How Should Machine Learning Be Successfully Used for Wind Speed Vertical Extrapolation?

Nicola Bodini, Mike Optis

Research output: NRELPoster


An accurate characterization of the wind resource available at hub-height is required for an efficient and bankable wind farm project. However, direct measurement of wind speed at the constantly increasing height of the hub of commercial wind turbines is oftentimes challenging and expensive, so that it is common practice to vertically extrapolate the wind resource from lower and more easily accessible levels. Conventional techniques for wind speed vertical extrapolation include the use of a power law and a logarithmic profile. While simple, the limits in accuracy of these methods have been shown in various studies. Recently, machine learning has been proposed as a new method to vertically extrapolate winds. All the published studies on the topic assess the performance of machine learning techniques in vertically extrapolating the wind resource at the same location where the algorithm has been trained. However, in real-world applications, the wind resource is measured at the instrument location, but it then needs to be extrapolated at hub height at the location of the wind turbines within the find farm. To be able to fully recommend the use of machine learning techniques over the simple power law and logarithmic law, the spatial variability of the performance improvements of the machine learning approaches needs to be assessed. Here, we propose a round-robin validation of a machine learning-based method for wind speed extrapolation. We use 20 months of observations at four locations spanning a 100 km wide region at the Southern Great Plains (SGP) atmospheric observatory, in north-central Oklahoma. At each location, we train a random forest to predict 30-min average wind speed at 143 m AGL. We use as input features lidar wind speed at 65 m AGL, time of day, sonic anemometer wind speed at 4 m AGL, turbulent kinetic energy, and Obukhov length. First, we perform a same-site comparison of the performance of the proposed random forest against the conventional techniques for wind speed extrapolation (namely power law and logarithmic profile, with widely accepted stability corrections). We find that the random forest outperforms the power law in vertically extrapolating wind speed in all the considered stability regimes, with a 33% reduction in MAE for stable conditions, and a 31% reduction in unstable conditions. Similar results are found when comparing predictions of extrapolated winds from the logarithmic profile and the random forest with the observed values. Next, we propose a round-robin validation, to use the random forest trained at each site to extrapolate wind speed at the remaining three sites. We find that the performance of the random forest approach degrades when the algorithm is tested at a site different than the training one. However, even under those circumstances, the machine learning-based approach still outperforms the conventional techniques for wind speed extrapolation, with, on average, a reduction in mean absolute error between 15 and 20% over the conventional methods, with the largest benefits obtained under stable conditions.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NamePresented at the WindEurope Technology Workshop 2020, 8-11 June 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PO-5000-77191


  • Monte Carlo
  • operational analysis
  • uncertainty


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