A Window Into the Future of Wave Energy (Text Version)

This is the text version of the video A Window Into the Future of Wave Energy.

The video opens with shots of ocean waves and a house at night with the lights on.

Narrator: The energy flowing through our country's oceans could power up to 51 million U.S. homes.

This clean, renewable energy source could power entire cities or remote coastal and island communities.

Waves pack power, but they can quickly go from productive to destructive.

To protect devices from those forces, many wave energy developers add heavy steel to their designs. But that can add both cost and weight to their machines.

Nathan Tom (NREL mechanical engineer): We definitely have to start thinking outside the box a little bit to make devices that are going to withstand the harsh ocean environment for like 20 years.

Narrator: Nathan Tom and a team of researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory thought outside the steel box: Their design doesn't need a heavy shell to survive the ocean. And, it could be cheaper and more productive, too.

So, what is it? Called variable geometry, these designs can change shape to let powerful ocean forces slip past or through.

Nathan Tom (NREL mechanical engineer): We're exploring changing the shape or the profile by about 50%, and that's not easy to do without being in the ocean environment. And so we're still working through exactly the best way to make these large-scale changes—if it's actuators like wind turbines that can rotate a shape or you could use inflatables to blow up with air or some other gas or even water to have a larger profile in the water.

Narrator: Here is a second variable geometry design, which can deflate to have a more streamlined or narrow profile to let larger waves to slip by. The NREL team is planning to move their designs from theory to reality, starting with wave tank tests.

Nathan Tom (NREL mechanical engineer): It's always really exciting when you spend a lot of time running models, writing down equations to see something that you've made on paper to actually come out and be physical. You can touch it. You can see it oscillating in the waves in a wave tank. So we're looking forward to seeing all the great data that we can get from the Stevens Institute of Technology in order for us to verify our models and maybe learn something that we didn't expect.

Narrator: The younger team members learned a lot, too.

Davy Pardonner (NREL research intern): It taught me a lot of computational modeling skills, specifically data analysis techniques and introduced me to a lot of software that I wouldn't have otherwise seen or used.

Narrator: That project was sponsored by the Department of Energy's Water Power Technologies Office. And so was their second big award, a Technology Commercialization Fund award, which let them partner with the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Together, they created a raised foundation to keep devices high above fast-moving sand and stones and lets them reach surface waters, which carry more energy.

Jacob Davis (Doctoral student at the University of Washington): As a master's student, entering the world of ocean engineering for the first time, the project really provided an opportunity to put into practice many of the concepts we learned in class.

Narrator: The variable geometry wave energy converter could help take wave energy from concept to the grid. With its help, the nation could soon rely more on its clean, renewable energy to both power and protect our planet.

The video closes with the words: Learn more about NREL's VGWEC research at https://www.nrel.gov/water/variable-geometry.html.