Windmill farm

Energy Dept. Makes Wind Database Available to the Public

The public can now explore more than 50 terabytes of data on wind flow across the continental United States.

Anyone considering building a wind plant—or even erecting a single turbine—or those interested in how strong breezes blow across specific areas of the U.S., as well as engineers and property owners who want to find out how energy from the wind can be integrated into the electrical grid, now have a database of wind data at their fingertips. The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) updated the 2-terabyte database it released in 2015, the Wind Integration National Dataset.

The original toolkit covered about 120,000 U.S. locations using technical and economic considerations. The newly released subset holds 50 TB, or 10% of the entire database. It covers a little more than 4,767,000 locations and extends 50 nautical miles offshore. Small sections of Canada and Mexico are also included.

This data was always available, just not easily or in a simple, usable form. To make the information readily accessible, NREL worked with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and The HDF Group. AWS hosts the database, and this will remove previous limits on how much information can be accessed readily online. An interactive online visualization tool lets users interact with the data.

The HDF Group developed the Highly Scalable Data Service (HSDS) using the AWS cloud. It gives users easy access to the data, which is stored as a series of HDF5 files. The information can be narrowed to a specific site or time and analyzed using either custom software solution or the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2).

“What we’ve tried to do is make it easy, so folks can play with the data and use it to better understand the potential for wind resources at a greater number of locations,” says Caleb Phillips, a data scientist at NREL. “They can download only the data they want.”

“We are excited to work with NREL and AWS to make the large, technical data sets more accessible through our new scientific data platform, HDF Cloud,” adds David Pearah, CEO of HDF Group. “Our work paves the way for large repositories of scientific data to be moved to the web without compromising query performance or resources.”

The WIND Toolkit provides barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, temperature, and air density data from 2007 to 2013. These seven years of data provide a detailed view of the U.S. wind resource and how it varies minute to minute, month to month, and year to year. These historical trends are essential for understanding the variability and quality of wind for power production. The simulated results were computed by 3Tier under contract for NREL using the Weather Resource Forecast model.

Although wind measurements across the rotor-swept areas are the best way to determine wind conditions at a site, that’s not always possible. The WIND Toolkit provides an estimate, but actual conditions can be validated using on-site measurements as required.

The first release of data prompted regular calls from people in academia, industry, and government wanting additional information. The federal Bureau of Oceanic Energy Management contracted with NREL to provide additional information for offshore areas. The WIND Toolkit Offshore Summary Dataset was made publicly available last year.

“Now that we have a data platform that supports the release of large data sets, we hope to release other big data sets that were considered too large to be made publicly available,” Phillips says. Coming online next are solar irradiance and wind data for Mexico, Canada, and potentially other countries. “We are thrilled to make these datasets available, letting researchers more easily find and use the data, as well as reducing costs for the national laboratory,” he adds.

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