20.01.2017 | Why meteorology is so important for the energy sector
Weather forecasts are becoming increasingly important for energy supply companies. For example, Axpo plans prices and reserves based on weather data.
The fact that the nuclear plants at Beznau were taken off grid during the summer for refurbishment is no coincidence: This type of annual cleaning and maintenance work is usually carried out when energy consumption is at the lowest – which is proven to be in the summer. Hydropower plants can cover electricity demand during this time period.
However not only ordinary citizens are at the mercy of the whims of nature. Axpo is dependent on the weather to a very high degree. According to Jivko Jekov, Head Power & Fuels Trading at Axpo, the term "weather" can be broadly interpreted. It includes sunshine, precipitation, water, snow levels and light.
Along with Jekov, we meet Felix Vogt, Head Dispatching & Balancing, and Remo Beerli, Weather Analyst, for an interview. We want to get a feel for the topic of Axpo and the weather from these individuals, who are confronted with weather phenomena and use this information in their daily decision-making.
The situation is in fact very simple. Buying and selling electricity means ensuring the best possible prices and volumes. This is where weather comes into play: Solar and wind power plants generate a lot of energy when the weather is sunny or when the winds are strong. As a direct result, the power price drops. When it gets cold, the heat gets turned on and energy consumption increases – as does the price traders have to pay for electricity.
In short: Consumption and grid and power plant utilisation are strongly influenced by the weather. To some extent weather forecasts are a factor for the success or failure of an energy company.
In light of these facts it becomes clear that everything must be done to include all contingencies in planning as early as possible and to prepare for various scenarios. Remo Beerli, the Axpo weatherman at Axpo, is responsible for this task and the controller of numerous forecasting instruments. In order to develop prognoses, he searches countless sources and databases. These include global models (American, European, Canadian, etc.) that depict the physics of the atmosphere. „It’s important to have a broad range of data to find out what the spectrum of possible weather development could be. In a next step, the most probable scenario must be determined," says Remo. He passes the information he acquires on to the traders.
The true art here is sifting the huge data volumes into useful knowledge. Traders and operators of wind and hydropower plants can only take advantage of forecasts when the weatherman has filtered out the "correct" information from the data.
Although in the past the global observation of weather phenomena was hardly the focus of energy companies, this has changed drastically in recent years. The interdependencies are stronger than ever today: „Depending on severity, a hurricane in North America can influence the power price in Switzerland – and in turn have direct implications for Axpo," Remo knows. Felix Vogt adds that a flood in Columbia (and the expected price increase of coal) can have a greater impact on the power price than the amount of wind energy that is being fed into the grid at that time.
So it is not the geographical proximity to the weather phenomenon that is decisive, but the scope of possible impacts of weather influences or phenomena on the energy market. The recent, disas-trous earthquakes in Italy had no impacts on Axpo’s business and the power market because no power plants were affected. The situation with Fukushima was entirely different.
When it comes to weather forecasts, climate change – surprise! – does not play a key role. According to Remo, this instrument that focuses on days, weeks, months or years is too "slow" to be taken into account. „But of course, climate change is a fact and has resulted in a gradual shift of probability for the occurrence of various weather phenomena that must be taken into account as a meteorologist," he says.
Remo is also in demand among Axpo employees when it comes to weather forecasts, for example the question of the right clothing to go out during the lunch break. And: „When the weather is bad for a longer period of time, I somehow become the main culprit," he laughs.