Energy Dept. Spending Millions to Find Out When and Where the Sun Will Shine

Susan Jones | April 24, 2012 | 11:12am EDT
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DOE is making up to $9 million available over three years for improving the accuracy of solar forecasting to more accurately anticipate changes in solar power production. (Photo from Energy Department website)

( - The U.S. Department of Energy plans to spend $9 million on better weather forecasting, something that would help electric utilities integrate solar energy into the power grid.

The taxpayer money is intended to help power system operators reliably know how much solar power is available in the hours and days ahead.

Since a solar power plant's energy output depends on the amount of sunlight that hits the solar array, changes in weather conditions can reduce the energy output.

"Improved forecasting technologies will help utilities and power system operators better predict when clouds and other weather-related factors will reduce the intensity of incoming sunlight at solar facilities," the Energy Department said. "In turn, this information will allow utilities and operators to more accurately anticipate changes in solar power production and take actions to ensure the stability of the national power grid."

The goal is to reduce the cost of integrating solar power plants into the grid -- and to make the U.S. a leader in solar forecasting techniques.

The $9 million in funding flows from the Obama administration's SunShot Initiative, which aims to reduce the cost of solar energy systems around 75 percent by 2020.
Achieving this cost-reduction target could result in solar meeting roughly 14 percent of U.S. electricity needs by 2030 and 27 percent by 2050, the Energy Department said.

According to the news release, "This funding underscores the Obama Administration's commitment to boosting America's energy security, expanding the U.S. solar market, and increasing domestic energy production from all available sources, including solar."

The Energy Department said it will competitively select one or two multi-year projects to receive the funding -- potentially partnering with national laboratories, universities and industry, to improve the accuracy of solar forecasting in the short-term (1–6 hours) and day-ahead timeframes.

The Department plans to fund projects that could improve advanced weather modeling, find breakthrough methods for accurately predicting solar energy output, help incorporate solar energy forecasts into power system operations, and demonstrate the economic benefits and improved system reliability from more accurate forecasts.
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