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Friday, August 31, 2012

Lake Michigan Gets Look from Wind Researchers

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; read the whole article here.

Study seeks data on mid-water winds
The notion is intoxicating: Capture the wind that has buffeted boaters on the Great Lakes for centuries and convert it into clean, renewable energy. But one important piece of data has been missing: We don't know exactly how windy it is out there. A floating research platform launched to collect data on wind speeds high above the water in the middle of Lake Michigan has begun feeding the information to researchers involved in a $3 million project.

"We're capturing some of the very first data," said Arnold "Arn" Boezaart, director of the Michigan Alternative & Renewable Energy Center at Grand Valley State University in Muskegon, which is leading the research. "The wind data that we're bringing on shore - when I brought the first data cards on shore, I felt like I was bringing gold bullion."

The WindSentinel research platform, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the State of Michigan, We Energies and the Sierra Club, uses laser-pulse radar technology to gather information about wind speeds at heights in excess of 500 feet above water.

A partnership of Axys Technologies in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a Virginia company called Catch the Wind incorporated the laser and radar technology into a wind-measuring platform that is powered with renewable energy sources - primarily wind and solar, but also biodiesel. The platform was the first one deployed in North America and the only one on the Great Lakes. Another was deployed recently in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey.

Previous Great Lakes studies have indicated there are strong winds midlake, but wind monitors in the lake today measure wind speeds at only 10 to 12 feet off the water, well below the height that would be used to generate electricity from wind. There has been no hard data documenting wind speeds at the height where a turbine's blades would turn.

Preliminary results from the new project look promising: Data from June showed an average wind speed of 22 mph 410 feet above the water.

Based on our early assessments of the average data that we're gathering, there clearly is a very robust wind resource out over Lake Michigan," Boezaart said. Wind speeds over 15 to 20 mph are considered commercially viable for wind generation, he said.

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