Among the challenges of choosing a site for green energy conversion systems is establishing the available local renewable energy resource base. The first cut is to check out energy resource maps available from various federal agencies for wind, solar, geothermal, etc. (see my post “The US Energy Revolution Will Be Regional“). For solar energy, PV Watts provides a clickable map for an additional level of precision. Although highly sophisticated, these maps are merely simulations that use annual meteorological data to estimate the energy that can be captured. They only provide approximations.
The only way to quantify the local energy resource base is via direct measurement. At the University of North Texas (UNT), we are now taking these measurements. Last summer, a team of undergraduate research students established the North Texas Ambient Energy Monitoring Station (NT-AEMS).
At the heart of NT-AEMS is a commercial-grade weather station with accessories that measure many ambient parameters with relevance to energy: wind velocity, solar flux, and deep ground temperature. The station is built on Campbell Scientific tower using a CS3000 Micrologger for data storage. Meteorology accessories include among others an RM Young wind monitor, an Apogee SP-110 pyranometer, a Decagon Devices leaf wetness sensor, a Hydrological Services rain gauge, a Vaisala PTB110 barometer, and Campbell Scientific temperature/relative humidity probes. Data from each accessory is logged continuously at fifteen-minute intervals. To augment the weather station data, we are installing a 2-axis sun tracker from DH Solar, which will be equipped with a second Apogee pyranometer for on-sun data collection; the tracker will also enable solar panel evaluation.
Collected NT-AEMS data will inform future renewable energy installations on the UNT campus and in the surrounding community by providing highly accurate time-dependant information about the local resource base that is superior estimates based on regional data.
Interestingly, my desire to establish NT-AEMS at UNT grew out of my curiosity about residential weather stations, which was seeded over two years ago by this blog post from John Dodge: “Weather stations, anemometers for the home“. Granted, a commercial-grade weather station like NT-AEMS is likely out of reach for typical homeowners, both in terms of cost and space required for installation. However, for readers interested in taking their own local weather readings with minimal investment using one simple piece of equipment, I strongly recommend the Nielsen Kellerman Kestrel 4500 portable weather meter with a portable vane mount.
I have been using Kestrels for years in my research, and I still use them for field work to gather local meteorology data. When mounted on a tripod, these data-logging pocket weather stations provide most of the same measurements as more sophisticated (and more expensive) permanent weather installations. If Nielsen Kellerman ever made a model with a built-in pyranometer for solar flux measurement, this handheld instrument would do everything needed for ambient energy monitoring. However, the current 4500 configuration is still an excellent instrument with temperature, pressure, wind velocity, and wind direction, among other data streams.
Matthew Recsnik, Jordan Simleness, and Ashley Dixon contributed to this post.