US researchers study waves and tides off east and west coasts

NREL and ORPC researchers deploying a buoy off Maine (Photo: US DOE)

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has started recording wave and tide movements off Oregon and Maine to collect data that will support the development of marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) industry in the United States.

NREL has deployed buoys with high-accuracy sensors to record wave and tide movement in areas known to be potential hot spots for MHK energy development.

Researchers aim to collect data that will support industry’s efforts to deploy MHK devices, the US Department of Energy (DOE) said.

In collaboration with subcontractor Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC), NREL is conducting tidal measurements in an inlet off the Bay of Fundy, near Eastport in Maine. The area is said to have the potential to generate an estimated 180MW of renewable MHK energy.

NREL deployed three subsurface buoys on the location to measure underwater tidal water speeds and turbulence, an area of research lacking sufficient data.

Levi Kilcher, Project Manager at NREL, said: “Just the way air turbulence shakes a plane, it also shakes wind turbines – and it does the same thing to tidal energy turbines. We are measuring the turbulence so that device simulations are based on realistic conditions, which will help engineers design robust and economical devices.”

In Oregon, where the US wave resource is particularly energetic, the researchers have deployed two measurement buoys that will assist in validating computer models for wave energy deployments in shallow waters.

DOE said the buoys will occasionally be relocated to other promising wave sites, such as those off Alaska and California, where the buoys will be deployed later this year.

The work is part of larger project funded by DOI, together with Sandia National Laboratories and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The aim is to fill in the gaps in existing measurements by collecting new wave and tidal data from the sites with great potential in order to validate the computer modeling tools that industry uses to design MHK devices.

“The data will be publicly available, so device developers can use it in device simulations to test and improve their technology.They can also use the data to design arrays of devices,” added Kilcher.