To harness the strong and constant winds off the nation’s coastlines, researchers must first understand how much energy a wind turbine can capture at certain heights or locations. This understanding will allow the wind industry to develop the technologies that can convert the wind into an estimated 2,000 gigawatts of generating capacity for the electric grid.
One method of obtaining the needed data is by deploying seagoing buoys outfitted with advanced scientific instrumentation. PNNL researchers administer two such buoys on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO). WETO oversees a large portion of the nation’s offshore wind research to advance the scientific understanding of offshore wind and help industry develop robust offshore wind plant technology.
Using atmospheric and oceanographic measurement capabilities, AXYS WindSentinelTM buoys capture data such as wind speed at multiple heights, wind directions, buoy positions, air and sea surface temperatures, ocean current speeds and directions, and wave heights and directions.
Observations are recorded by the buoy’s data acquisition system and then transmitted by high-bandwidth cellular communications or by low-bandwidth satellite to the DOE Atmosphere to Electrons (A2e) Data Archive and Portal at PNNL in near real time, and the data are publicly available. If the distance from shore requires the use of satellite communications to communicate with a buoy, then high-bandwidth data, such as raw lidar data, may be retrieved during periodic maintenance visits to the buoys.
Data received in the A2e Data Archive and Portal are analyzed by the PNNL research team and disseminated to WETO and the wind industry. The buoys provide great flexibility for user needs. In general, observations are recorded at the highest rate available for each buoy to allow maximum flexibility in subsequent analysis.
PNNL has deployed these buoys off the nation’s coast—for example, New Jersey and Virginia in the mid- to late 2010s. In 2019 and 2020, the buoys underwent significant updates, and the newly upgraded lidar systems were validated against the Air-Sea Interaction Tower operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in compliance with recommended practices by the Carbon Trust.
A Buoy Loan Program, also administered by PNNL for WETO, can make the buoys available to industry and others who may be interested in the buoys’ capabilities for their own offshore wind research projects.