More Precise Weather Forecasts Would Make Renewables More Effective

May 26, 2016

The Vermont Electric Power Company – the state’s transmission utility – says it’s using an extremely accurate weather forecasting system to better predict storm events. And VELCO CEO Tom Dunn says the technology will also lead to more effective use of renewable energy.

Dunn spoke Thursday at the Vermont Chamber of Commerce business expo in South Burlington. He said the technology delivers accurate forecasts up to three days ahead with detail down to a square kilometer.

“I’m absolutely convinced  that the ability to not only get high resolution weather, combined with the ability to predict the output from solar and wind, is an essential capability not only here in Vermont, or in New England, but across the country and around the world,” he said.  

Dunn said operators of the electric grid will be able to use the technology to tell with precision when solar or wind projects should be available, based on forecasts of sun and wind conditions. Right now, utilities need to run generators – often fired by fossil fuels — to serve as back up power when the wind fails or the skies turn cloudy.

“If you can predict it, then you can reduce the amount of resources running on a stand by. And in New England alone, that’s tens of millions, probably hundreds of millions of dollars a year in saving potential,” he said.

Solar projects are booming in Vermont, Dunn said. He noted that on a sunny day in the summer, about 20 percent of the power demand in Vermont is supplied by solar.

"Vermont is on the bleeding edge of the bleeding edge in the Northeast, that is we are going all-in on solar and other resources. And in some ways, that's a good thing in terms of forcing us how to operate the grid in these circumstances," he said. 

The forecasting technology was developed by IBM. Partners in the Vermont Weather Analytics Center include the state Agency of Transportation, Lyndon State College and utilities around Vermont.