North Sea wind atlas aims to gather highly accurate wind data

A consortium of Dutch organisations has embarked on a project aimed at creating a new atlas containing highly accurate information about North Sea winds for use in offshore wind energy applications.

The main rationale behind the DOWA project (short for Dutch Offshore Wind Atlas) is that weather related uncertainties are still a major cost driver of offshore wind energy.  As a result, numerical weather prediction (NWP) models form a very important component of the 'toolbox' that is needed to create resource assessments and annual energy production (AEP) estimates, as well as short-term trading and wind farm design, to name just a few applications.

"The objectives of the DOWA are therefore to further reduce the weather related uncertainties in offshore wind energy. To do so, we go beyond the state of the art in numerical weather prediction by using a cascade of ever finer weather and wind farm models that have been developed by the project partners," says Remco Verzijlbergh, Co-founder and Director of Operations at Whiffle, a Delft University of Technology spin-off company that specializes in high-resolution weather forecasting - and which is a key partner in the project alongside the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN).

In terms of the methodology used to capture the wind data, Verzijlbergh explains that the team will continue to use a variety of weather and wind farm models that are able to capture the relevant phenomena 'from large-scale weather systems down to small-scale turbulence and wake effects inside a wind farm.'  He also reveals that KNMI is using its own HARMONIE weather model to update the existing North Sea Wind atlas - as well as to produce what he describes as 'an improved version using techniques to incorporate new data from aircraft and satellites.'  As part of this approach, the existing KNMI North Sea Wind (KNW) atlas - which catalogues wind information up to an altitude of 200 metres - will be extended to include information from 2014 until the present day.

Meanwhile, Whiffle will work on 'downscaling' this information further with its innovative high-resolution weather model - that Verzijlbergh says is capable of capturing small scale processes like turbulence and even wind turbine wake effects.  ECN is using measurements, including those from a newly acquired LIDAR, and wind farm simulation models to further validate the results.

COMPUTING POWER REQUIREMENTSAccording to Verzijlbergh, one of the major practical challenges that the project team faces is the 'enormous amount of computing power' that is required to model phenomena - ranging in scale from thousands of kilometres (in the case of weather systems) to several meters (in the case of wind turbine wakes).

"To overcome this challenge we are using an ingenious cascade of weather models with increasing resolution - and we are using the fastest supercomputer systems but also new techniques like computing on Graphics Processing Units (GPUs)," he says.

"A second challenge is to make sense of the vast amount of weather model data that we produce.  To this end, an important part of the project is dedicated to validation against new measurements and analyses to better understand the wind resource of the North Sea," he adds.

Direct Practical Use

Even against a background of strong growth - and the ongoing developments of offshore wind projects in the North Sea - Verzijlbergh stresses that there are still 'many uncertainties' related to the weather, which the 'most detailed North Sea wind atlas ever produced will reduce significantly.'  Moreover, in light of the fact that the number of offshore wind farms in the North Sea continues to grow rapidly, he highlights the fact that it is increasingly common for existing or newly built wind farms to 'influence the wind at other sites' - and reveals that the project teams' approach is unique in being able to 'capture these effects.'

"Another important spin-off of the DOWA project is that short term forecasts that are used for trading on the electricity markets will directly benefit from the improvements in the weather models," he says.

Another key objective of the initiative - which is scheduled to run until the end of 2019 - is to disseminate a great deal of the publicly available data gathered throughout the project, which Verzijlbergh believes will be of 'direct practical use for the wind farms currently being developed' - for example in carrying out 'wind resource assessments, AEP estimates, wind farm design or assessment of weather risks during construction and operation.'  Moreover, he points out that the techniques that used in the DOWA project can also be 'tailored further to meet individual players' needs, even outside the realm of wind energy.'

In terms of how exactly the atlas will be used in the longer term, Verzijlbergh also reveals that the team has realised that participation by offshore wind energy stakeholder throughout the North Sea region is 'crucial' for the success of the project - particularly in view of the fact that it will be delivering 'a new type of data product that the industry needs to get familiar with.'  Ultimately, the team strongly believes that a strategy of 'just throwing the data over the wall' is not going to work.

"We are therefore organising a series of stakeholder meetings within the project.  Also, we will publish extensive documentation and validation of our approach and results," adds Verzijlbergh.

By Andrew Williams

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