and offshore winds
When potential sites have been planned and funded, the next step is development. The Met Office can optimise a site's potential, reduce risks and harness wind energy using our range of innovations, both on and offshore. As Rob says, "We work with every type of project, from single turbine wind-farms to the largest, most complex offshore projects."
To help wind farms with their ongoing operations and maintenance, the Met Office has created intuitive, web-based weather alert systems that provide real-time and forecast weather conditions. The Met Office helps operators identify optimum times for power generation in both the onshore and offshore environments.
For onshore wind-farms, VisualEyesTM provides health and safety alerts, for example, warning of lightning, and identifies low wind periods when maintenance work can be carried out.
The equivalent platform for offshore projects is called SafeSeeTM. It is designed to meet the challenges of working in the marine environment where projects are particularly sensitive to weather and marine conditions. For access to turbines, SafeSeeTM presents hourly updated site-specific forecast information.
"We've got more than 30 years' experience of delivering marine forecasts to the oil and gas industries and we're now doing the same for the renewables sector," says Rob.
Once a wind farm is up and running there could be the potential for trading some of the power it produces - as long as it generates an excess of energy. The Met Office can even help in this area, by providing site-specific forecasts to help predict power output and trading opportunities.
Looking to the future, the Met Office is actively working to make the industry much more predictable to help businesses and governments plan effectively, and this will take into account the risk posed by climate variability.
"At the moment, we're making assumptions based on the past, but everyone knows that's not
necessarily the best basis to plan for the next ten or 20 years. To make the industry more predictable, we need to make plans based on what the weather, climate - and the industry - are going to be like in the future," says Rob.
More than just wind
Although the main service area for the Met Office is wind energy, we are also exploring and developing services for other emerging renewable sources. We are already providing information on river hydro where precipitation in catchment areas is important. And demand for solar is growing within this business sector, especially in Europe. Wave and tidal services are the least developed areas, but they're certainly getting off the ground.
"We have big aspirations for the future. The renewables industry is flourishing and we're always striving to be one step ahead, providing each sector with the very best, most accurate forecasts available. We've done it for wind and it's only a matter of time before we provide the same innovations for solar, wave and tidal energy too," says Rob.