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Visualization solutions advance wind energy development

This article appears in the issue July/August 2013, [Vol 22, Issue 7]
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The total value of the worldwide wind energy market will grow from $74.2 billion in 2012 to $109.8 billion in 2017, according to Navigant Research. The resulting installations will almost double the amount of the world's electricity that is generated by wind, although wind will still only account for about 5 percent of the total energy market. The United States has regained its position as the world's leading supplier of wind turbines, with GE Wind holding 15 percent of the market.

Infinity Wind Power, established in 2008, is focused on wind energy development and long-term ownership working with landowners, utilities and other organizations to ensure that all phases of the projects under development are accomplished as planned. "We have been very successful at greenfield development, where we start with raw land and go to full production and operations, as required, with project owners," says Eli Bosco, VP of project delivery for Infinity Wind Power.

One of the key software products that Infinity Wind Power uses is XMap Software from DeLorme, a data visualization, geographical information system (GIS), global positioning system (GPS) and navigational tool for wind power developers and others. XMap provides topographical and other detailed information on the surrounding area for turbine and plant infrastructure placement. "The process begins with putting points on a map to indicate where a turbine will go," Bosco explains. "Based on information from site-specific wind data, environmental studies and other sources, we then make adjustments on placement."

The wind data comes from several sources. "Anemometers are located on site at heights up to about 100 meters," Bosco continues. "These collect wind speed and directional data over time and feed it back via a cell phone into our database. This part of the process can take about a year." In the absence of on-site data, wind speed information from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, noaa.gov) or data from local airports can be used in the early stages to get baseline information.

Navigating the natural world

When the final array of turbines is determined, Infinity Wind Power creates an array map and list of coordinates in XMap and goes into the field to validate the placement. "We have XMap on laptops or handheld devices that can feed the coordinates and other information into Excel spreadsheet models," Bosco says. "If we need to reposition the turbines based on topography, visibility or other factors, the device feeds the new coordinates into the spreadsheet to calculate how that will affect production."

Infinity Wind Power has about 4 gigawatts (GWs) of wind energy projects under development and 766 megawatts (MWs) worth of project assets sold, of which 300 MWs are currently operational. "Other organizations involved in this process are also using DeLorme products and other compatible GIS software that includes the names of property owners, tax records and additional information to allow for a comprehensive understanding of the site," says Bosco. "Having been in the industry for nearly 30 years, I can see tremendous progress in accuracy and efficiency thanks to the availability of these technical solutions."

DeLorme has provided mapping data for decades, with a steadily expanding range of products. "We have always been focused on technology that helps both professionals and outdoor recreationalists understand and navigate the natural world," says John Auble, president of DeLorme Data Services LLC. "Our solutions provide detailed information about features such as mountains, ponds and roads, and enable the user to analyze these data both in the office and out in the field."

In the case of wind power, DeLorme's XMap provides information that speeds up the exploratory process. "We can support a search for the best 100 acres to build wind turbines," Auble says. "For example, XMap can locate the tops of ridges, but indicate if the slope is too steep for a turbine, then look for clear land while eliminating national parks or other areas where building would not be allowed." The search could even be granular enough to detect differences in types of forestation, where pine trees might be cleared but areas containing other types of trees that would need to be preserved.

The mobile capability is a significant asset for wind energy projects. "If a maintenance person visits a wind turbine site and sees that the installation needs painting or other service, a laptop can be used to update the corporate database," Auble says. In addition, DeLorme's products are compatible with other GIS products such as the widely used ESRI maps and GIS servers. "Information from these products or the many databases provided by the U.S. government can be easily integrated  into XMap so that workers can utilize a single uninterrupted workflow, which simplifies the task," Auble adds.

Ocean winds

Offshore wind turbines can be placed so they are out of hearing range and where the Earth's curvature puts them beyond the point where they can be seen, but the ocean is a complex environment, and other factors affect the feasibility of installation. Shipping lanes, migratory bird routes, offshore oil leases and additional factors influence whether a wind farm can be built at a given site.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) promotes energy independence, environmental protection and economic development through management of offshore conventional and renewable energy resources. As part of its mission, it oversees renewable energy development in federal waters on the Outer Continental Shelf. One of the resources that supports that effort is the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre.

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