Novel interpretation of oceanographic measurements: Development and application at the Wave Hub demonstration site

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering Computer Science and Maths


The South West UK has been named a UK Marine Energy Park and is a hub for the development of marine renewable energy (MRE). In particular, the region has developed considerable facilities for testing devices to convert energy, and their components. As technology developers strive to progress their products to be commercially viable, these facilities are seeing unprecedented interest from the industry and the Wave Hub is one such facility. Situated in Cornwall, UK, this site offers developers an opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of their technology to secure commercial interest. As such, verifying key processes is the principal aim for site-users;

i. Energy extraction and device performance
ii. Planning and execution of marine operations
iii. Reliability predictions to inform service schedules during device operation
iv. Environmental impacts.

For these assessments, the more detailed information about the conditions the devices are experiencing and device response, the more confidence technology developers can have in their results. Through NERC research, data resources and expertise have built up in the academic community that have the capability to optimise the interpretation of oceanographic data for MRE applications, informing key processes identified above. Accessible tools to apply these methods and bring together data sets established through research will ease the access to essential information to refine their design and operating principles. Critically, it will also reduce uncertainty in estimating the true cost of energy conversion with this technology, generating more confidence in potential investors.

This project proposes to bring together unique data sets and leading research methodologies developed through NERC science into a novel method to provide unprecedented level of detail for the assessment of physical conditions at an operational site. NERC research has developed methods for highly detailed analysis of the physical environment and shown the benefit of using methods developed specifically for marine renewable energy. By developing accessible tools to combine these research methods and regional data, the project aims to unlock the potential benefits for the benefit of technology companies using the site. Critical analysis of the process and the results will be used to verify the application of these tools to a practical situation. Results here will be used to refine and develop the methods used, aiming to develop useful, practical tools to be incorporated into the long term development of the industry.

In order to achieve the aim the project has been arranged into three work packages (WP). WP1 is addressing the implementation of existing tools developed by UofE for validation of site data and to the assessment and characterisation of the environmental conditions at the Wave Hub site; WP2 will focus on the development of innovative algorithms that will incorporate methodologies developed through NERC research to the interpretation of oceanographic data; and WP3 will initiate the development of validation methods for the oceanographic interpretation algorithms, working towards their adoption into the development of standards to enhance MRE commercialisation.

This project is also aimed at developing the relationship between academia and industry. The Wave Hub represent an excellent conduit to the marine renewable energy industry and the project will embed knowledge, data and experience in this organisation. Finally, the project will lay a foundation for the long term exchange of academic knowledge to the marine renewable energy industry, allowing this nascent industry to continue to benefit from NERC funded research activities.
Description This project has developed effective, targeted communication of research output that are improving the understanding of the physical environmental conditions in the South West UK. This is being achieved by applying interpretation methods and data sets developed through research, within a suite of Matlab programs designed to provide automated and standardised characterisation of the physical conditions at test sites. Provision of more detailed resource information gives developers more capacity to refine the design of their devices to the specific nature of the site. Through supporting communication between researchers and device developers, this project has meant that the improved understanding made possible through research is being targeted to the areas key to their devices. At FaBtest, the system is being applied in advance of Wave Hub due to improved measurement infrastructure. The uptake at this site is a result of this project, and an indication of what can be expected at Wave Hub. Four developers are benefitting directly from this project. Through communication, key processes that govern the design of their devices have been identified. Matlab scripts to provide statistics required for the accurate assessment of these processes have been developed and the results provided to the developers. For both sites, by the end of the project, these will be available in automated form each month.
• Examples:
o Refined extreme assessments,
o detailed spectral characterisation
o directional analysis of extreme waves
• All of these are being used to refine engineering design and site layout for deployments (At FaBTest!). As such, the system is improving performance during testing. It will also improve the level of detail at which developers can assess their device when operating. This contributes to improving the development pathways of the device, optimising the lessons that can be learnt from the test process.
• Also used in the assessment process of suitability/safety of proposed deployments (licensing/permitting)
Exploitation Route This project has improved the provision of physical environmental data and interpretation in the region. Also in place is research to support the development from FaBtest to Wave Hub, providing a clear development pathway for MRE in the region.
Within the research community, this project is supporting this pathway to development for. It provides the crucial link of high quality site data within which all data and interpretation are consistent and targeted to their device, and direct communication with the industrial partners. This covers new technology, extending the application of existing technology and breaking down barriers to development such as reliability, moorings, engineering design, environmental impact, resource assessment and project planning. Across each of these areas, communication between researchers and developers supports continuous development of the research techniques with direct relevance to the requirements of industrial partners. This is already yielding new areas of research, exemplified by the 3 expressions of interest have been made for the 2015 innovate UK Energy Catalyst call with a total value of £7million.
The future impact is not limited to increased funding opportunities, but also to the potential commercial market share for companies testing in the South West UK. This project is part of a substantial effort to support developers in reducing the cost of energy from MRE and proving their technology. Previous estimates have highlighted the large global potential market. Where energy suppliers, with a viable technology, could capture an 11.5 % share of the UK market, the accumulated economic benefit may be £460 - £510M (Based on 2020 predictions). This is in addition to the potential benefits in terms of reduction of C02 emissions that could be achieved with the exploitation of more renewable energy.
Sectors Energy

Description Environmental impacts This project is part of ongoing support of marine energy test sites, improving understanding of the physical environment at these locations. This is complementary to engineering work, where it helps device design and operation, but also to environmental and ecological work. This latter category has provided baseline data for the environmental conditions and uses operations at FaBTest and Wave Hub as valuable opportunities to investigate the environmental impacts of operational MRE projects. The data and interpretations within this project are directly supporting analysis into factors such as acoustic noise (governed in part by wave conditions) and changes to mixing or circulation, amongst others. In addition to a journal paper in submission (Marine Pollution Bulletin) and 2 conference presentations (Marine Acoustics 2014 and EIMR 2014), this work has been used to define licensing requirements from the Crown Estate at FaBTest, which will have relevance to projects being initiated nationwide. To date, the project has developed an integrated monitoring and assessment framework within which the methods and data sets established through research can be targeted at the needs of developers. This system incorporates the statistics used in accompanying acoustic studies and can be adapted for a similar role in other environmental impact studies. Whilst at present it is primarily developer driven, the flexible nature of the system being developed means that it offers potential impact for environmental impact assessments at operating sites. Crucially, the support that this system offers and the associated increase in activity will serve to increase the opportunities for environmental studies around operating devices, identified as a crucial gap in the knowledge. Economic impacts The deployment and 2 year operation of Fred Olsen at FaBTest provides a demonstrated pathway to deployment in the South West UK. It has provided valuable experience to the supporting institutions, licensing bodies, local population, and supply chain, of active MRE projects. Furthermore it has increased the profile and reputation of the region across the industry. Since this project, the region has seen growth in interest in the regions test sites. Follow up R&D projects have been secured with a total value of £1.5million. In addition, an investment of £549,000 from the Regional Growth Fund has allowed continued development of the regions resources. At this time, there are six companies operational, or in final planning stages with the marine energy test sites FaBTest and Wave Hub. Through the combined body of MRE research in the South West UK, data resources and expertise have built up in the academic community that have the capability to optimise the interpretation of oceanographic data for MRE applications. This project has supported the University of Exeter in transferring these resources to developers. This support encourages and supports the developers through preparation and operation. In doing so, it reduces risk in the investments being made which in turn, increases confidence in projects. More testing, and better success will raise the profile of the facilities in the region and the South West Marine Energy Park (SWMEP). An improving reputation for the region as a centre for MRE is also a factor in attracting further funding. Regional consortia have secured 1.835 million pounds from the Innovate UK Energy Catalyst 2014, while a further 3 expressions of interest have been made for the 2015 call with a total value of £7million. Policy impacts Policy for marine renewable energy continues to adapt as the industry develops. Local and national policies will be dependent on the activities in the South West, in particular Wave Hub. The incorporation of research outputs allows standard assessment of the physical conditions, engineering design and environmental impacts to be more detailed. As such, more complex legislation in these areas can be supported. To date, site measurement and assessments have contributed to the development of licensing requirements at the FaBtest site.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Energy
Impact Types Economic

Description Technology Development of the DUO wave energy converter
Amount £428,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 46104 - 347209 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 02/2019