IBM unleashes 'big data' on wind, solar power management

IBM has announced a weather-modeling and power-grid management system with the goal of increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

"Applying analytics and harnessing big data will allow utilities to tackle the intermittent nature of renewable energy and forecast power production from solar and wind, in a way that has never been done before," IBM's global energy and utilities industry headman Brad Gammons said in a statement. "We have developed an intelligent system that combines weather and power forecasting to increase system availability and optimize power grid performance."

The system, called Hybrid Renewable Energy Forecasting, or HyRef, is part of theSmarter Energy component of IBM's Smarter Planet initiative. HyRef uses cloud-imaging tech and cameras that track cloud movement, and combines that data with info from sensors on wind turbines that keep track of wind direction, temperature, and speed. All of this data is fed into weather models and analyzed in such a way as to be able, IBM claims, to "produce accurate local weather forecasts within a wind farm as far as one month in advance, or in 15-minute increments."

By doing so, IBM says that HyRef can enable renewable-energy installations to better predict the power they can produce – wind and solar being variable sources – and thus to better anticipate the amount of power they will be able to provide to the grid to which they are connected. Such predictions enable managers to better accommodate the need to supplement renewables with such conventional power sources as coal and gas-fired power plants.

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