Vermont Weather Analytics Center
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Game-Changing Breakthrough in Grid Forecasting
Picture a tool that sees precisely into the near future, and enables utilities to better protect communities, meet customer needs, and garner renewable energy’s full value. That is the vision of the Vermont Weather Analytics Center—VWAC. VWAC delivers advance weather forecasts up to three days ahead, precise to 1 km2, linked to customer demand data and to solar and wind generation models.
The results are the most precise and accurate wind and solar generation forecasts in the world. This powerful tool turns multiple streams of data—transmission telemetry, distribution meter data, generation production, highly precise forecast models—into actionable information using leading edge analytics. A collaborative achievement involving dozens of in-state and regional partners and Utopus Insights, VWAC’s results are unprecedented and its value already demonstrated, even as further benefits continue to emerge.
- The need for better forecasting tools: Extreme Weather
- The need for better forecasting tools: Distributed Energy Transforms the Grid
- Meeting the need: VWAC's Four Models Combine for Hyper-Local, Superior Accuracy in Forecasting
- Meeting the need: Hyper-Local Weather Forecasting
- Meeting the need: Advanced Analytics Transform Data to Intelligence
- Meeting the need: Demonstrated Benefits
- Meeting the need: Value Continues to Grow
- Meeting the need: Empowering the next generation power grid
- VELCO & Vermont: A Tradition of Innovation
- Utopus Insights
- Transformative Collaboration
The need for better forecasting tools
Since 2011, Vermont has experienced eight federally declared weather disasters. Extreme weather has increased storm response budgets by double digits, 35% in three years for Vermont’s largest distribution utility.
Every region of the US and the world faces similarly extreme weather trends. And those trends pose immense safety and economic threats to communities, and utility and public infrastructure. In fact, the 2016 World Economic Forum has said extreme weather is the second greatest threat to global economic and social well-being, exceeded only by mass migration. Weather-driven power outages are no longer simply utility events, but community disruptions.
Providing accurate, timely information on precise locations and specific risks posed by a given storm keeps line crews and communities safer — especially vulnerable economically disadvantaged locales; reduces service interruption duration; and lowers service restoration costs. Our need to get smarter about weather is not just driven by punishing weather extremes. More sophisticated meteorological know-how is now critical to our core, day-to-day operations with the exponential growth of weather-dependent renewable resources. Return to top.
Vermont is a small state with about 1,000 megawatts of electrical demand, less than four percent of New England’s peak. Today, roughly 200 MW of wind and solar resources feed power to Vermont’s grid. Driven by state policy and tax incentives, 25 to 30 more MW are expected to come on line annually in the next several years. Another 180 MW of wind and solar PURPA1 projects await regulatory review. For several years the state’s peak summer load has moved into the evening, occurring in 2017 on September 26th at 8:00 pm as solar power offset traditional midday demand. Renewable generation, from rooftop solar to utility-scale solar and wind, is reshaping Vermont’s energy supply and load profile. Similarly, significant renewable growth, already evident in Hawaii, California and Germany, is spreading across New England and other areas of the US.
To meet these challenges, electric system operators and planners need visibility into installed capacity, location, and real-time production information, as well as the ability to accurately predict future output of weather-dependent resources. VWAC meets those needs.Return to top.
1PURPA: The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, part of the National Energy Act of 1978 to promote energy conservation and promote greater use of domestic energy and renewable energy.
Four Models Combine for Hyper-Local, Superior Accuracy in Forecasting
1. Deep Thunder Weather Forecasting
Vermont-specific version of IBM’s Deep Thunder predictive, localized weather model that produces high-resolution, accurate and specialized forecasts.
2. Electric Demand + Net Metering Forecasting
Uses smart meters, Deep Thunder and other data sources to analyze customer-owned generation to predict demand and better plan for future system reliability needs.
3. Renewable Power Forecasting (Solar & Wind)
Forecasts solar and wind production, and separately correlates hydro to improve power supply planning efficiency.
4. RISE — Renewable Integration Stochastic Engine
Coupled model with a probabilistic framework that links and synthesizes the other models’ output to produce actionable information for best use of Vermont’s renewable generation, efficiency, demand response and transmission resources. The initial use focuses on mitigating transmission constraints to minimize curtailment of renewable energy. Return to top.
The Vermont model builds on a state-of-the-art, high-spatial-resolution and high-temporal-resolution forecasting system, customizable to support specific weather-sensitive business decisions. Traditional 72-hour forecasts provide information to a 12 km2 resolution, updated every one to three hours. VWAC’s tools provide 72-hour advance forecasts to the 1 km2 level including wind speed and direction by elevation, solar irradiance and precipitation for every 10 minute-increment, in effect, a four-dimensional forecast including time.
With such precise, hyper-local information, utilities and public officials can make many informed decisions that produce economic, operational and safety benefits, where traditional forecasting tools provided only a macro-level view.
The two images below show how, a day ahead, VWAC accurately predicted high winds in a recent storm: on the left, the VWAC forecast of localized wind gusts; on the right, actual outage from the same storm. Return to top.
Which data, and in what form, matters.
Developers explored terabytes of data from telemetry, revenue metering, smart meters, geographical information systems, weather archives and numerical weather prediction models. Through painstaking, collaborative analysis, we now secure the right data at the right time in the right format necessary to generate actionable information.
A universal model built to serve others.
In order to represent relations between input data, the electrical grid, contextual information and predictive models, project partners developed a generic data model, which establishes the foundation for future business application development. This data model is the key for efficiently replicating the VWAC breakthrough with other energy companies.
Weather and grid information portal.
Over a hundred users from VELCO, 17 distribution utilities, five state agencies and one Regional Transmission Organization (ISO New England), access the specific information and insights that best meet their needs — whether through forecast videos, statistical or interactive mapping, graphs, data tables or archived data. The portal turns millions of bits of data into a data model that gives users unified, structured, and meaningful access to actionable information; information that enables smarter power supply decisions, disaster preparedness, storm restoration, grid planning and more.
Tools to solve for solar’s exponential increase.
The development of a big data architecture for the ingestion, cleansing and exploration of terabytes of smart meter data enables an unprecedented level of analysis and understanding of solar energy in Vermont. We now know installed capacity, location, size and output of grid-connected renewable generation. The work revealed precisely for the first time the exponential growth rates of photovoltaics in the past three years: by the end of 2015, up to 15% of Vermont’s energy was supplied by solar systems on sunny days — an amount that continues to rise. Return to top.
Breakthrough accuracy in predicting electrical loads.
VWAC generates forecasts at state, distribution utility, and individual distribution substation levels. Such accuracy is achieved through deep machine learning and by integrating Deep Thunder weather forecasts, sophisticated distributed solar generation models that account for impacts such as snow accumulation on solar panel output, and other customized models. This kind of specialized load forecasting matters where, for example, snowmaking for ski resorts can account for more than 10% of winter load. Overall, VWAC’s energy demand forecasting is 97.6% accurate statewide and 97.3% accurate at the distribution utility level.
Breakthrough accuracy in predicting wind and solar generation.
The VWAC project has achieved unprecedented forecasting accuracy: solar accuracy is 95.1% at 0–24 hours ahead and 94.7% at 0–48 hours ahead. Wind accuracy is 92.8% at 0–24 hours ahead and 91.3% at 0–48 hours ahead.
Game-changing solar forecast precision: The graph below shows total production from the 19 utility-scale solar farms in blue (True Power), the solar power forecast using NOAA weather forecasts in black and the solar power forecast using VWAC weather forecasts in red. The discrepancies between the black and the blue curves, and the red and the blue curves illustrate the relative errors in the two forecasts. The plot illustrates VWAC’s breakthrough in solar forecasting: 95.1% accurate for day-ahead and 94.7% for statewide solar forecasts 48 hours in advance. Return to top.
VWAC strengthens emergency response coordination calls and utility crew augmentation decisions. It enhances field crew protection by providing geographically targeted wind chill and lightning potential indices. VWAC enables more accurate, site-specific customer updates and it has improved traffic safety through an effective partnership with our state transportation agency.
VWAC has substantially improved outage scheduling and contingency analyses with reliable 72-hour forecasts of expected system conditions. For the first time, it provides utilities an ability to determine grid capacity for additional solar from the transmission system down to the substation level. It also enables demand analysis to the substation level — another first.
VWAC increases planning assessment reliability due to smart meter data integration and significantly improves analysis of non-transmission alternatives to system upgrades. It refines our ability to assess transmission constraints and storage options, and reduces power supply market risk by more accurately assessing supply needs. VWAC improves developer/customer collaboration on solar installations and enables refined comparative generation assessments of prospective solar and wind sites.
VWAC provides greater visibility to potential demand response events based on demand forecasts built up from the substation to the distribution service territory to the statewide level. It enhances statewide peak demand management capability and improves the quality of energy efficiency measure cost-benefit analysis. Return to top.
Next steps are underway to further strengthen core services and generate even greater value for more partners.
Linking VWAC output to VELCO’s Energy Management System will improve core grid reliability by better accounting for weather impacts on daily operations, improving our day-ahead contingency planning and more accurately integrating weather-dependent generation in our EMS model.
Linking VWAC to Vermont emergency management, environmental, and agriculture agencies will help Emergency Operations keep communities safer and provide a detailed weather record for federal cost reimbursements; the Agency of Natural Resource to better monitor stream health, manage habitat and protect field crews; and the Agency of Agriculture to provide farmers information that will improve their operational efficiency and protect against damaging farm run-off discharges.
A pilot study initiated at the request of ISO New England will share specific and relevant data streams feeding VWAC, and lessons learned in building this tool to help the regional grid operator best meet its need to accurately account for rapidly growing renewable generation, especially solar, in the six New England states.
Using VWAC to unlock additional value from renewables through documented performance results, which may support project and policy changes that could save customers millions in future system upgrades tied to load growth.
Reduce uncertainty of production from behind-the-meter (BTM) solar resulting in better commitment and dispatch decisions by ISO-NE, reducing productions costs and avoiding unnecessary supplemental commitments and fuel consumption. Conservatively, savings associated with better commitment estimated based on current BTM penetration levels are on the order of $1 million per summer season, growing as BTM penetration increases. Expanded use of VWAC tools will also improve accuracy and reduce uncertainty associated with grid connected solar and wind resources in the day-ahead market, leading to more efficient commitment and dispatch decisions by the system operator. Applied nationally, the savings would be in the billions. Return to top.
A grid reformation is underway. How we generate, move and use power—and how we pay for it—are undergoing change at a rate not seen in the modern era. Some see the electric grid as an expensive relic. VELCO believes the interconnected grid will continue to evolve, adapt and serve customers in even more effective ways. VWAC holds great promise and possibilities beyond Vermont’s borders as a major breakthrough transferrable to the nation and the world; a further catalyst for delivering clean energy. In the end, through this project, we seek to keep people safer, save customers money, and protect the environment. Return to top.
Forces of change are reshaping today’s power system, and utilities across the world are adapting in new and interesting ways. VELCO’s approach is to create an accessible grid that readily incorporates technological advances and enables a collaboratively shaped clean energy future. We see the power grid as a flexible, uplifting platform for innovation and progress. Connection, collaboration, and creativity are in our company DNA and reflect a history of innovation.
With over a billion dollars in transmission assets, our ability to deliver reliable service is increasingly dependent on data analytics and advanced communication networks. We own a 1,500-mile, border-to-border, 72-strand, fiber optic network linking all our substations, and a microwave-linked radio system that provides 97% coverage statewide, and 94% of Vermont distribution utility customers have access to smart meters. Together, these assets enable high-speed, real-time communication across Vermont’s grid that is critical to system reliability. These assets also create an energy workbench for innovations that better serve customers and communities; innovations like the Vermont Weather Analytics Center. Return to top.
The Vermont Weather Analytics Center began in 2014 as a research and development project between VELCO and IBM Research, with its more than 60 years of technology innovation. For more than 15 years IBM Research had been investing in hyper-accurate weather forecasting to provide actionable insights for societal and commercial decisions. For the past 10 years, that weather capability has been combined with other research to better enable utilities and other energy-related businesses to make informed business and operational decisions that improve grid reliability, resilience and efficiency and maximize profitability.
Through extensive collaborative effort among VELCO, Vermont utilities, the State of Vermont, higher education institutions (the University of Vermont, Norwich University and Lyndon State College), and other stakeholders, the R&D effort of the joint development agreement created extensive value for grid management, and identified needs the project could address beyond the electric system, in areas such as road safety, ski area maintenance and agriculture. In 2016 the initial Joint Development Agreement was extended for a third year.
The creation of Utopus Insights
In 2017, IBM spun off their grid analytics work into a new company called Utopus Insights, with VELCO as a strategic partner holding a financial stake in the venture. A team of highly talented developers, engineers, meteorologists and researchers who had been part of the IBM team, led by former IBM Fellow Chandu Visweswariah, form the core of the new enterprise. Utopus Insights is building on work done under the Vermont Weather Analytics Center contract, among other former IBM projects, to develop and market leading edge analytics software and platforms to the power industry.
Utopus Insights combines deep energy industry knowledge with the most advanced data science. The company is based in Valhalla, New York and Bengaluru, India. Utopus Insights is an "advantaged spin-out" from IBM Research:
- 40 professionals (14 PhDs) with over 10 successful client engagements.
- Strong patent portfolio; 15 years of research with leading utilities.
- Two strategic Joint Development Agreements (VELCO and Bonneville Power Administration), several commercial contracts and ongoing pilots
Collaboration is the life blood of VWAC. Achieving a major step toward the digital grid of the future has taken leadership, creative intellect, and willingness to work in support of a common vision by the many project partners whose logos are shown, plus the support of Vermont Governor Shumlin and his agencies, Vermont’s Congressional delegation, and many other stakeholders. Return to top.
"Having worked to help build the smart grid and energy communications foundation in Vermont, I strongly support VELCO’s Vermont Weather Analytics Center, as it represents exactly the kind of innovation we sought to enable. VWAC will help build a more reliable grid that provides demonstrable benefits to customers, communities, state agencies and energy businesses.”
U.S. SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY
"VELCO’s Vermont Weather Analytics Center is changing the game for solar. Once grid operators are able to predict how much renewable energy will be produced at any given moment, the full value of renewable energy will be unlocked. This tool will also help communities prepare for and address the effects of climate change.”
U.S. SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS
"I strongly support VELCO’s Vermont Weather Analytics Center as a key to accelerating the reliable integration of renewable energy in Vermont, New England and beyond.”
U.S. CONGRESSMAN PETER WELCH
"My administration and I are strong, active supporters and partners in VELCO’s VWAC project including my Department of Public Service, Agency of Agriculture, Department of Emergency Management and most notably our VTrans team. VWAC is helping keep drivers safer now and will better protect communities and enable greater use of reliable renewable generation.”
VERMONT GOVERNOR PETER SHUMLIN
"ISO New England is pleased to support VELCO’s Vermont Weather Analytics Center as a powerful tool that will help improve solar generation forecasts. Accurate solar forecasting is becoming increasingly important for reliable grid operations, especially to account for the growing distributed solar resources in our region.”
GORDON VAN WELIE, PRESIDENT & CEO, ISO NEW ENGLAND
"As a student-centered research University, UVM combines cutting-edge research and scholarship to help our students evolve into innovative thinkers who make a difference in the world. The Vermont Weather Analytics Center is an excellent example of the greatness we can achieve by working together through research and innovation in support of securing a more sustainable energy future.”
TOM SULLIVAN, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT
"AWEA applauds VELCO’s efforts to produce the Vermont Weather Analytics Center. This is a good example of how utilities can be leaders in innovation and collaboration to allow for reliable and cost-effective integration of renewable energy into power systems.”
AMERICAN WIND ENERGY ASSOCIATION
"The SEIA supports VELCO’s Vermont Weather Analytics Center project as an excellent example of how utilities can work collaboratively to accelerate the reliable integration of solar energy.”
SOLAR ENERGY INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION
BETSY BISHOP, PRESIDENT AND CEO, VERMONT CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
"Sustainable housing for all Vermonters necessarily includes energy security and community resilience. We see VWAC as a powerful tool to help our utilities and communities meet the challenges of extreme weather and our goals for a more efficient and renewable approach to total energy.”
LUDY BIDDLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEIGHBORWORKS OF WESTERN VERMONT