Oceans of Wave Energy Innovation

by Carolyn Elefant on February 22, 2012

oceanbulbOne of the most exciting aspects of practicing law in the marine and hydrokinetic space is that I have a birds-eye view of innovation-in-action.  And while I sometimes think that it might be nice to work in a more mature industry like wind, where the three-blade turbine design is set or stone (or more accurately, fiber glass),  in the MHK business, there’s always something new over the horizon.

Even now.  Though leaders like Ocean Power Technologies have a technology that’s ready to go once a FERC license issues (should be getting close now that water quality certificate has been granted), other designs continue to bubble up, according to Forbes.  What’s even more interesting is that it’s not just the prototypes themselves that are changing, but also the method used for testing them.  Thanks to new software technology, companies are able to quickly test hundreds of designs in “virtual” oceans before settling on a prototype to scale up.  And even at full scale, software simulations continue to help companies with existing prototypes build and refine designs.  Finally, new advancements have enabled companies to simplify device design – a positive development since fewer moving parts will produce a more dependable machine that can survive in the harsh marine climate. 

Even a technology like Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), which has been around for almost a century, is still evolving.  OTEC’s achilles heel hasn’t been technology so much as cost; scaling up requires enormous intake pipes more than a mile or more and they don’t come cheap.  But now,
Clean Technica reports on a breakthrough by Lockheed which may reduce the cost and boost the efficiencies of OTEC’s heat exchangers. Though this won’t solve all of the cost issues related to scaling up OTEC, it’s an important step in the right direction.

Finally, new technology may even help companies learn more about ocean currents.
Reuters reports on a company, Liquid Robotics, with its new Wave Glider technology – essentially, it’s a floating robot — that can measure large amounts of ocean data and track minute variations in current that wouldn’t have been practical to track using old technology.  Not clear whether it will have direct implications for wave technology, but it’s another innovation to keep an eye on.

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