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Originally published Monday, March 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Helping developers map out renewable energy source

Remember the thrill of checking out your house from outer space with Google Earth? Now a Seattle company wants you to know whether there's...

Seattle Times business reporter

Remember the thrill of checking out your house from outer space with Google Earth? Now a Seattle company wants you to know whether there's enough wind to power it with renewable energy.

3Tier, a weather-consulting service geared toward renewable-energy developers, is expected to release a global wind map, available free on the Web.

The company also aims to create a similar tool to portray the potential of solar energy, to be released within the next 18 months.

The wind map doubles as evangelism for Aeolic energy and as a promotional tool for 3Tier. It will provide average yearly wind data over a 15 square kilometer area; if users are interested, they can request a more detailed report from the company.

Until now the data for the U.S. has been available on the company's Web site, but 3Tier founder Kenneth Westrick wanted it to be available to decision-makers across the developing world.

The 30 percent of the globe's population that lives without electricity faces an "information barrier," Westrick said.

If politicians and entrepreneurs know their regions have potential for wind farms or solar arrays, they could start planning them, he said.

"Profitable" speeds

For a wind project to be profitable, wind speeds must reach an annual average of 6 meters per second. But it also needs to be near transmission lines that reach population centers.

According to 3Tier's map, the Washington Coast and the Olympic Peninsula are quite breezy but they're too remote, says 3Tier President Pascal Stork.

"You can't just build a wind farm where it's windy. You need to get the energy out," he said.

Eastern Washington, on the other hand, has ample transmission capacity, built to serve hydroelectric power generated from dams. That, combined with sufficient wind speed, makes it prime wind farm country, Stork said.

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In the global map, Africa stands out as a region with a lot of wind potential, Stork said. But lack of transmission capacity remains a roadblock there.

Westrick, a former University of Washington researcher, started 3Tier in 2001, anticipating that renewable energy would become a booming business.

The company models and monitors weather patterns that affect solar, wind and hydroelectric projects; nowadays power purchasers, traders, utilities and alternative energy developers buy 3Tier's products.

Payroll doubles

Its payroll has doubled in the past year to more than 50 employees, many of them atmospheric scientists, Stork said.

Almost all of its products are delivered through the Web. In 2007 revenues reached $4 million, 70 percent more than the previous year.

3Tier, a closely held company, last year raised $2 million from Good Energies, an investment fund specialized in renewable energy.

Closely following the weather allows operators to predict when a source of energy might peak, or fail.

"Forecasts help maintain grid stability," Stork said.

Ángel González: 206-515-5644 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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