What happens when you pair the smartest weather scientists in the world with the largest wind power data set known to man? NextEra Energy (NEE 0.24%) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, are about to find out. Keep reading for the latest, and find out whether the answer to our energy demand is blowing in the wind.
NOAA announced Wednesday that it has entered into data sharing agreements with NextEra Energy Resources and Iberdrola Renewables, the two largest wind power generators in the United States.
These newest data sources will join NOAA's growing database, already supported with information from Xcel Energy (XEL -0.96%) for the last year.
"We appreciate this opportunity to work with industry and are eager to start similar data sharing agreements with other industry partners," said Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and NOAA deputy administrator. "Everyone who uses weather information will benefit from these additional data."
For NextEra, the decision to facilitate more accurate information was easy. "NextEra Energy recognizes that a better NOAA weather forecast will ultimately improve our operational decisions and our bottom line," said Mark Ahlstrom, CEO for a NextEra wind subsidiary. "Sharing data with NOAA makes sense because it helps NOAA deliver better forecasts for use by our company and the general public."
Who's winning with wind?
The American Wind Energy Association estimates the U.S.'s total current wind power capacity at 51,6300 MW. NextEra owns and operates around 8,600 MW, solidifying its position as the largest renewable energy generator in the United States.
NextEra's not alone. Besides private Iberdrola, other utilities and investors are looking to wind as the most cost-effective and viable renewable energy for the United States.
Both Duke Energy (DUK -0.59%) and Exelon (EXC 0.16%) have made significant strides in the past five years to diversify their energy portfolios. Duke currently generates over 1,000 MW of wind power from 11 farms, and has plans for 600 MW more by the end of 2013.
Exelon operates 39 wind projects capable of generating 922 MW, and its "Exelon 2020: A Low-Carbon Roadmap" goal plans to eliminate the equivalent of the company's 2001 carbon emissions by 2020.
General Electric (GE -0.34%) offers an interesting wind work-around, as it produces much of the wind technology and turbines used by utilities. Its newest WindBOOST control software can increase a turbine's output by over 6%, pushing per-turbine productivity from 1.5 MW to 1.6 MW.
Even Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B -0.25%) (BRK.A -0.17%) is getting in on the action. The holding company acquired two wind farms in September, bringing unprecedented legitimacy to the world of wind investing.
Wind's windy city ally
With President Obama remaining in office, with his energy agenda firmly set on diversifying our domestic energy production, NOAA's and NextEra's collaboration could be the start of a renewable renaissance.
The Obama Administration's "Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future" has set a goal for 80% of our electricity to originate from clean energy sources by 2035, and the government's production tax credits may go a long way to bolstering utilities' wind use.
Look into my crystal ball...
NOAA's and NextEra's collaboration is a start, and the President's clean energy R&D and innovation hubs will further boost wind power's overall clout.
Make no mistake, wind power is still in its infancy. When innovators NextEra and General Electric jumped on the wind train, investors started to take wind seriously. But when big-time stalwarts like Duke, Exelon, and Berkshire Hathaway demanded their piece of the pie, traditional analysts began to wonder if there really was wealth in windmills.
This newest collaboration is just one of a series of initiatives that will help to establish wind's place as a legitimate energy source. Data may ultimately prove the lack of viability in certain areas where wind power is currently being generated, but it will just as likely bolster evidence for where wind works best.
The energy world is not the inflation-proof, slow-moving behemoth it was 20 years ago, and investors would be wise to consider the opportunities blowing their way.