MAREC to collaborate with U of M, MSU in Lake Michigan research

MAREC to collaborate with U of M, MSU in Lake Michigan research

Samantha Butcher

As part of a unique collaboration between Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center and researchers at the Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI), Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, a new research platform intended for Lake Michigan is on schedule to arrive in Muskegon tonight.

The 17-by-17-foot buoy will help researchers collect real-time data on a number of factors, including information on wind, water quality and the flight paths of birds and bats over the Great Lakes. The platform, which will spend a week in Muskegon Lake for trials before moving into Lake Michigan for data collection, will help determine whether off-shore wind farms are a viable energy source.

“There’s significant interest in off-shore wind energy for the future, but the question is, is that viable?” said Arn Boezaart, director of MAREC. “We have a lot of statistical data from satellite modelling, but little real time data. What we’ll be doing is real scientific research.”

The research platform will employ LiDAR, a new laser technology that works by aiming a beam of infrared light vertically, to measure the direction, speed, temperature and strength of the wind at multiple heights simultaneously. The platform is also unique in its mobility, a significant benefit compared to stationary wind towers, which Boezaart said tend to be expensive, politically unpopular and technically-difficult “eyesores.”

“This is very innovative,” Boezaart said.

The $3.3 million research platform was funded through a number of grants: $1.3 million from the Michigan Public Service Commission, $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, $260,000 from the Phoenix Energy Institute at the University of Michigan, $250,000 from Wisconsin Energy and $30,000 from the Sierra Club.

The Muskegon Lake trial will help ensure the device’s accuracy. Because the technology is new and largely untested, the research platform will first be anchored near one of MAREC’s wind towers in the lake and the two devices’ data will be compared. Boezaart said that while he doesn’t expect the two readouts to be identical, they should be similar.

After the trial ends, the buoy will be moved to Lake Michigan, where it will be anchored about four miles off the shore until mid-November, or when the icy season hits. Once winter thaws, the device will be placed back into Lake Michigan, this time on the Michigan side of the mid-lake plateau, a more shallow area in the center of the lake.

“This is a very unique comprehensive research project,” Boezaart said. “It’s significant in that it’s a multi-university effort. … Our role is to gather the research and collect the data, and others will determine if the research indicates a viable industry.”

Although MAREC is coordinating and managing the project, the undertaking is a collaborative effort. In addition to the AWRI, University of Michigan and Michigan State, the Padnos College of Engineering at GVSU and We Energies, a Wisconsin-based energy company, will also assist in the collection and interpretation of data.

Boezaart said that while wind patterns are the primary focus, the avian studies coming out of Michigan State also have significant implications.

“There’s always concern about flight paths and patterns of flight as bird migrate, because that can be impacted if people build wind farms,” he said. “Especially in regards to bat studies, we know very little about their behavior over water, especially the Great Lakes. We think they fly over the water — we know they fly over smaller, inland lakes — but we don’t know for sure, and that can impact things.”

Boezaart said that the earliest that meaningful results from the study would be available would likely be around June.

For more information, visit the MAREC website at

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