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The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has reached an agreement with Xcel Energy to provide highly detailed, localized weather forecasts to enable the utility to better integrate electricity generated from wind into the power grid. The forecasts will help operators make critical decisions about powering down traditional coal- and natural- gas-fired plants when sufficient winds are predicted, allowing the utility to increase its reliance on alternative energy while still meeting the needs of its customers.

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory will support the project by developing mathematical formulas to calculate the amount of energy that turbines generate when winds blow at various speeds.

NCAR will use a suite of tools to issue high-resolution 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 U.S. and overseas transition away from fossil fuels.

"One of the major obstacles that has prevented more widespread use of wind energy is the difficulty in predicting when and how strongly the wind will blow at the wind farms," says NCAR's program director William Mahoney, who is overseeing the project. "These forecasts are a critical step in getting more energy from wind."

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. The prototype forecasting system will then be transferred to Xcel Energy for operational use, while NCAR continues to work toward making the forecasts even more accurate.

SOURCE: National Center for Atmospheric Research

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