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The Information Challenges of Renewables

Across the nation, energy providers are forging ahead with various initiatives to increase the volume of renewable energy flowing over their networks, and these programs are changing the energy mix. Market research firm The NPD Group found that renewable energy has already become a more popular option than nuclear energy, and wind power will triple from 2011 to 2017, according to market research firm Pike Research.

As utilities alter their energy mix, ripple effects have emerged. “One area where more work is needed is the development of tools to manage the flow of renewable energy into the grid,” stated Don Furman, senior vice president for external affairs at Iberdrola Renewables in Portland, Ore.

A variety of new applications are emerging to bridge this gap. The tools are in an early stage of development, so additional work is needed, but they are eventually expected to be as robust as the systems developed though the years for oil and gas distribution.

One reason why new tools are needed is that renewables introduce more complexity into the energy delivery system. “With renewables, the energy source may fluctuate dramatically during the day,” said Jeff Meyers, director of smart grid sales at Telvent, an IT solutions and information provider. “Since this was not the case with traditional energy sources, we need to develop new tools to monitor and control the fluctuations.”

A number of companies are stepping up to fill the void. Operation Technology based in Irvine, Calif., developed an enterprise power management solution used by utilities in more than 100 countries. The latest release has a renewable focus. The software includes a photovoltaic solar array module that supports solar farm modeling, so suppliers can calculate energy delivery.

In addition, the firm's wind turbine generator software is capable of modeling wind turbine generators, either individually or in groups. Furthermore, the wind farm software simulates transient wind conditions with ramp, gust and noise disturbances and calculates their impact on wind generation.

The Colorado Green Wind Power Project, a joint venture of Iberdrola Renewables and Shell WindEnergy, has deployed the module to capture and record wind farm operating data. The solution detects possible threats by determining the source of potential problems and advises on corrective actions to avoid power delivery interruptions.

Founded in 1989, WindLogics, which is now a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, operates more than 9,000 wind turbines for more than 250 customers. The company developed tools so its consultants can monitor wind farm assets and production profiles to ensure that wind equipment operates at peak efficiency. The supplier claims that its forecasting tool has one of the industry's highest accuracy rates in real-time production forecasting.

Another company, SeaRoc Group, which is located in Brighton, England, offers the SeaPlanner suite of wind farm management solutions. The product line, which has been used mainly in European offshore wind farms, includes a spatial database for GIS data, document management features and personnel management functions, such as automated personnel tracking systems using swipe cards.

GridPoint, which is based in Arlington, Va., developed Energy Manager, a cloud-based software platform built to complement existing hardware and service offerings. Cloud computing is becoming popular because it offloads maintenance responsibilities from energy companies to third parties. Energy Manager offers a dashboard so customers can more easily consolidate and evaluate energy information. Gridpoint, which has been in business since 2003, states that its software features energy diagnostic tools, control algorithms and comprehensive analytics.

Founded in 2007, LanMesh Wireless, which is based in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, sells the Smart Energy Management software that collects data from solar electrical components. Its tools can collect usage and performance data from wind farms and solar energy systems.

Movement toward renewables is clear. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that renewable energy sources accounted for about 4 percent of national energy sources in 2010. The industry would like to increase that number to double digits. The continuing maturation of energy management solutions will be needed to reach that goal.

Published In: EnergyBiz Magazine November / December 2011

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