Solar observatory atop waterfront's Technology Development Center will help forecast peaks and lulls in solar and wind energy

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 3:01pm

Contact:  Western Washington University College of Sciences and Technology at (360) 650-6400.

BELLINGHAM – Western Washington University has joined a network of West Coast universities providing sensor data that will help forecast peaks and lulls in solar energy generation.

The first phase of an innovative instrument cluster has been installed on the roof of the Technology Development Center (TDC) on Bellingham’s Central Waterfront; its data will be used to improve our ability to forecast the availability of renewable energy resources.

The solar observatory is part of a growing consortium—currently consisting of five other universities—that participate in the Solar Power Forecasting Initiative; the other locations are the University of California at Merced, University of California at Davis, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at San Diego, and the University of Hawaii’s sensors near Ewa Beach, Oahu. Data from these monitoring locations can be seen on the web at

“The observatory provides important data inputs to a powerful forecasting model that combines meteorological information, satellite data, ground sensor observations, and real-time irradiance measurements to improve our ability to predict renewable energy inputs,” said Jeff Wright, dean of Western’s College of Sciences and Technology. “Once we are able to provide reliable predictions of renewable energy sources, we will be better able to integrate these important sources of energy into regional power systems.”

“Being a part of this consortium really dovetails nicely with the work we are doing in alternative-energy research in the College of Sciences and Technology,” said Western Professor of Chemistry Mark Bussell. “And being able to collaborate with scientists from other top universities improves the quality of the overall learning experience for our students.”

A group of WWU faculty that includes Bussell and Professor of Physics Brad Johnson is working with the Port of Bellingham and other partners to make the TDC a hub for applied research and development in renewable energy.  Funding is currently being sought for a large solar array on the TDC roof and a nearby small-scale wind turbine that will allow correlation of the solar and wind power forecasting models with real-time generation of solar and wind power on the waterfront.

For more information on the sensor package and the research of the consortium, contact Western’s College of Sciences and Technology at (360) 650-6400.