Improved Weather Forecasting Could Boost the Efficiency of Renewable Energy Sources

According to scientists, there’s little doubt the climate is changing. Hard data shows how it’s shifting, although some uncertainty in the science remains.

With that in mind, many are now looking at renewable sources of energy as a step in the right direction of reducing the carbon emissions that are likely causing climate change.

But issues related to the widespread implementation of wind- and solar-based energy generators remain. Chief among those is integrating the power produced by such renewables into the now-standard grid. Variables such as a lack of wind and sun make this a somewhat difficult issue that must be solved. Recent advances in weather forecasting, however, may change this, as evidenced by IBM research into this discipline.

Using solutions such as Hybrid Renewable Energy Forecasting (HyRef), energy generators can now look at precise forecasts from several hours to a couple days out in 15-minute increments on an almost micro level. For example, forecasts including wind speed could be pinpointed for each wind turbine on a wind farm. According to Lloyd Treinish, chief scientist for IBM’s Deep Thunder initiative, these solutions will help ensure that renewables will become an important part of energy generation across the globe, as demonstrated by a five-year Chinese initiative that’s relying on HyRef to help reduce China’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Q: Before delving into HyRef details, why is micro-forecasting so important?
Agricultural farms, wind farms or local utilities have defined geographic areas in which they work, and forecasting information has to be at the right spatial scale to be relevant. It has to be more accurate, more precise and more focused on the geography of the business.

Take, for example, electric utilities. They have to look not just at weather or storms, but also damage due to storms, the outages and the restoration efforts so they can be proactive rather than reactive, deploying crews and equipment so they’re ready for when storms hit and can restore power faster. The same holds for highway departments and airports during the winter. They face the same problem in terms of falling snow, plowing roads and de-icing planes. The agricultural industry faces similar issues, including staging resources for harvesting and driving irrigation systems.

There are all different types of optimization questions around planning, but they’re all subject to weather constraints. We see this across many industries, but the ones we’ve been focusing on have been utilities, city services, agriculture and transportation.

Q: How does HyRef play into this?
HyRef’s focus has been on more precise forecasts for renewable generators and, associated with that, the capability to quantify the uncertainty of forecasts, which are never perfect. So what we’re trying to do is introduce a much higher level of accuracy and quantify the quality of that. This applies very much to renewable generators’ forecasting, and our HyRef work focuses specifically on improving wind and solar power forecasts for operators of those facilities.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at

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