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Pep Moreno, CEO, Vortex: "Vortex’s service is not intended to replace actual wind measurements, but to complement traditional wind engineering"

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In an exclusive interview with Renewable Energy Magazine, Pep Moreno, CEO of wind resource assessment company, Vortex, talks about the importance to the wind industry of what he is really passionate about: the wind resource simulation and characterization process. He also reflects on changes in the wind industry over the 15 years he has worked in the sector, and on its future.

Vortex was established with the aim of developing a tool for characterizing the wind resource and wind conditions in places where no measurements are available; an essential step in the development any wind farm. In November 2007, Vortex gathered together the necessary people and funding, and over the next two years, the team of seven specialists developed Vortex’s suite of products. In late 2009, the company secured its first customers.

The Vortex online service is the result of taking a new approach and is distinct to that offered by other wind resource assessment service providers: remote calculation initiated by the client through the Internet. Vortex’s service is online – therefore avoiding the need to install software – and is based on a non-linear WRF model developed by various research centres devoted to studying the atmosphere, supported by a community of more than 10,000 users.

The service does not require any local wind speed measurements. Vortex offers wind resource maps with a resolution of 1 or 3 Km. within around 24 hours, sent directly to a client’s computer, and can provide data for both a specific point where a potential metrological mast is to be erected or for an entire wind farm (at 100m resolution) within 36 to 96 hours, including extreme wind speed values (Vref).

Pep Moreno, is Vortex’s CEO. This doctor in physics has a long history in the wind energy sector, having worked at the prestigious National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy (Risoe) at the Technical University of Denmark, and subsequently as Head of Engineering for wind turbine manufacturer, Ecotècnia (since absorbed by Alstom). Pep is also an active member of the European Wind Energy Association’s European Wind Energy Technology Platform (TPWind).

Interview date: April, 2010

Interviewer: Toby Price

Hi Pep. Well, first of all, congratulations on the launch of Vortex and the innovative technology you have developed. Could you explain why you decided the industry needed a new technology for wind resource simulation and assessment which differs from that offered by your competitors (3Tier and Truewind)?

The Vortex team is made up of wind industry professionals with extensive experience (and a clear idea of the sector’s needs), comprising veteran experts in atmospheric modelling (who are well aware of the technology’s potential). This unusual combination has allowed us to apply existing technology in a specific manner to meet the challenges we, as well as our clients, have faced on a daily basis during the many years spent in wind engineering.

The current status of the technology (both software and hardware) permits non-linear atmospheric modelling from the macro-scale down to an individual wind farm (at a resolution of 100m) in a matter of hours. Vortex's challenge has been to develop an interface that enables such simulations to be performed automatically and initiated by clients from their own PCs, thus reducing costs and delivery times for this type of process.

Unlike most current wind simulation service providers (which sell pre-calculated results), our dynamic approach allows us considerable flexibility. Each calculation is performed on demand and therefore, we can incorporate both feedback from comparisons between our model’s results and our clients’ actual wind measurements, and the latest advances in modelling technology as their validity is proven.

In countries such as Spain that have a mature wind industry, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find sites with good wind resources. Vortex can help in this regard. How?

Vortex’s service is not intended to replace actual wind measurements (which are always necessary at some point during the development of a wind farm), but is designed to complement traditional wind engineering, based on such measurements. Wind simulation is relatively quick and cheap compared to actually measuring wind. Therefore, this service can be used extensively where measurements have not been or cannot be made.

For example, before deciding to install a meteorological mast at only one of several interesting potential sites, Vortex MAST, our short-term product (one year of data), can be used to quickly obtain additional data at an affordable price and with a reasonable level of uncertainty, that can then be used to evaluate where such a significant investment should be made.

Have the changes experienced by the wind energy sector in the last decade (such as the increasing size of wind turbines and wind farms, and the location thereof) raised the importance of the wind resource simulation phase of wind farm projects?

As wind developers and manufacturers well know, certain investments are riskier today than a few years ago because of the shortage of areas with very good wind resource or the siting of wind farms in places (offshore, high wind turbine towers, etc.) where uncertainty about the wind resource is high.

Stakeholders in the development of wind farms will design and implement better projects, the more reliable assessment tools they have at their disposal. At Vortex, we are convinced that the recent improvements in wind resource assessment through modelling can contribute in this regard.

For example, long-term temporal extrapolation of the wind resource is often difficult due to a lack of reliable references or uncertainty resulting from the correlation methods employed. Vortex FARM, our long-term product, provides an estimate of the wind resource over the last 27 years (including Vref) using the same methodology as the short-term product, Vortex MAST, the accuracy of which is directly testable against data held by the client.

In the past year, we have seen the launch of the offshore wind sector. Is it easier to estimate the wind resource in the marine environment and, if so, why?

At a theoretical level, modelling over the sea is relatively simpler than on land, especially when the terrain is complex. The main problem with offshore modelling is the lack of measurements against which the results of models can be compared, making it difficult to apply any conclusions drawn from such comparisons across the board.

At Vortex, we are in the process of comparing simulations with offshore measurements, through collaborations with some of our clients who have collated data offshore. This is another feature that adds value to our service. We only compare the results of our models with proven quality data from professionals because, in many cases, measurements obtained from outside the wind sector are not good enough and therefore, including them during validation only leads to noise and distortion.

Looking at the wind industry in general, how has it changed since you started out 15 years ago?

The wind sector has experienced profound changes since I started working in it. It is now a mature and strategic industry that moves huge amounts of capital, and where “homemade” solutions have increasingly less of a place and there is less room for error.

As far as my sub-sector (wind engineering), the technology has come a long way and there are now possibilities that were unthinkable only a few years ago.

I imagine that when planning your business strategy, you are thinking about how the sector will evolve in the future. What changes do you think we will see in the sector over the next 5 years?

It all depends on the rate at which our dependence on oil as an energy source diminishes (a resource that, in any case, is limited). The trend seems to be towards the widespread deployment of offshore wind in Europe, and the exportation of the European wind energy model to other parts of the world, especially emerging nations.

In any event, Vortex’s commitment is clear: we have been convinced of the future of wind energy for years, and now it is here (and even past), we will strive to remain at the cutting edge of the sector.

Finally, what would you say to any potential client’s reading this interview to convince them that Vortex is the best option in the wind resource simulation and resource assessment sub-sector?

Three main factors characterise our work. The three are the result of careful consideration of the design of our products and the considerable effort made to roll out our business model:

• A professional background: we come from the industry and listen to our clients in order to identify their needs and decide to what extent we can help. Our offer of extreme wind speed data, Vref, (which as far as I know, is unique in the sector) is one example of this.

• A dynamic approach: simulation on demand allows us to learn each time our model is used. Feedback from our clients is essential and, as an independent company, we have the flexibility to adapt to changes in technology or the lessons we draw when comparing our results with reliable data from our users.

• Usability: wind is complex and the wind industry is exacting in its demands. Vortex does not set out to replace measurements, but does urge clients to constantly compare their data with our results in order to assess first hand the value of our service. We are modest and know the limitations of modelling. However, interaction with our clients has led us to one of the objectives of our project: to be sufficiently accurate to be a useful link in the wind farm development chain. Vortex’s range of services (www.vortex.es) is the closest thing to what we would have liked to have had when facing the daily challenges of wind engineering when working in this field.

For additional information:

Vortex

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