Free wave energy simulation tool assists close to 100 tech developers

Built by researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Sandia National Laboratories, the Wave Energy Converter SIMulator (WEC-Sim) has assisted close to 100 developers to improve their wave energy research and designs.

Mechanical engineering researchers discuss WEC-Sim tool (Courtesy of NREL/Photo by Werner Slocum)
Mechanical engineering researchers discuss WEC-Sim tool (Courtesy of NREL/Photo by Werner Slocum)

The award-winning WEC-Sim tool is the first-of-its-kind, open-source code that allows developers to simulate how much electricity their theoretical device could produce and how well it could handle the open ocean.

Ocean waves move in six different directions – heaving up and down, rushing forward and back, and swirling in elliptical orbits like satellites around the Earth.

Wave energy converters, on the other hand, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. To handle almost all these highly variable designs, developers can customize WEC-Sim.

And they have been – in large numbers, too, according to NREL.

To date, close to 100 wave energy researchers and developers have published papers crediting the tool for helping them analyze and fine-tune their machines.

In 2021 alone, WEC-Sim was cited in a record 27 new papers.

“Because developers don’t always publicly report their WEC-Sim use, the number of developers who have relied on WEC-Sim’s simulations could be more than double that amount,” said Nathan Tom, mechanical engineer at NREL who helped design the tool.

Those hundreds of developers come from all over the world. WEC-Sim users are sprawled across almost every country. While most papers citing the software are from the United States, researchers in India, England, China, Spain, and Sweden are using WEC-Sim, too.

Increased certainty is perhaps WEC-Sim’s greatest gift to developers, NREL stated. The code provides precise data on how a wave energy device will work and also how each critical component will function in waves of various heights and forces.

That includes the floating body (like the paddle or buoy), joints and constraints (that let it flex and stay anchored), the power take-off (which transforms ocean motions into usable electricity), and mooring systems (which keep the device tethered to one site).

All that knowledge can save developers a whole lot of time and money, according to NREL.

The software keeps getting better as researchers developing the tool continue collecting more experimental data, so they can use it to verify how well their theoretical models predict reality and then close any gaps.

Together, the two-laboratory team continues to add new and improved features to WEC-Sim to make it even more versatile.

In October 2021, they released WEC-Sim version 4.4, which can now simulate how spherical joints (also known as ball-and-socket joints) and cable connections between two devices affect energy production.

The team also added a wave visualization function that creates a video or GIF image that developers can watch to see how their design moves in smaller or bigger waves.

“WEC-Sim is great not only because it’s versatile, but also because it can reduce the uncertainty involved in building novel wave energy converters for grid-connected wave energy farms, platforms for recharging autonomous underwater vehicles, and much more,” said mechanical engineer Thanh Toan Tran, another member of NREL who helped build the code.

To remind, the WEC-Sim tool was used by NASA and Lockheed Martin to ensure a safe landing of the Orion crew module in the ocean.

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