Why Ocean Energy Needs Digital Technology to Create Our Power
Generated by wind blowing over ocean waters, ocean waves travel large distances with little loss of energy. As such, they are a renewable resource that is more consistent and predictable than wind or solar generation. Digital technologies could integrate the power smoothly into the electric grid.
Wave farms contain arrays of wave energy converters (WECs), devices that convert the energy in rolling ocean waves to electricity. Smart wave farms also include energy storage such as batteries, sensors, communications capabilities, computational resources, and electronics to deliver electricity to an on-shore grid connection point.
All these components, as well as the algorithms that control them, together describe the cyber-physical infrastructure of the wave farm. Our team, which has people with a background in everything from wireless data communications to fluid dynamics, is determining how to optimally deploy and operate this infrastructure.
We are exploiting the predictability of ocean waves to aid people who operate wave farms and to optimize farm production. We are also deeply interested in the sustainability and market potential for future wave farms. Unlike other renewables that require fossil-fuel based generation to balance out their variations, consistent wave power will have lower CO2 emissions. We are evaluating this effect and are studying what profits wave power producers can expect in the electricity market.
Estimates of economically recoverable wave energy along the US coasts range up to 1,170 terawatt-hours (Twh) per year using existing technology. Total electricity consumption in the US is approximately 4,000 TWh/year and coastal states use nearly 80% of the nation’s electricity. This means that the potential for clean, renewable wave power production in the US is very high.
Ocean wave characteristics can be reliably predicted up to 48 hours in advance and waves are available 90% of the day on average, compared to 20-30% for wind and solar. This key benefit will provide wave power producers more lucrative market opportunities than are currently available to more variable renewables. These profits could also offset the high initial costs of installing wave farms.