Researchers from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have launched a three-year project which seeks to create 36 hour forecasts of incoming sunlight.
Funded primarily by a US$4.1 million grant from the US Department of Energy, the researchers will seek to design a prototype system which has the capabilities to forecast sunlight and the resulting power every 15 minutes at specific solar facilities, thereby enabling utilities to continuously anticipate the amount of available solar energy.
The project will utilise cutting-edge research techniques at various government laboratories and universities across the US and work in partnership with a number of utilities, energy companies and commercial forecast providers.
The project will mostly concentrate on generating detailed predictions of clouds and atmospheric particles that can reduce incoming energy from the sun.
“It’s critical for utility managers to know how much sunlight will be reaching solar energy plants in order to have confidence that they can supply sufficient power when their customers need it,” says Sue Ellen Haupt, Director of NCAR’s Weather Systems and Assessment Program and the lead researcher on the solar energy project. “These detailed cloud and irradiance forecasts are a vital step in using more energy from the Sun.”
To design a system that can generate such forecasts, NCAR and its partners will use a variety of observing instruments, including lidars, which use laser-based technology to take measurements in the atmosphere, specialised computer models; and mathematical and artificial intelligence techniques. Central to the effort will be three total sky imagers in each of several locations, which will observe the entire sky, triangulate the height and depth of clouds, and trace their paths across the sky.
The researchers will test these advanced capabilities during different seasons in several geographically diverse US locations in the northeast, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico, and California. The goal is to ensure that the system works year round in different types of weather patterns.
Once the system passes the tests, the techniques will be widely disseminated for use by the energy industry and meteorologists.