Weather tracking could aid both wind energy and lake protection
By Gwendolyn Craig
A research project kicking off on Lake George and two other New York lakes could help the United States further its renewable energy goals.
The University at Albany Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC) is developing a buoy system to help off-shore wind developers get a more accurate forecast over oceans. The project will allow developers to determine where wind turbines can operate most efficiently, and better predict how much energy the turbines can generate in a particular area, said Jeff Freedman, a research associate.
“Over the ocean, we have no such observations, so the models have to guess,” Freedman said, referring to satellite observations weather models currently use. “The more accurate you are in the forecast, the more confident in the energy you can generate.”
Freedman and his partners hope their buoy-based flux measurement system will provide “a better idea of what the net meteorological ocean conditions are like,” measuring wind at heights between 50 and 300 meters. The U.S. Department of Energy is funding the technology and research through a $500,000 grant with support from the department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
“Buoys supporting wind energy generally do not have the ability to directly measure the turbulent exchange of energy between the atmosphere and the ocean,” said Will Shaw, head of the Wind Energy Program at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “Yet this information is essential to improving our accuracy in modeling winds that fuel offshore wind power production.”
Generally, the size of wind turbines the project could assist with are taller than the Statue of Liberty and nearly as tall as the Empire State Building, Freedman said. They’re generating enough renewable energy to run 10,000 or more homes. Having a better picture of how the wind changes the higher you go also helps developers calculate a turbine’s potential energy capacity, the number of turbines needed to reach a certain energy output and allows for better calculations on costs for off-shore wind projects and energy pricing.
But before this project takes to the ocean, it is getting a test run on New York lakes including Lake George, Seneca Lake and Oneida Lake. Lake George was the first test site, though the technology was not in buoy-form just yet.
Jason Covert, a research technician with ASRC, said on June 30 that the testing on Lake George involved making sure the equipment was operating correctly. Before everything can be put on a buoy, researchers have to account for the movement of a water body’s waves.
“It’s not the ocean, but it’s a good place to test out our systems,” Covert said.
On a pontoon boat, researchers had what’s called a flux system to test on the water. Freedman said it is a motion correction system that accounts for movements up and down, side to side and forward and backward.
“You have to correct that motion in order to get accurate fluxes,” Freedman said. The instrument also includes a moisture sensor.
On Crown Island, across from Bolton Landing, Freedman and his colleagues set up a land-based system used to verify the measurements captured on the pontoon boat. Back at Bolton Landing, on the shore of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was a lidar system also measuring the wind above the island and the pontoon boat.
“You learn so much about the atmosphere by looking at this kind of data,” Freedman said.
If all goes to plan, Freedman hopes the project could go commercial in three to five years. The timeline could make it possible for ASRC’s research to assist with federal renewable energy goals.
While the focus is on off-shore wind, Freedman said the technology could also find its way to a more permanent spot on Lake George. It’s not likely to assist with renewable energy development on the 32-mile lake. Instead, the technology could become part of modeling already happening on the lake through The Jefferson Project, a mapping and modeling system created through IBM, RPI and The Fund for Lake George (recently merged with the Lake George Association). That project uses water monitoring and modeling to develop strategies for protecting the lake and other water bodies.
Rick Relyea, director of the Jefferson Project, said in a news release that the “key weather data” the ASRC’s system is collecting would help improve their weather models, “leading to enduring protection of freshwater lakes throughout the region.”
For now, though, the technology is traveling to Seneca Lake next for further development, and then to Oneida Lake. Hobart and William Smith colleges and Cornell University are also partnering with the ASRC.
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The system’s quick stopover on Lake George had a deeper meaning to Roger Summerhayes, however, one of the owners of Crown Island where the control system was based for a few days. Summerhayes is a science teacher and the grandson of chemist and Nobel Prize winner Irving Langmuir. Langmuir worked at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady for decades. Summerhayes said three of his grandfather’s protegees — Bernard Vonnegut (brother of author Kurt Vonnegut), Duncan Blanchard and Ray Falconer — all ran the ASRC.
“Crown Island has great historic significance and a big connection to the ASRC,” Summerhayes said. “I thought this weather station should be here.”