Big data is the key to unlocking the full potential of wind energy

This week AC883 is in Calgary to attend the CanWEA Annual Conference and Exhibition, Canada’s largest wind energy conference. We’ll have more news and updates from Calgary for you later, but in the meantime we’d like to share with you some insights on how big data is transforming the wind industry.

For years, the power of wind has been elusive and frustrating. How can you truly harness wind energy when it is, by its very nature, intermittent and unreliable? The answer – utilize big data, or the Internet of Things, to help wind energy reach its full potential as a major source of electricity generation in the future.

To have a better understanding of the bigger picture, statistics from the American Wind Energy Association reveal how wind energy is increasingly becoming a larger part of the energy matrix. The total amount of installed capacity in the US is close to 74,000 MW, a number that powers the equivalent of 20 million homes. In 2015, clean wind energy grew by 23 per cent in Canada, representing over CAD $3 billion in investment. Canada’s installed capacity just surpassed the 10,000 MW threshold, establishing the industry’s position as a mainstream source of cost-competitive and reliable electricity supply, according to the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).

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There have been huge strides forward in the wind industry over the last ten years. Renewable forms of energy have quickened their pace to become economically competitive with more traditional forms of generation such as natural gas. Prices – once the main point of contention for opponents of wind energy – are dropping dramatically, and investments in renewable generation are far surpassing that of gas and coal. Despite the increased investments and more competitive prices, however, we still cannot predict the amount of wind generated on a given day.

Big data is expected to revolutionize the wind industry in a number of different ways. “Smart” turbines and the interconnected grids could combat the intermittency problems by collecting data on wind speeds and intensity to predict power generation needs in advance. This is important because energy storage technologies are still in their infancy. Using information collected at site and combining it with data from weather stations, satellites and radars can optimize wind energy at peak times.

This data can help operators discern the number of turbines needed to meet demand, making wind farms more efficient. It also allows operators to economize their use of backup generation capacity, reducing the need for natural gas. On the consumer front, big data can detect usage patterns at home and at the workplace and increase efficiencies by using this information to reduce power demand. It’s a win-win situation.

This is an exciting time for the renewable energy industry. It is just on the cusp of breaking through to the mainstream and it feels like our society as a whole stand to benefit. And it’s not just renewables – big data is transforming everything around us, whether it is the clothes we wear or the cars we drive or the way we communicate as people.

We’ll revisit this topic in the coming weeks in the blog, but for now, feel free to leave us a comment, question or insight below.

For more information please visit these sources:

http://blogs.wsj.com/experts/2016/09/23/how-big-data-changes-the-economics-of-renewable-energy/

https://www.iea.org/media/publications/wei/WEI2016FactSheet.pdf

http://www.dw.com/en/big-data-is-about-to-transform-renewable-energy/a-36189374

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