Causes of and Solutions to Wind Speed Bias in NREL's 2020 Offshore Wind Resource Assessment for the California Pacific Outer Continental Shelf

Nicola Bodini, Mike Optis, Ye Liu, Brian Gaudet, Raghavendra Krishnamurthy, Andrew Kumler, David Rosencrans, Alex Rybchuk, Sheng-Lun Tai, Larry Berg, Walter Musial, Julie Lundquist, Avi Purkayastha, Ethan Young, Caroline Draxl

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


This report provides the results of a detailed analysis into the causes of high wind speed bias in the 20-year wind resource data set for offshore California the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released in 2020, herein called CA20. The data set was developed using the state-of-the-art Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. Notably, no floating lidars were available at the time in offshore California to validate offshore hub-height wind speeds. In late 2020, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) deployed two floating lidars in the California outer continental shelf (OCS), near the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) call areas of Humboldt and Morro Bay. Using these observations through 2021, NREL found considerable bias in modeled hub-height winds at both locations: up to +2 m/s at Humboldt over a 6-month period, and up to +1 m/s at Morro Bay over a one-year period. Upon the discovery of this bias, the Department of Energy (DOE) and BOEM funded NREL and PNNL to investigate the causes of, impacts of, and solutions to the bias in the CA20 data set. This report summarizes the findings of this research. We first investigated whether different WRF model setups could lead to reduced bias. We found that the choice of planetary boundary layer (PBL) scheme - which controls the vertical turbulent mixing of momentum, heat, and moisture in the lowermost part of the atmosphere - greatly affected hub-height wind speeds in the region. Specifically, switching from the Mellor-Yamada-Nakanishi-Niino (MYNN) scheme used in CA20 (and widely used across a range of operational and research weather models) to the less common Yonsei University (YSU) scheme nearly eliminated the bias at both the Humboldt and Morro Bay lidar locations. The large discrepancy between the MYNN- and YSU-modeled hub-height winds pointed towards the role of atmospheric stability. In general, PBL schemes agree well in conditions of high turbulence and mixing, normally referred to as "unstable" conditions. By contrast, PBL schemes start to diverge in "stable" conditions, where turbulence is low and thermal stratification (i.e., higher temperature air sitting on top of colder air) greatly suppresses vertical mixing. Under such conditions, winds aloft can decouple from surface effects and greatly accelerate, causing high wind speeds at hub-height and frequent low-level jets (LLJs). We determined that these stable conditions are in fact dominant in offshore California. The region is characterized by moderate-to-extreme stable stratification with a LLJ on average around 200 meters above sea-level. To our knowledge, no wind energy area globally has as strongly stable stratification as offshore California. Under these extreme conditions, we determined that the MYNN scheme models higher stability than YSU, resulting in less vertical turbulent mixing than YSU, allowing for the acceleration of hub-height winds, more intense LLJs, and higher-amplitude inertial oscillations. Using surface observations, we found that MYNN overestimates near-surface stability, whereas YSU tends to model stability better. We then considered several short-term case studies to assess additional meteorological drivers of the bias at Humboldt. We found that during synoptic scale northerly flows driven by the North Pacific High and inland thermal low, a coastal warm bias in the MYNN case studies contributes to the modeled wind speed bias by altering the boundary layer thermodynamics via a thermal wind mechanism. Given the strong performance of the YSU-based runs in offshore California, NREL has produced and published an updated version of the CA20 data set with YSU as the PBL scheme. This updated data set is now part of NREL's 2023 National Offshore Wind (NOW-23) data set, which covers all the U.S. offshore waters. The development and final validation of the NOW-23 data set in offshore California is documented in this report.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages30
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5000-88215


  • bias
  • CA20
  • California
  • NOW-23
  • offshore wind


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