154 OES Annual Report 2015 | UNITED STATES OF AMERICA | Research & Development
Annual Report 2015
Country Reports


Alison LaBonte U.S. Department of Energy


In addition to NMRECs, DOE’s national laboratories possess unique instruments and facilities and address large scale, complex R&D challenges with an approach that emphasizes translating basic science to innovation. The Water Power Program partners with several of these important R&D institutions to support R&D in MHK technologies.

Sandia National Laboratories (SNL): Through a partnership with several national laboratories and academic institutions, SNL is leading efforts in technology development, market acceleration, and reference model developments. SNL contributes to MHK technology in the following areas:

  • Advanced non-linear controls, code development, array optimization, and extreme events simulation
  • Designs and tests of tidal turbines and development requirements for deep tank testing
  • Advanced materials development, such as novel coatings and composites
  • Wave resource assessment, environmental characterization, and classification
  • Measurement and modelling of tidal and current flows
  • Wave and tidal energy modelling to predict environmental effects of energy removal and inform optimal device spacing
  • Modelling tools for MHK environmental impacts, such as mammal strike impact and acoustic generation and propagation

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL): NREL’s research supports the Water Power Program’s efforts to research, test, evaluate, develop, and demonstrate deployment of innovative water power technologies. NREL supports development of market-relevant scientific and technical knowledge, research and testing, and addressing environmental impacts. Specifically, NREL supports the Program through:

  • Computational modelling and analysis of wave and tidal devices in operational and extreme conditions
  • Industry project support and needs assessment
  • Instrumentation system development testing
  • Laboratory, electrical, grid, and mechanical testing
  • Standards development and certification support
  • Wave and current resource assessment and characterization
  • Stakeholder training, education, and outreach

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL): PNNL supports the Water Power Program through research; engineering; information aggregation and dissemination; resource assessment, characterization, and forecasting; and market analysis, planning and coordination to overcome barriers for water power. PNNL operates the only facility dedicated to coastal sciences in the national laboratory system; its unique Marine Sciences Laboratory is located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. PNNL’s specific efforts include:

  • MHK environmental impacts research, international collaboration, and information sharing
  • Tidal and current model development and validation
  • MHK technology advancement through advanced materials and manufacturing reliability Wave resource assessment and characterization
  • Monitoring tools, mitigation technologies, and methodologies
  • Education outreach and information sharing 

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL): ORNL is involved in a number of R&D activities supporting the Water Power Program’s mission. These activities and products help all stakeholders understand and resolve the environmental effects of MHK technologies and help developers advance MHK technologies to commercialization. ORNL scientists are currently reporting on laboratory and field experiments that evaluated the effects of noise and electromagnetic fields on marine organisms, and are conducting hydroacoustic analysis of fish interactions with turbines.



Wave Energy Prize: With $6.5 million awarded to Ricardo, Inc. as the competition’s administrator, the DOE-funded Wave Energy Prize had 92 eligible teams registered to compete for a prize purse totalling more than $2 million. The judging panel narrowed the 92 registered teams down and the 20 qualified teams were announced on 14 August 2015. Seventeen of these 20 qualified teams currently remain, and teams are testing 1/50 scale WECs over winter 2015/2016 for their potential to achieve DOE’s goal of doubling the state-of-the-art energy captured from ocean waves per unit structural cost. The testing will occur at five universities across the country: the University of Michigan, University of Maine, University of Iowa, Oregon State University, and Stevens Institute of Technology.

NREL and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) are providing technical expertise in preparing testing plans, numerical modelling templates, and methodology for evaluating against performance metrics. On 1 March 2016, up to 10 finalists will be selected to test their 1/20scale model WECs in the nation's most advanced wave-making facility-the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Manoeuvring and Seakeeping Basin at Carderock, Maryland.

Instrumentation Database and Community of Practice: Sharing information on MHK instrumentation and lessons learned from laboratory testing and field deployments will help the emerging MHK community achieve greater success in technology development. DOE has developed a comprehensive and open instrumentation database and community of practice as a set of online tools for the international MHK community to contribute and draw information.

This database will help users identify and select instruments and sensors that best satisfy measurement needs based on testing objectives (e.g. power performance certificati on and numerical model validation) and associated measurement requirements. The database is also intended to allow users to document the performance of instruments in the field and lessons learned so that their experience can directly benefit the online MHK community. Users are also able to record instrument configurations and best practices in a “community of practice.” The community of practice is a forum for developers, users, and stakeholders to engage in constructive dialog and exchange ideas, as well as lessons learned across a broad range of testing and instrumentation topics. Through this effort, limitations in measurement capabilities and functionality can be more easily identified and will help the community understand gaps in measurement technology.

In 2015, DOE developed the framework for the MHK instrumentation and sensor database and the community of practice and launched the database on a public website. The database has been initially seeded with a representative set of instruments and sensors used for resource assessment.

Advanced Design Tools: In 2015, the DOE Water Power Program and national laboratories performed research on wave and current energy devices with the objectives of improving performance, reliability, and survivability, while lowering the cost of energy. NREL and SNL worked on the following projects in 2015 to provide open-source simulation tools, develop extreme condition design methodologies, and advance control strategies:

  • The Wave Energy Converter Simulator project developed and released an open-source design and analysis code (WEC-Sim) and performed experimental wave tank tests to develop validation data sets. Code development and experiments are continuing in 2016 and data sets will be made publically available.
  • NREL and SNL developed a methodology for modelling WECs in extreme conditions that combines mid- and highfidelity simulation methods to efficiently simulate and analyse the performance of WECs in extreme and survivability conditions.
  • SNL and NREL worked to advance WEC control strategies through two projects.
  • SNL prepared for a comprehensive set of wave tank tests that will characterize the performance of several advanced control strategies using a point absorber WEC design.
  • NREL explored the feasibility of using advanced control strategies in conjunction with “active geometry” 

WECs that have the ability to change their geometry with changing wave conditions. In 2016, SNL and NREL will continue to explore advanced control strategies that have the potential to significantly improve the performance of wave energy devices.

Resource Assessment and Characterization Meeting: In November 2015, the DOE Water Power Program hosted a meeting with key stakeholders in Washington, D.C., to better integrate private industry and universities with the MHK resource assessment and characterization activities at DOE and its national laboratories. The main purpose of the meeting was to provide an in-person opportunity to meet and hear directly from industry and academia stakeholders.

The feedback received through this open dialogue will help guide future MHK resource assessment and characterization work at DOE. Information about DOE’s past and current MHK resource assessment and characterization portfolio was shared, along with plans for future research. After hosting this open forum, industry and academia stakeholders expressed their desire for regular, future engagement to discuss DOE’s MHK resource assessment and characterization portfolio with the Water Power Program. Moving forward, a resource assessment and characterization subcommittee within the Marine Energy Council (MEC) will have regular meetings with DOE to provide guidance on current work and future plans for the DOE MHK resource assessment and characterization portfolio. MEC was formed by the National Hydropower Association to unite the marine energy community in order to better provide input on how to best leverage Water Power Program research and development investments to further the marine energy sector. Stakeholders also encouraged DOE to engage with the International Electrotechnical Commission Technical Committee 114 (IEC TC114) for Marine Energy for feedback on current and future MHK resource assessment and characterization work.

LCOE Modelling: To normalize competing claims of LCOE, the Water Power Program and national laboratory partners have developed, for the Program’s own use, a standardized cost and performance data reporting process to facilitate uniform calculation of LCOE from MHK device developers. This standardization framework is a working version in what is anticipated to be an iterative process that involves industry and the broader Water Power Program stakeholder community.

In 2015 the Water Power Program and industry stakeholders worked together to define cost reduction and technology development pathways aimed to further develop MHK technologies. These efforts will continue to be refined as technology is developed and insight is gained across the Program.

The LCOE reporting process references a generalized Cost Breakdown Structure (CBS) for MHK projects that is being developed by the Water Power Program and NREL. This CBS is a hierarchical structure designed to facilitate the collection and organization of lifecycle costs of any type of MHK project, including WECs and current energy converters. At a high level, the categories in the CBS will be applicable to all projects; at a detailed level, however, the CBS includes many cost categories that pertain to one project but not others.

Reliability Framework: To help reduce the risks of industry failures and advance the development of current and new technologies at a lower cost and faster pace, the Water Power Program and NREL have developed an MHK technology reliability and survivability risk assessment framework. This framework provides a risk management methodology to identify and reduce risks during all stages of technology development, particularly prior to demonstration activities. The framework was released in September 2015.

MHK Data Repository (MHKDR): Working with NREL, the Water Power Program launched the MHKDR website on 31 March 2015. This repository houses all data collected using funds from the Water Power Program, serving as a data-sharing platform to help store and disseminate open-source data relevant to the design and development of marine energy technologies.

Transparency and open data are extremely important to accelerate technology development in order to avoid funding the same technology evolution by several different companies, and also to attract new players from related offshore and engineering sectors. The MHKDR provides an easy method for uploading data in a secure environment in order to help with the reporting requirements of national labs and industry awardees, as well as to make this information easily searchable and of value to the public. Awardees who received U.S. public funding through financial assistance mechanisms are able to keep their data proprietary for a period of up to five years, after which it is to be made available to the public. In 2015, eight content models were developed to help structure the data submitted to the MHKDR, and a training session and live demonstration were posted.

NNMREC’s Advanced Laboratory and Field Arrays Project (ALFA): NNMREC is a multi-institution entity with a diverse funding base that focuses on R&D for marine renewables. The ALFA project conducted by NNMREC works to reduce the LCOE of MHK energy by leveraging research, development, and testing capabilities at Oregon State University, University of Washington, and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. ALFA will accelerate the development of next-generation arrays of WEC and tidal energy conversion devices through a suite of field-focused R&D activities spanning a three-year performance period. These tasks include: 

  • Debris modelling, detection, and mitigation
  • Autonomous monitoring and intervention
  • Resource assessment and characterization for extreme conditions
  • Robust models for design of offshore anchoring and mooring systems
  • Performance enhancement for marine energy converter arrays
  • Sampling technique evaluations for MHK biological monitoring 

Environmental R&D: In 2015, five projects got underway to improve existing or develop new environmental monitoring technologies, which will help address the technological limitations associated with environmental monitoring of MHK devices. These projects focus on the detection and classification of marine animals in the vicinity of MHK devices, measurement of noise produced by devices, automation of optical data processing, and the development of integrated instrumentation packages to monitor MHK devices more efficiently. The Water Power Program had awarded $2.75 million in 2014 to support these projects.

Also in 2015, nine projects that focused on advancing the understanding of potential environmental effects from the deployment and operation of MHK devices made excellent progress, and many are in the process of finishing up. The projects include researching device-generated noise and its subsequent effects on marine megafauna, understanding interactions between fish and tidal turbines, developing and using models to predict strike occurrence, and assessing the potential effects that electromagnetic fields may have on marine species. The Water Power Program awarded $2.4 million in 2013 to support these projects.