Utility companies have always been thought of as the place that generates electricity for homes and businesses. Deregulation moved them away from that singular task a while back. Today, they have a responsibility to store and distribute electricity coming through their grid from multiple sources. Wind and solar energy are jumping to the forefront.
The grid we depend upon to deliver a reliable source of electricity comes from a collection of distributed sources, and the utility company has become the router. One of their tools is the weather forecast.
It’s all about demand
Utility companies have always practiced what’s known as demand management. They must shift the amount of electricity demanded depending on the time of day and the needs of their customers. That was an easier job when it was all coming from electricity created by fossil fuel-burning generators. The generation capacity was a known quantity.
Adding solar and wind to the demand equation removes the certainty. The day’s forecast is one of the ways to improve that certainty.
The amount of solar energy generated by residential solar panels and community solar farms will decrease on overcast days. Likewise, with wind turbine-generated power on days with little or no wind.
Knowing these conditions ahead of time allows utilities to balance where they’ll draw energy to meet customer demand. A day of rain and storms may mean that less solar energy will be generated and routed through the grid either to be stored or used by customers. On the other hand, the weather may generate strong winds. The utility must be prepared to route the wind turbine power for storage or use. And, of course, there’s the multiple sources of nonrenewable energy that continue to serve as the core of what residents and businesses consume.
Technology is the key
Innovative ways to detect and predict energy usage has allowed utilities to drastically improve managing their energy grids. Technology is also helping to create more accurate weather predictions—which in turn will help the utilities further mesh the contributions of solar and wind into their energy matrix.
Weather forecasting has become more accurate both because of new technology, and because the effort is shared by a growing community of organizations that each see the benefit of contributing.
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the undisputed leader of this effort. They collect and convert the billions of data points contributed organizations ranging from elementary schools and churches, to the military and other national governments.
In January of 2016, NOAA added 2 Cray supercomputers to their existing IBMs to process the 2.8 quadrillion mathematical calculations each second that go in to the development of their forecasts. The result has been greater accuracy in forecasts for smaller geographical areas.
Utilities now have access to forecasts that can accurately predict the depth of cloud cover, and how long it will impact, say, a specific area that just happens to be directly above a SolarStone solar garden. Armed with that information, the utility can shift with confidence the amount of reduced power generation to be compensated by another source on the grid. Talk about efficiency!
Would you like to be more efficient with your energy usage? Smart businesses are switching to solar to offset utility costs. No, it’s not a bunch of expensive solar panels on their roof. In fact, it costs nothing. Go with the environmentally-conscious choice of our .
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Forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, examine an area of concern for severe weather in the U.S., using NOAA radar and satellite observations. (NOAA)