This is an excerpt from the Third Quarter 2011 edition of the Wind Program R&D Newsletter.

A new tool is available to help integrate wind and solar power into the electric grid by predicting the ranges in which power demand could increase or decrease in the immediate future.

Developed by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the Online Analysis and Visualization of Operational Impacts of Wind and Solar Generation tool can help grid operators see where their power generation units fall short of covering possible changes in demand. The largest electric grid balancing authority in the Western U.S., the California Independent System Operator (California ISO), is currently testing the tool.

Renewable energy sources are valued because the electricity they generate is largely free of the carbon emissions and other types of pollution associated with traditional power. As a result, many states have set ambitious renewable energy goals. California, for example, aims to have 33 percent of its energy come from renewables by 2020.

But incorporating wind and solar power into the existing electric grid can be a challenge. It can be difficult to accurately predict when and where wind will blow or the sun will shine. Unexpected gusts or clouds provide electric grid operators little time to adjust their conventional power generation enough to absorb the quick change in power availability.

Today, grid operators prepare for demand changes by using specific estimates for power demand at a given time. Recognizing that accurately pinpointing future power demand is nearly impossible, PNNL developed a new tool that uses a unique algorithm to predict a range of possible power demand scenarios for the immediate future within a desired percent confidence rate.

A recent, momentary peak in California prices provided a test of the tool's abilities. On June 24, California's wholesale power price rose to nearly $1,000 per megawatt-hour for a five-minute interval. Using the tool, California ISO engineers were able to predict a shortfall in the system's ability to increase power generation to meet expected demand.

California ISO has been testing PNNL's tool for about three months. While looking at their system's historical performance, California ISO engineers report they are encouraged by the tool's ability to predict power generation deficiencies.  They're also finding similar results in real-time tests: Engineers are seeing if available generation capacity can adequately adjust to the variability of wind and solar energy production and meet expected demand changes.

Such advanced notice can give operators time to adjust their power generation abilities and prevent large peaks in power prices. Smoothing out the grid's operation makes room for a broader mix of energy sources and can make renewables more cost-competitive with traditional power.

DOE's Wind and Water Power Program funded the tool's initial development. The California Energy Commission also supported developing the tool for California's needs.

In addition to its systems integration work, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is working to accelerate the design, installation, and operation of offshore wind facilities by examining the potential impacts of those installations on the marine environment. To achieve this, PNNL is developing an environmental risk evaluation system and data storage capability to determine the priority risks from offshore wind development, and is investigating the use of monitoring technologies for avian and marine animals in offshore areas. PNNL is also conducting a multi-season meteorological field study to develop data products that can evaluate the performance of atmospheric models and quantify farm and turbine inflow conditions in complex terrain.