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Madison’s WInstruments allows weather watchers to go inside the storm

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Kubicek also sees his microgrid system as a boon to utilities, which could benefit greatly from real-time information on weather conditions.

“One of the things our microgrids can do is help you know more about [conditions at] substations,” said Kubicek. “So the storm’s coming in, you’re able to see that, okay, there’s going to be some hail or heavy winds that are heading toward my substation within 10 minutes. I’ll notify our maintenance crew to get out there and be ready for some sort of outage that may occur, and hopefully they’ll be able to use that knowledge to either stop a power outage or get it repaired faster by being early on the scene.”

The eureka moment

Kubicek, who has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s in atmospheric science from UW-Madison (his business partner, Bryan Dow, is currently working on a master’s in mechanical engineering from the UW), came up with the idea for WInstruments partly to address a perceived need and partly as an extension of his lifelong fascination with weather.

“I’ve been kind of a huge weather geek my entire life, and I didn’t really know I wanted that to be my career until I did some cleanup after Hurricane Katrina back in 2005 and saw the raw power of weather,” said Kubicek. “But the idea for the weather stations came about when I was at my parents’ place on Lake Beulah in East Troy and I heard a bunch of sailors at this yacht club complaining about how they don’t know where the winds are on the lakes. The winds could be anywhere on one side of the lake. You could get a breeze somewhere and wouldn’t have any idea which direction or how strong the wind was on any given part of the lake. … So they would go out and spend half a day getting their boat ready and then go out and see if there’s no wind or the wind was actually too high.”

That sailor’s conundrum prompted a “eureka moment” for Kubicek.

“I thought I could build a network that could actually see the winds around the lake, and once I kind of got that thought process going, I thought, wait, wouldn’t it actually be great to have this all over the place if you could actually see weather for different types of places?”

If all goes well, Kubicek might actually see his vision of ubiquitous weather stations that relay on-the-ground data come to fruition. But first, the system needs to be thoroughly tested. Kubicek said the company hopes to implement its first grid, consisting of about 10 stations, in Madison within the next two months. The company is also working on securing investments that would allow it to deploy grids in Milwaukee and Illinois as well.

Kubicek said that for the time being, the company needs to make sure all the bugs are worked out of the system, and his top priorities are making sure that deploying the stations becomes easier, that the software works, and that they be low maintenance with respect to repairs.

And if WInstruments can get beyond the proof-of-concept stage, there appears to be no limit to the territory it can cover.

“If we get a lot of them deployed, these weather stations will just take off, but in the meantime we can deploy these smaller microgrids and they can work independently to create weather data for smaller areas,” said Kubicek. “And the value will grow with the more coverage that we have.”

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