La Niña Likely to Boost Wind Energy Production Across U.S.

3TIER®, the global leader in renewable energy information services, today released maps that indicate wind power production is likely to be above average in the first quarter of 2011 across much of the continental U.S. due to a strong La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean. In addition to foreshadowing a boon for wind power operators, 3TIER’s analysis demonstrates that the long-term climactic variability of wind power can be anticipated and factored into the long-term financial planning for a project.

“Our clients have responded very positively to our retrospective anomaly maps that show deviations from normal wind for past quarters. However, they have also told us that what they really want is a forecast for the next one or two quarters, especially when they are hearing about La Niña and its affects on climate all over the news,” said Pascal Storck, 3TIER’s Vice President of Advanced Applications.

“To create our prediction, we performed a historical analysis of La Niña impacts on weather across the U.S. for the past 40 years. Our data show that if the La Niña event persists, as is forecasted by the global climate modeling community, many of the wind projects across the country should have a very good first quarter. This is a nice change from the first quarter of 2010 when many of the U.S. wind projects experienced below average wind speeds due to a strong El Niño effect.”

The maps released by 3TIER plot the probability, expressed as a percentage, that wind speeds will exceed their long-term averages. 3TIER released maps for both the fourth quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011. The maps are available here:

As La Niña builds through the end of 2010, most of the western U.S. has a high probability of experiencing above average wind speeds. However, the map portends a low probability of higher wind speeds throughout the important wind corridor of west Texas, across a wide swath of the upper Midwest extending deep into Canada, and along the northeastern seaboard.

Things change dramatically in the first quarter of 2011. Deep, saturated reds dominate the map across most of the country, indicating an increased probability of above average wind speeds. The only parts of the country that do not have an increased probability of higher than average winds speeds are sections of southern Arizona, Nevada, and California and pockets near the Canadian border from Minnesota to Montana.

The La Niña phenomena is characterized by a cooling of surface water temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, while El Niño creates an opposite, warming effect. Both are phases of a larger weather pattern known as ENSO (El Niño / Southern Oscillation).
With over 10 years of operational forecasting experience, 3TIER has a great deal of expertise in understanding climate variability, such as that caused by ENSO events, and has incorporated these patterns into its forecasting and assessment offerings.

Founded in 1999, 3TIER is one of the largest independent providers of wind energy, solar power and hydro energy assessment and power forecasting worldwide. People around the world turn to 3TIER when they want the best scientific information to make decisions about renewable energy projects — from the prospecting stage to operations.