This Week in Sustainability: How Big Data is Transforming Wind Power

| Josh Henretig

windturbinesThis week, MIT Technology Review profiled the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), an organization working to develop forecasts of wind power. Xcel Energy, the utility with the most wind power in the U.S., is relying on NCAR’s new forecasting methods. Accurate forecasting improves energy efficiency by lessening dependency on backup power plants that waste fuel and creating incentives to shut down baseload power plants that can be expensive to operate. Old forecasting methods had a margin of error between 20 and 50 percent; the new forecasts decrease this error by 30 to 40 percent. To date, Xcel Energy has saved $22 million in fuel alone and has yet to calculate the additional cost savings associated with avoiding purchasing energy on the spot market.

Elsewhere, Treehugger reports that the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) is in the process of developing a comprehensive wind-wildlife data management tool that will demonstrate the impacts associated with wind power infrastructure and local wildlife and ecosystems. The Big Data tool, known as the Research Information System (RIS), will provide analysis that’s accurate through large amounts of data collected from thousands of sites. This information is expected to be used by various industries, government and wildlife advocates to better understand wildlife impacts, which could lead to new knowledge from where to site wind farms to how to design a better wind turbine. As advances in technology transform the renewable energy sector, we at Microsoft are pleased to see Big Data and information technology used to help move us toward a more sustainable way of living.

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