WSI Corp., an Andover-based company behind much of the public weather-prediction data viewed by millions of people every day, has entered into the alternative energy industry with a new product aimed at predicting not just the fluctuations in the wind, but the effect of those fluctuations on wind power.
WSI WindCast, which was launched last week, is not the company’s first venture into energy trading – it has long offered detailed weather-prediction data used by commodity traders in areas like natural gas and electricity – but it is the company’s first product aimed specifically at alternative energy trading, a growing segment of the nation’s energy portfolio.
The product provides hourly forecasts regarding the wind speed, wind direction, atmospheric pressure and temperature at a given site, be it a single turbine site, a large wind farm, or even a pool of farms such as those found in Texas. According to Ira Scharf, the general manager of WSI’s Energy and Risk Division, one of the highlights to the system is its ability to predict changes at the height of turbines, about 262 feet up. “Being accurate at turbine height is key because the wind can be very different there than at ground level,” said Scharf.
The product is something WSI’s traditional energy-trading customers have been looking for, and opens a new market for wind farm owners and developers. Because wind is an intermittent resource, many facilities have agreements with grid operators that require them to produce a certain amount of energy and predict when a surplus may be available.
“Often the wind farms are looking for not only wind speed, but how much power can be generated, and we have an algorithm for that,” said Scharf.
The product hits a rapidly growing market, with wind power growing at a speedy clip in North America, China and Europe. In 2008, the United States became the world leader in installed wind power, adding 8,358 megawatts of power over the course of the year and surpassing Germany as the No. 1 wind power generator, according to a recent report from the Global Wind Energy Council.
In addition, the trading of renewable energy credits, carbon credits and other alternative energy commodities is expanding. Companies dealing in the myriad alternative energy commodities, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange Inc. and Worcester’s World Energy Solutions Inc., report an increase in interest in such investment vehicles.
According to Scharf, WindCast will probably not be the final alternative energy product for WSI. The model of offering up-to-the-hour and long-term weather forecasts for traders is repeatable in other sectors, such as solar and even wave power, though such products have yet to hit the market.