Wind turbine

Knowledge is power

26 March 2014

As we move to a low-carbon future, with the decarbonisation of heating, cooling and transport, traditional energy suppliers and traders are facing a number of challenges. An innovative partnership between the Met Office and LEM-Software is providing a powerful solution.

With more and more legislation requiring the move to decarbonisation, energy companies are shifting to renewables. This development, however, brings its own set of challenges, as there is currently no suitable storage solution to preserve the energy produced by renewables. Energy is made available by the whims of the weather - which means it might not be on tap when demand is high.

An increasing use of renewables is also making energy production more volatile. For instance, if weather conditions mean there isn't any renewable energy available, then the power companies need to make sure other options - such as coal or gas stations - are working at maximum capacity. This can take days of planning, which means energy companies need a detailed forecast of renewable peaks and troughs.

"Ever more sophisticated forecasting means that companies can ascertain how much energy is available to meet demand."

At the Met Office, Head of Renewables, Michelle Spillar is heading up a project to help energy companies rise to the challenges of moving to renewables - through an innovative predictive model created by our partners LEM-Software, a German software company.

"The model isn't just applicable for forecasting energy supply, but for demand management too," explains Michelle. Ever more sophisticated forecasting means that companies can ascertain how much energy is available to meet demand, and what that means for the network. "There are pinch points at the moment," says Michelle, "for example, within the UK, a lot of wind power comes from Scotland, and companies have to be able to manage that supply on the grid."

Blowing in the wind

The need for accurate forecasting is equally as great in the renewables sector itself. Companies need accurate forecasts to be able to predict how much they will be able to produce and supply. The LEM solution enables customers to receive accurate power predictions based on our optimised weather forecast information, drilling down to extremely precise detail.

"We can take into account the exact type of site," adds Michelle. "For wind farms, we can take into account whether the turbines are 20 or 70 metres high, which makes a very big difference. Wind at the surface is influenced by buildings, but up at 70 metres in the air, the wind flows much more smoothly."

The software also benefits the energy trading sector, which relies on powerful forecast accuracy, particularly in day-ahead markets where traders have to be able to predict supply and demand very closely.

The solution is paying dividends to energy suppliers, distributors, traders and end consumers alike. As companies run more efficiently, they can pass on savings to the end users. And in a world where the energy grid is increasingly interconnected, we all benefit. For instance, if Germany can accurately predict supply and demand, they can identify the amount of surplus to sell on to other nations.

The opportunity is inspiring for the Met Office and LEM-Software. By using artificial neural networks, LEM's software is capable of 'learning'. In other words, through running historical predictions and comparing them to what actually happened, it constantly fine tunes its performance.

At a time when energy companies have targets and objectives to meet for 2020 and 2030, powerful predictive software like LEM is coming into its own. "The need for more accurate forecasting will only keep increasing," says Spillar, "And we're keen to show that we can lead the way."

A world of difference

The need for accurate weather forecasting depends on a country's own unique mix of energy sources.

For instance, Iceland uses a lot of geothermal energy, while 70% of France's energy supply is nuclear. On the other hand, Germany has moved very far into renewables, with a lot of wind and solar power. Consequently the German need for accurate forecasting is higher than many other countries.

Forecasting also plays a key role when countries access power from neighbouring states or even further afield. To take one example, as the UK builds more connections to Ireland, we can harness more of their wind driven energy in the future, and will consequently need accurate forecasting of the weather in Ireland.

The Met Office is also working with German utility company EON and their subsidiary E.DIS, providing them with accurate predictive models. Countries across Western Europe are moving quickly with renewables, as legislation stipulates the move to decarbonisation. Today, more and more countries are looking to the Met Office for powerful forecasting.

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