Can Big Data Help Develop Renewable Energy?

If you haven’t heard of it, big data is everywhere.

Corporations and local governments are using it on a daily basis to grind out analysis and make decisions on how they operate. Marketers have been using it to target specific demographics. It seems the more information we have at our fingertips, and the better we can collate it, the more we can improve the world we live in.

If you listen to some experts, big data can help anywhere, even with your electricity supply. And, according the Wall Street Journal, this could have a big impact on how we use renewables in the future:

“Big data analytics are optimizing oil-field production and estimating oil storage levels via satellite images and remote sensing methods. But perhaps nowhere in the energy sector is the impact of big data more revolutionary than in the operations of the electricity system, where it will play an increasingly pivotal role integrating more and more renewables into the power mix.”

At the moment we have a problem with wind and solar – when the resources aren’t just right then they don’t produce power. If the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow renewables aren’t much use. And when this happens the grid needs to bring in baseline measures such as gas, coal and nuclear power to cover the shortfall.

In the US at the moment, solar and wind power sites collect data and collate it. Combine this with weather and satellite data and you can begin to build up a pretty good picture of when power will be needed, how much of it will be needed and when there will be a surplus.

If we know how much energy our renewable projects are going to produce, we can better predict what other, less carbon friendly solutions we need to bring on board in order to cover the shortfall. We can also predict that we won’t need that fossil fuel input at particular times, reducing the amount of coal, gas or oil that we burn.

Precise data can also help dictate, for example, how many wind turbines to build in a certain area to produce the power that you need. Introducing this extra renewable capacity into the mix can increase the amount of electricity we produce, even without having access to currently viable energy storage methods when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

Key to success is using all this data to make better use of backup facilities. It can allow us to use less fossil fuels and, when combined with the number of smart devices we now use and the growth the Internet of Things that monitors areas such as our energy usage, we can begin to build up a more detailed picture of how we use power and when it is most needed.

In America utility companies are beginning to operate more efficiently because of big data and that means cost savings can be passed onto consumers, carbon emissions can be reduced and we can begin to make much better use of our renewable energy capacity. According to the Independent recently:

“Data is so important because it means energy providers can work out how to store and distribute energy generated from solar panels and wind turbines. While renewable energy sources like these have been around for years, storing and distributing energy from these unpredictable sources has been a major barrier to using them more effectively.”