MUSKEGON – As Grand Valley State University removed its wind research buoy from Lake Michigan’s winter waters at the end of the year, it’s clear that the scientific data being collected goes well beyond whether to place wind turbines in the lake.
GVSU Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center officials in Muskegon report that the research platform that had been four miles out in Lake Michigan just south of the Muskegon pierheads was a success.
Despite funding problems with the state of Michigan, the buoy will return to Lake Michigan in late March at a mid-lake point on the Michigan side of the state line, GVSU officials said.
It is the only research platform of its kind on the Great Lakes, university officials said.
The laser technology wind sensors provided second-by-second information of wind speed and direction at four heights. But wind quality is just one of the areas of data collection as the buoy gathered information for more than 100 different parameters, MAREC Director Arn Boezaart said.
“The information has been relayed in real time to the U.S. Weather Service office in Grand Rapids, and the meteorologists are thrilled with this new data,” Boezaart said. The platform gathers information that weather, Great Lakes, wildlife and other researchers will find valuable, he said.
The early conclusion before all the data is analyzed is that there was plenty of wind on the lake from Nov. 4 to Dec. 30, Boezaart said. The buoy recorded peak winds of more than 60 mph and 20-foot waves during that time.
“There were four or five major storm events … we had some tremendous weather during the two months,” Boezaart said. “The weather put the platform and the equipment through its paces. Everyone is thrilled with the results.”
But that doesn’t mean wind turbines will be sprouting up on the lake anytime soon, if ever, Boezaart said. He said offshore wind farms are five to 10 years away at the earliest.
The MAREC platform project is not to support or oppose offshore wind development but is designed to provide scientific data if such decisions come before the public and the energy industry, he said.
“This is real science with real information that can be used 10-15 years from now,” Boezaart said. “We will now have wind data. Ten years from now, everything could be different with energy. We need the information to make the right decisions.”
Researchers have been able to monitor lake winds vs. the traditional anemometer clocking winds at the Muskegon Channel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Lake Michigan Field Station.
“Out on the lake, we found more wind and it was more robust,” Boezaart said, unable to provide specific detail at this time. “The farther out in the lake and the higher up you go, the more wind we found and winds of better quality.”
Andrie Transportation of Muskegon brought the platform into the Muskegon Channel and has it sitting on the inner harbor wall adjacent to the NOAA field station. It will continue to operate through the winter, providing wind information right at the Lake Michigan shoreline, Boezaart said.
The Vindicator laser wind instrument by Catch the Wind of Virginia captured wind speed and direction at 164, 196, 246, 295 and 393 feet. The highest level of testing is considered “hub height” of a typical utility-grade wind turbine.
The two-month test run of the buoy proved that data can be collected from a moving platform and that the laser-pulse technology worked in such an environment, Boezaart said. The platform was removed from the lake before ice formed this winter to protect the electronic equipment even as the buoy, manufactured by AXYS Technologies, could survive the winter conditions on Lake Michigan, Boezaart said.
Besides wind, the platform measures the electrical output of a solar cell and a small wind turbine, basic water quality, wave height and direction, lake currents, barometric pressure, and water and air temperatures, along with bird and bat activity. Michigan State University has sensors to detect birds and bats.
When the platform was brought back to the Muskegon harbor Dec. 30, Boezaart said that he and the Andrie crew saw a flock of ducks, thousands of birds flying low four miles off shore.
GVSU and its research partners from the University of Michigan received a financial blow for the $3.3 million project – a budget for the platform, equipment and three years of research and analysis. A Michigan Court of Appeals ruling in September ended a $1.3 million Michigan Public Service Commission grant for alternative energy after only $347,000 was spent.
The more than $1 million project shortfall – as the state money was a match to release federal funds from the Department of Energy – threatens 2012 and 2013 research, Boezaart said. GVSU will make sure that at least basic research will continue for 2012 as new financing or partners are found for the research, he said.
GVSU and its researcher partners will seek funding from the energy industry, public utilities, private foundations and other research institutions, Boezaart said.
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