Tracking Tomorrow’s Category 5: Marine Renewable Energy Turns the Tide

MRE can power everything from coastal cities to the AUVs that predict catastrophic storms. Image credit: Pexels

The ocean holds immense promise and peril. This renewable, plentiful source of energy could do everything from helping satisfy our country’s growing energy demands to powering the devices that track the dangerous storms that threaten coastal communities.

NREL LogoToday’s marine renewable energy (MRE) experts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO), are seeking new ideas for capturing and employing the vast power contained within our oceans and rivers.

As part of this effort, WPTO and the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) program at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched the Ocean Observing Prize. The prize inspires innovators to imagine tomorrow’s tech to revolutionize data collection to better understand, map, and monitor the ocean, as well as track dangerous storms like hurricanes.

Should they accept the challenge, competitors will be tasked with integrating marine energy systems with ocean observation platforms, such as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), to enable longer deployments at sea for better data capture.

Riders on the Storm

This fall will mark the launch of the second stage of the prize: the DEVELOP Competition.

Competitors will integrate wave energy with AUVs, allowing their batteries to be recharged while the vehicle is on mission—specifically for the purpose of hurricane monitoring in the Atlantic Ocean.

Why the focus on hurricane monitoring?

While scientists and researchers have become fairly adept at modeling and forecasting storm tracks, forecasting storm intensity remains a challenge. And the stakes could not be higher; for example, the difference between a Category 2 and a Category 3 hurricane can be significant, and inaccuracies in forecasting could have dire consequences for coastal communities in its path.

Predicting storm intensity is challenging, largely due to a dearth of data, which can be addressed by collecting in-situ data before, during, and after a hurricane develops and strengthens at sea. Amassing this type of data, however, requires an ocean observing platform that can be deployed at sea for long periods of time to wait for approaching storms.

While some systems do have the ability to stay out at sea for an extended duration, they are often restricted to surface operations or limited in speed, maneuverability, or in the number of data collecting instruments that they can host. A self-charging AUV could address those limitations—which is where the Ocean Observing Prize comes into play.

Spurring Observation Innovation

In the DEVELOP Competition, participants will construct functioning prototypes of their AUV designs to be tested in both a controlled environment and, subsequently, real-world conditions in the ocean.

Submissions will be scored on a handful of critical functional AUV requirements such as data collection, recharging, and maneuvering.

The prize aims to ensure that these inspired ideas make it to the marketplace, too. Participants will be encouraged to consider the business aspects of commercializing their systems and will be provided with support for both their system designs and business models.

The competition is not expecting submissions of commercially ready systems that are prepared for long-term ocean deployment, but rather is seeking prototypes that can demonstrate the basic functionality of the final system. The idea being that the competitors can build off their prototypes, refining their designs to produce a commercially ready product following the close of the competition.

By dreaming up the deep sea data collecting devices of tomorrow, the competitors can help improve our understanding of what lies beneath the waves, along with the severe storm prediction necessary to protect our coastal communities.

Learn more about NREL’s groundbreaking marine renewable energy research and follow the Powering the Blue Economy™: Ocean Observing Prize to be the first to know about the launch of the DEVELOP Competition rules.

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