NREL researchers help developers prepare for harsh wave energy conditions of the Pacific

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have started working with four promising wave energy companies as they prepare to deploy their devices at PacWave South, a new grid-connected wave energy test site off the Oregon coast.

Seven wave energy companies are receiving expert guidance from NREL’s water power researchers (Courtesy of NREL/Photo by Joe DelNero)

NREL’s pre-PacWave lab support, which is funded by the US Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, will help ensure these four devices – as well as three additional earlier-stage designs – can either edge closer to commercial success or ace their open-ocean trial.

According to the researchers, the upcoming PacWave trials can help more than just individual devices get that edge – they could also help build confidence in the entire wave energy industry.

Namely, with the help from the laboratory’s water power experts and instruments, four companies – CalWave Power Technologies, Columbia Power Technologies (C-Power), Littoral Power Systems, and Portland State University (working with Aquaharmonics) – will put their prototypes through rigorous testing to see if they can withstand extreme waves, corrosive salt water, and the constant pressure exerted by wave after wave after wave.

In addition, three other companies – Dehlsen Associates, Integral Consulting, and Oscilla Power – will receive feedback on their wave energy designs so they can hone them before building a prototype.

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“Wave energy resources are predictable and reliable,” said Michael Lawson, the marine energy group manager for NREL’s water power research and development program. That makes wave energy a dependable partner for other, more variable renewable energy resources, like wind energy and solar power.

According to Lawson, this is why wave energy could help support the United States’ transition to clean energy

“PacWave’s test site will expose devices to the harsh ocean conditions necessary to rigorously test their performance and reliability. Developing marine energy technologies is inherently complex. We try to make it just a little bit simpler,” said Lawson.

Specialized support for each wave energy device

NREL’s experts offer a slew of wave-energy-related guidance. They can, for example, stress-test different components to see how long they might endure, check how a device might operate once connected to the grid, calculate a technology’s economic potential, or collect data on a prototype during operation – often with a custom-made Modular Ocean Data Acquisition system, or MODAQ.

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As no two wave energy devices are exactly alike, each of the four PacWave-destined wave energy devices will receive specialized support. NREL experts will, for example, search for flaws lurking in testing plans, designs, instruments, or physical components. These final checks will help ensure each device functions as intended during its PacWave trial, according to NREL.

Several companies will receive a custom MODAQ. Integral Consulting will receive guidance on how to use large marine energy data sets to model and validate their early-stage technology design. And the final two companies, Dehlsen Associates and Oscilla Power, will work to streamline their designs, which could one day end up riding the waves at PacWave.

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