Research

NNMREC is structured to close key gaps in understanding through supporting baseline studies, conducting ongoing monitoring, and leading technical, ecological, and human dimensions standards research in marine energy projects.

In addition to our three research focus points (links below), we invite you to view our Publications and contribute to our Open Data, a project with a mission to share data among developers of marine renewable energy.

Technical

Environmental

Social

Photo: the Ocean Sentinel Instrumentation Buoy.

Technical

Technical Research

Technical Research

Wave energy technology is still in its infancy and, much like wind technology 20 years ago, many wave energy conversion (WEC) devices, like the one pictured here, have been developed but no single technology has been proven superior.  Only a handful of full-scale devices have been tested in the world and no commercial installations yet exist.  There are currently four general technology categories and hundreds of different prototypes.  Development and testing of a variety of devices is being carried out in all corners of the world, including Oregon. 

Major technical considerations for wave energy development include the ability of devices to withstand a harsh ocean environment, and device efficiency, both of which are considered key to wave energy’s economic success. The key technology challenges are associated with not only electrical generation and output, but mechanical systems, mooring and anchoring, survivability and reliability, predictability (wave forecasting), and integration of the generated power into the existing electrical grid. All of these considerations are under investigation through NNMREC research and through testing these devices in lab and field (ocean) facilities.

Devices
Worldwide, over a hundred conceptual designs of wave energy conversion (WEC) devices have been developed, but only a few have been built as full-scale prototypes or tested. Most have been in Europe. Currently, there are four main types of WEC devices that generate or convert energy from waves. The US Department of Energy has developed an extensive database of examples and categorized different types by technology and other attributes.

Standards
Standards guide the development of marine energy technology. They are of critical importance and are currently being established through the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), which has established a new committee, TC 114, Marine Energy. Standards will be applied at the PMEC facilities and are being developed for the following:

  • System definitions
  • Performance measurement of wave, tidal, and water current energy converters
  • Resource assessment requirements, design, and survivability
  • Safety requirements
  • Power quality
  • Manufacturing and factory testing
  • Evaluation and mitigation of environmental impact

Environmental

Environmental Research

Wave energy devices may exert a range of effects on the environment, not all of which will necessarily lead to relevant or negative changes in the marine environment. The deployment of wave energy devices can effect the environment in which they are sited primarily in two ways:

  • Wave energy devices will remove energy from the ocean, making less available for natural processes at the site.
  • Wave energy arrays will introduce hard structures, creating new and different habitat types.

Reductions in nearshore ocean energy may change current patterns and water mixing, potentially affecting organisms by altering food delivery patterns or rates, the mixing of eggs and sperm, the dispersal of spores and/or larvae, and how temperature varies throughout the water column. Changes in water movement also can affect how sand is moved along the coast. Since sediment grain size often determines which animals can live in the sand, changes to sand movement may affect the distribution of organisms. These wave, current and sediment transport effects will be technology- and location-specific.

The second environmental effects to consider are those that arise simply from having a device in the water. Because these devices are large and likely to be deployed in large groups, the presence of these devices also may alter current flows, having effects similar to those described above. The effects of structures can further be divided into localized effects and those on migratory species. Local effects stem from the introduction of artificial hard substrate, which could be colonized by a variety of organisms, including non-native species. Larger and migratory species may be at risk for entanglement in cables associated with the structures. Noise and electromagnetic fields could interfere with communication or navigation and lighting of the surface elements of the devices may affect sea birds in that they may be attracted to the area, avoid the area, or be confused about their location relative to shore. Avoidance of the area may result in longer migration or forage times.

Pictured here, Dr. Sarah Henkel measures a starfish off the coast of Newport, Oregon.

Social

Social Research

The emerging wave energy industry has the opportunity to be developed in a “socially responsible manner.” But what does this mean, exactly? Will there be positive effects for society and how it functions? Will people want to stay in the area because they want to live, work, or recreate there?

We must be aware that society can be skeptical of new technologies, especially when there are unanswered questions related to economic and ecological effects. Taking steps to assure this means to address the human dimension issues and answering social, economic, political, and cultural questions through research. Examples of this include:

  • How is wave energy generation off of the Oregon coast being perceived in general?
  • Who are the stakeholders and how are they engaged?
  • Is this activity further defining differences in rural and urban perceptions of the coast and the direction of its economic and social development?
  • Cumulatively how does the human dimension of the wave energy equation effect public perceptions, public policy and the successful adoption of wave energy technology along Oregon’s coast?
  • Who’s responsible for planning and regulating this new use of the ocean -- federal, state or local government? What should the processes be for permitting?
  • What are all of the correct steps that should be followed? 

The wave energy industry also has the opportunity (and the responsibility where possible) to stimulate local community and economic development. Examples of this include job creation, funding for schools and other social infrastructure, support for workforce development, etc.

To address these and other socioeconomic questions, the emerging wave energy industry must reach out to inform and engage with local ocean users and the public early in the process. In addition, the public must be educated about these technologies, their promises and effects, so that they can participate in decision-making. 

Learn more about NNMREC's people and their research mission http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSDG6VqsXM8

Publications

NNMREC publications, reports, and presentations may be found in the following two databases:

  Oregon State University's Scholars Archive

  Marine and Hydrokinetic Technology Database Open EI

TETHYS is an additional resource that may be useful:

  The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's TETHYS