An updated marine energy atlas could give communities more energy autonomy
Nags Head, North Carolina, claims to have some of the best surfing—and the best waves—on the East Coast of the United States. But their strong waves are not just for surfers. Some of the latest renewable energy technologies could harness this ocean power to produce clean energy.
Ocean energy can provide far more benefits than just cleaner air—coastal communities, home to about 40% of Americans, often pay more for less reliable power and are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms and hurricanes. . Many cities and towns, including Nags Head, are eager to use their natural resources to build more affordable, reliable energy systems and keep them powered. And while Nags Head may have marine energy experts living right down the street, most communities don’t.
What they have is a computer.
With free, publicly available tools like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Renewable Energy Atlas and Marine Energy Atlas, anyone anywhere in the world can access the data they need to start planning their clean energy future. New features in the Marine Energy Atlas now make it even easier for communities to decide how and where to incorporate marine energy into their energy mix, and for marine energy developers to see how much electricity their facilities can generate in different locations across the US.
“It’s an analytical tool,” said Katie Peterson, project manager at NREL, when talking about the Marine Energy Atlas, “but it’s also an opportunity for people—locals—to be informed about what’s possible for their communities. It’s about democratizing marine energy in a visual way. I loved it as soon as I heard about it.”
The United States boasts enough marine energy resources—the energy contained in ocean or river waves, tides, and currents—to meet nearly 60% of the United States’ annual energy needs. Part of this power cannot be used practically. However, to build a 100% clean energy future, the world needs all the renewable energy it can get. Marine energy could also be a particularly important source of energy for coastal communities, which often rely on expensive fossil fuel supplies.
But because energy from the sea is still relatively young, solid data is hard to come by.
“We’re trying to make the Marine Energy Atlas as colorful, beautiful and informative as the tools that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration can put out, which is challenging in itself,” said Aidan Bharath, a research engineer at NREL who is assisting. improve the tool. “We democratize data so anyone can use it easily; at the same time, we are giving the marine energy industry what it needs to develop its technologies.”
“I haven’t seen any tool that is directly comparable,” Bharath said.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Hydropower Technology and created with the help of researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, the recently updated Atlas of Marine Energy is, as Bharath hoped, both beautiful and informative. Users can zoom in on the east and west coasts of the United States, Hawaii or Alaska to see how high the waves are or how fast the currents are moving in those waters. Near the coast, the atlas provides a data point every 200 meters (about the length of two football fields); such high spatial resolution is unique to the Marine Energy Atlas and benefits marine energy developers looking for a location to install their equipment.
“To predict future waves, we need to understand historical waves, winds and weather,” Bharath said. The more data, the better, which is why the team just added more back (or historical) data so researchers can build models to more accurately predict future climate scenarios. Starting this year, users can access data points collected every three hours for the past 42 years of waves.
“With these backcast estimates, you can see the trend of how high the wave height could potentially be, so you can accurately estimate the wave power and wave energy that you can get,” Peterson said. By the end of 2022, the atlas will also receive even more data from the global mapping tool of the international company Ocean Energy Systems. “We’re going to be getting loads of new data sets,” Peterson said.
More data means more accurate estimates for marine energy developers and researchers. But users can’t just hop on a laptop and quickly process all that data to get the answer they need. So Bharath created a tool that does this processing for them – in minutes. With the new Capacity Factor Tool, users can upload information to their wave energy device to estimate how much electricity it could generate in the waters off Nags Head, for example.
“With the capacity factor tool,” Bharath said, “we hope to make those calculations easier, to serve as a first stepping stone for someone to see how well their device will perform and find viable deployment sites.”
Bharath and the Marine Energy Atlas team welcome user feedback on this new tool. They are also preparing to add more features. For example, soon users will be able to save their data selection so that when they return to the atlas, they can pick up where they left off. The team is also adding data on new regions such as the Gulf of Mexico and US Pacific Ocean territories. Eventually, Peterson said, they hope to add information on marine energy regulations and policy, marine ecology and oceanography to help developers find the optimal location for their marine energy projects.
Today, the main users of the Marine Energy Atlas are marine energy developers hoping to commercialize their facilities. But the tool could also allow communities like Nags Head to map out how and where to mix energy from waves, tides, currents, winds and sunlight to create the best renewable energy strategy to serve their citizens.
“The democratization of data means that everyone has access to the same information as marine energy facility engineers and regulators,” Peterson said. “This is how everyone is at the table. Everyone can have the power to change their energy future.”
Craving even more insider information on the latest features of the Marine Energy Atlas? Don’t miss an upcoming NREL webinar, Marine Energy AtlasAugust 30, 2022 at 11:00 a.m. MT. And remember subscribe to the NREL hydropower newsletter, Stream, so never miss a sea power update!
By Caitlin McDermott-Murphy
Article courtesy of the US Department of Energy (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Do you appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality and reporting? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica member, supporter, technician or ambassador – or a patron on Patreon.
Don’t want to miss a story about clean technologies? Sign up for daily updates from CleanTechnica by email. Or follow us on Google News!
Got a CleanTechnica tip, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.