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Firms look to data to unlock grid

Apr 4, 2008 - Sustainable Industries

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and key wind industry stakeholders are gathering pieces that could help solve the Western states' transmission troubles [see "Gridlock on the Western plains," SI, January 2008]. The Western Wind Integration Study, a two-year project funded entirely by the U.S. Department of Energy, would help utilities determine the costs and operational needs of meeting 30 percent of their load by wind energy.

"Transmission is one of the biggest challenges facing the wind industry," says Debra Lew, an NREL senior project leader. While many states and regions are trying to address transmission issues, Lew says, many utilities run into huge barriers when crossing jurisdictions."It's a big deal. That's why Texas has it so easy," she says, referring to the state's large geographic transmission area.

The NREL study is the largest wind integration study ever commissioned, according to Lew.

Seattle-based 3Tier is conducting the first phase of the study, expected for completion in April. The company is generating wind data for the Western half of the United States from three consecutive years. GE (NYSE: GE) will use the data to create models for utilities, Lew says.

NREL plans to post the data on a Web site hosted by West Connect, a group of utilities working on transmission issues in the western United States. The information would be invaluable to wind developers, utilities and Transmission lines across the country are overtaxed by growing energy demand. Transmission planners, Lew says. "There are a lot of utilities and transmission planners that want wind data to put into their models so they know where to build the transmission lines." She says they are currently using outdated information that was provided piecemeal by NREL. "We gave them the best we could at the time," she says.

One of the largest independent providers of wind, solar and hydro energy assessment and forecasting worldwide, 3Tier's revenue and number of employees has doubled over the past two years, according to company spokesperson Chris Park.

Lew says she expects the Western Wind Integration Study to wrap up in April 2009. The data and conclusions will be posted at www.westconnect.com free of charge.

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