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Monday, July 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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3TIER weather forecasts tied to renewable energy

What: 3TIER Environmental Forecast Group, based in Seattle

Who: Kenneth Westrick, 44, CEO and co-founder

What it does: Provides energy companies with forecasts and assessments dealing with wind, solar and hydro power.

Employees: 16. Offices are in Seattle and Medellin, Colombia. Another is set to open in Panama City by the end of 2006.

Behind the name: 3TIER stands for land, atmosphere and water.

Roots: Westrick and company President Pascal Storck founded the company in 1999. The first office was a bedroom. Westrick, who worked with Storck at the University of Washington, said it was hard to acquire funding, but the company landed a couple of good contracts and was incorporated in 2001.

Money: Self-funded until a few months ago, when Toronto-based Good Energies invested.

Learned staff: Westrick said 82 percent of employees have degrees in computer science, meteorology, atmospheric sciences or engineering. Half have Ph.D.s. Because computers do much of the forecasting, employees must be able to translate their knowledge into computer code.

Technically savvy: The company has a room full of computers in Seattle with 330 processors. It started out with 12. The Seattle office moved to the Westin Building for a more reliable connection to the Internet since clients around the world get forecasts as often as every 10 minutes.

The big picture: Westrick said the company does forecasts for renewable-energy projects in China, Colombia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other developing countries. "There's almost a moral obligation for the developed world to help developing countries jump over the fossil-fuel era," he said.

Never a hundred percent: 3TIER has an advantage over national weather services because its forecasts are specific — wind power at a certain site at a certain time, for example. But even with targeted forecasts, it's impossible to be right every time. Westrick said utility companies first are skeptical about the accuracy of forecasts. "We show them we can do a good job, then they completely swing the other way and want 100 percent accuracy."

Energy irony: "The fuel is free once you get it operational, but with all the money in the world, you can't turn the wind on," said Westrick.

— Bibeka Shrestha

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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