Nevin Schaeffer

2015 Summer Internship Program

It's Not Always Cloudy in the Pacific Northwest: Characterizing the Solar Resources and Solar Irradiance Variability

Nevin SchaefferMy name is Nevin Schaeffer and I participated in the 2015 summer internship program at the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO). I am entering my senior year at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA this fall, majoring in Atmospheric and Earth Science. 

As a 2015 JISAO intern, I had the opportunity to work with Drs. Laura Hinkelman and Tom Ackerman. The topic of interest was solar irradiance availability and variability in the Pacific Northwest. With the integration of commercial solar power generating plants into the energy grid on the rise, it is important for power grid operators to understand the inherent variability of solar energy as a resource as well as the variability caused by clouds so they can predict fluctuations in the incoming power and reduce costs associated with smoothing the grid. Additionally, while often overlooked as a location worthy of large solar power infrastructure, the Pacific Northwest actually has a comparable solar resource to Florida thanks to clear sunny days up to 16 hrs long in the summertime. Where in the Pacific Northwest region would be best for commercial solar power infrastructure?

Using five minute resolution solar irradiance data  available from the University of Oregon Solar Radiation Laboratory for the years 2003-2014 I was able to compare five sites spread throughout the Pacific Northwest.The sites were chosen based on reliability of instruments and diligent maintenance and included Burns, OR, Dillon, MT, Eugene, OR, Hermiston, OR, and Twin Falls, ID. By comparing these sites I was able to examine the spatial variability of solar irradiance due to geographical and climatological differences. Statistics on short-term variability (5-60 min intervals) were also computed, determining that the Springtime months are the most variable on an annual basis, among other interesting findings.

This summer internship provided me with the fantastic opportunity to work closely with experienced scientists and researchers, delve completely into an semi-independent research project and gain valuable computer science experience through working with big datasets in R and Python. I would like to thank the National Science Foundation for funding this highly constructive summer of research, as well as JISAO for the great people and facility.



Nevin's research poster

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