Weather Analytics Center press conference

Rutland, VT—Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) today briefed state and federal emergency responders on a project underway that utilizes IBM’s leading-edge Deep Thunder technology to create a Vermont Weather Analytics Center. The Center will initially help unlock additional renewable energy value and serve as the basis for follow-on projects that bring additional benefits to Vermont, such as improving grid resiliency and storm response.

“As the transmission system operator, we concentrate on grid reliability. Our world has changed and continues to change. Vermont weather has always been a challenge.  However, now we are experiencing more punishing storms that cause more severe damage to Vermont’s electric grid more frequently,” stated VELCO President and CEO Tom Dunn. “This project will ultimately increase our collective effectiveness in storm preparation, response and service restoration.”

Work on the $16.6 million, two-year project started eight months ago and builds on VELCO’s administration of the eEnergy Vermont smart grid project and the company’s construction of a 1,300 mile, 72-strand statewide fiber network. Collaboration is at the heart of this project and project partners include: IBM Research; every Vermont electric utility; Lyndon State College through a grant from the Vermont Low Income Trust for Electricity; the Vermont Electric Power Producers Inc. (VEPPI); the Department of Public Service, VTrans and other state agencies; UVM and ISO-NE.

The project is built around a Vermont-specific version of IBM’s Deep Thunder predictive weather model coupled with a renewable energy forecasting model and an energy demand model. These models apply leading-edge analytics to in-state and regional weather data to produce accurate weather, renewable energy and demand forecasts. Currently, the weather model  produces  forecasts 48-hours in length at a two-kilometer resolution , making this the first state-wide forecast at a high temporal and spatial resolution. “Renewable energy production has a strong dependency on weather; likewise, energy demand also depends on weather; therefore, high resolution, high accuracy forecasting will be a key enabler of the coming transition to clean energy,” said Chandu Visweswariah, IBM Fellow and Director of IBM’s Smarter Energy Research Institute.

Dunn pointed the project’s embrace of renewable energy: “Smaller scale, or distributed, generators of renewable electricity have arrived. They now play a critical and growing role in balancing supply and demand and we want to be able to accelerate their integration into grid operations.” VELCO’s Weather Analytics Center Project does that by coupling the output of the Deep Thunder model with an innovative IBM renewable energy forecast model. This model will utilize data on in-state solar and wind farms to produce more accurate renewable energy forecasts.

These forecasts will be used in turn to optimize the value of Vermont’s renewable generation, demand response and transmission resources.

Dunn noted that “every grid operator is experiencing these forces of change—but very few see the opportunity it represents. Having traveled around the country, in my judgment what we are doing here is some of the most innovative work in the nation. It is certainly new ground for VELCO. Once again Vermont demonstrates its collaborative ability to serve as an energy innovation workbench—this time by closely linking grid management, enhanced predictive weather capabilities and renewable energy to provide better value to our customers and Vermont.”

Green Mountain Power, a well-established innovator in its own right, is a key project partner. GMP President and CEO Mary Powell expressed strong support for the initiative: “GMP seeks every opportunity to deliver cost-effective innovations that benefit our customers. By improving grid resiliency even as we move toward a more renewable, customer-centric model, creation of the Vermont Weather Analytics Center builds on our work to become the utility of the future.”

Lyndon State College’s Dr. Jason Shafer, Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, praised the opportunity for groundbreaking research crated by VELCO’s project: “This work will enable our students to conduct research that develops state-of-art techniques to better predict where and when storms produce power outages.  It strengthens LSC’s well-earned reputation as the nation’s premier college for those seeking careers in meteorology.”

Governor Peter Shumlin touted his administration’s early and ongoing support for VELCO’s project, “I’ve seen firsthand the devastation that extreme weather continues to wreak on Vermonters. My vision for this project is that it not only gives our communities and industry a more resilient and renewable  electric grid, but that it further builds on Vermont’s reputation as a leader in the creation of energy innovation jobs.”