NREL advances data collection tools to accelerate development of marine energy industry

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have made progress with the development of data-gathering tools to help accelerate the development of marine energy technologies.

L to R: NREL researchers Casey Nichols and Andrew Simms (Courtesy of NREL/Photo by Werner Slocum)
NREL’s researchers can provide custom-built MODAQs for marine energy developers (Courtesy of NREL/Photo by Werner Slocum)
NREL’s researchers can provide custom-built MODAQs for marine energy developers (Courtesy of NREL/Photo by Werner Slocum)

“Marine energy technologies could be a big help in fighting climate change,” said NREL water power researcher Casey Nichols. “The faster we can get marine energy technologies up and running, the faster they could help us power the blue economy, energize isolated communities, and move us to a renewable energy grid.”

Nichols, along with fellow water power researcher Andrew Simms and a broader NREL team, builds tools that collect high-quality data for marine energy developers. Called Modular Ocean Data Acquisition (MODAQ), these data collection systems can provide information on a vast variety of marine energy prototypes, including their potential energy production and performance characteristics like, for example, how they move and respond to ocean waves.

With MODAQ, users can assess their prototypes’ promise all the way from the lab bench to the open ocean to quickly hone their designs, according to NREL.

“To have a successful deployment, you need to collect the right data in the right way. If you don’t, you can lose a ton of money and a ton of time. It could really hinder your project. We developed MODAQ to use the highest-quality measurement equipment while following industry standards to ensure the data collected is accurate,” Nichols said.

MODAQ consists of three distinct products: MODAQ Field, MODAQ Cloud, and MODAQ Web. Together, these tools are said to offer everything from in-the-field data acquisition and remote control of ocean bound devices to data storage and processing.

Users can access a data summary almost as quickly as the data is collected, NREL said. As MODAQ is marine energy standards-compliant, developers can also use the tool to conduct accredited tests – third-party verifications of a device’s performance – which can help boost investor and customer confidence in the technology, NREL claims.

MODAQs can also be custom-built, and one research team at the University of Hawaii is making use of such approach to refine small-scale version of their wave energy prototype, the Hawaiʻi Wave Surge Energy Converter (HAWSEC), which could someday power Hawaii’s coastal communities.

The team’s MODAQ enabled them to collect reliable data at the lab bench, in wave tank tests at Oregon State University, and in an open water field test at Hawaii’s Makai Research Pier.

“We basically built one hardware system for three device deployments, which we’ve never done before,” Simms said.

So far, the Hawaii team’s MODAQ data has closely matched models generated with NREL’s Wave Energy Converter Simulator (also known as WEC-Sim) – a sign that WEC-Sim’s theoretical models provide realistic results, according to NREL.

For the HAWSEC team and other marine energy developers, MODAQ systems provide accurate, reliable, and standardized data to assess their devices’ performance so they can avoid building their own data collection systems from scratch, which often comes at great expense.

“Marine energy technology developers are basically trying do something entirely new in one of the harshest environments on earth. Data is one of the best tools we have to improve the reliability and reduce the cost of marine energy industry deployments,” Simms concluded.

In the next couple of years, Nichols, Simms, and the rest of NREL’s MODAQ team will be focused on developing MODAQ 2.0, expected to be an even more accessible and cost-effective version of the system.

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