NOAA's potential to support carbon-free renewable energy: observations, forecasts and climate studies

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010: 9:00 AM
B202 (GWCC)
James M. Wilczak, NOAA/ESRL, Boulder, CO; and M. Marquis

The current U.S. energy system obtains most of its energy from coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear plants, with a small contribution from renewable sources, mostly hydropower. Within the next few decades, the U.S. energy system will have changed dramatically. Fossil fuels will have decreased in importance, either through the implementation of climate-oriented policies, or simply because the rate at which we can extract fossil fuels will have decreased, while extraction costs will have risen commensurately. The striking difference between today's U.S. energy system and that for ~2030 is the much greater dependence on renewable energy (RE) production, and the dependence of this production on processes in the atmosphere and ocean. The development of large numbers of wind and solar energy farms depends on a better understanding of the spatial and temporal distribution of wind and solar resources. The integration of wind and solar energy into the electric grid, and demands for transmission and storage, will require very accurate wind and cloud forecasts. On longer time scales, natural variability and anthropogenic climate change will affect each of these renewable resources. Little is known about the inadvertent effects of removing large amounts of atmospheric energy, and what impacts this may cause on the environment, weather and climate on varying temporal and spatial scales. Research into these areas will support the efficient planning of a future energy system that uses great quantities of renewable energy.

In the future, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) observations, models, and forecasts could be woven into the fabric of the U.S. energy system, and could play a key role in how it is designed and operated. In this new energy system, NOAA could make profound contributions by providing the observations, data, products and services to the renewable energy industry to maximize the integration of renewable energy into the supply side of the U.S. electric grid. In this paper we will discuss ways that NOAA's resources are presently being used by the renewable energy community, and discuss ways in which those resources could be improved in the future.