River-Powered Villages to Hydropower Water Power Successes: WPTO Accomplishments Report

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From River-Powered Villages to Hydropower Regulations, NREL Projects Earn Spotlight in Water Power Technologies, WPTO, Office 2020–2021 Accomplishments Report

This year, several of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) recent water power successes earned spots in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office’s (WPTO) 2020–2021 Accomplishments Report.

“This report highlights numerous achievements and results from WPTO-supported research across our Hydropower and Marine Energy programs,” wrote Jennifer Garson, director of WPTO, in a letter introducing the report. “Collectively, these efforts are helping our country transition to a clean energy economy while supporting the resilience of communities already experiencing the effects of climate change.”

NREL’s contributions include novel water power data, tools, and technologies. For example, the laboratory’s researchers helped install a device that generates clean energy from river currents for the remote Alaskan village of Igiugig, analyzed challenges posed by the hydropower permitting process, and developed award-winning software so marine energy developers can hone their technology designs.

Hydropower Program

I AM Hydro Prize Winners Use Advanced Manufacturing To Reduce Costs of Hydropower Components

In this NREL-managed competition, 11 winning teams received cash prizes to decrease hydropower construction costs through new manufacturing methods and materials. Competitors’ concepts included low-cost, customizable, 3D-printed turbines for small hydropower systems, retrofitting of non-powered dams using 3D-concrete printing, additive manufacturing combined with robotics to improve repairs, artificial intelligence to optimize turbines, antifouling coating for hydropower cost reductions, and magnets to increase generator efficiency and lower energy-production costs.

The Groundbreaking Hydro Prize aims to encourage the development of new ideas to cut the costs, timelines, and risks associated with hydropower development. Graphic by NREL.

Groundbreaking Hydro Prize Winners Develop Concepts To Reduce Costs and Time for Building Foundations for Hydropower Projects

In April 2021, WPTO announced the two winners of the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize, an NREL-run competition. The prize challenged innovators to create new solutions to support hydropower project development by starting at square one: the foundation.

New Curricula Pumps Up the Future Hydropower Workforce

The long-established hydropower industry needs to revitalize its workforce and develop high-demand skills to meet growing U.S. energy demand. In 2021, NREL collaborated with the National Energy Education Development Project to create a hydropower curriculum that helps primary, elementary, intermediate, and secondary students learn about the water cycle, kinetic energy transformations, and electricity.

New Report Examines the U.S. Hydropower Permitting Process

A report, titled An Examination of the Hydropower Licensing and Federal Authorization Process, authored by a team from NREL and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, examines the factors that have the greatest impact on the hydropower licensing process. While the report does not propose specific recommendations to improve the hydropower licensing and authorization process, the findings will aid decision makers in identifying potential areas for reform.

A new report could help decision makers identify potential areas for reform in the hydropower licensing process and help speed the development of clean, renewable hydropower projects. Photo from the U.S. Department of Energy.

New Study Assesses the Future of Renewables Across North America

An NREL-led multiyear study of the North American power grid found that increasing electricity trade and expanding hydropower’s reach could have significant benefits, highlighting opportunities for a coordinated, low-carbon continental grid. The study also shows that a future low-carbon grid can be achieved through multiple pathways that can balance supply and demand using a variety of flexible resources.

Marine Energy Program

Open-Source Wave Energy Software Receives R&D 100 Award and Contributes to Space Exploration

Theoretically, the wave energy flowing through U.S. waters is equivalent to 80% of the country’s electricity needs. Not all of that energy can be practically harnessed, plus the ocean’s volatile environment can increase uncertainty and costs for developers as they design their technology. Now, the award-winning Wave Energy Converter SIMulator (usually shortened to WEC-Sim), designed in part by NREL researchers, can help developers simulate their early-stage designs to accelerate the development of robust, cost-effective technologies.

Wave-Powered SeaRAY Prepares for First Offshore Trial

Offshore work, like marine research and aquaculture, can require significant amounts of energy. Now, an autonomous, wave-powered, renewable energy device—called the SeaRAY autonomous offshore power system—could power a variety of offshore industries and missions, help protect the oceans, and decrease carbon emissions, too. In 2021, NREL researchers helped get Columbia Power Technologies Inc.’s (often called C-Power) SeaRAY ready for its first ocean trial.

National Laboratories Release New Data and Report on the Powerful Potential of U.S. Marine Energy Resources

Understanding the potential for marine energy in the nation’s oceans requires analysis to detail the theoretical potential of wave, tidal, current, ocean thermal, and river hydrokinetic resources. In 2020–2021, a team of oceanographers, engineers, and data scientists from NREL and other national laboratories produced a comprehensive report detailing renewable marine energy resources.

Inaugural R&D Showcase Cultivates Awareness of Novel Projects at National Laboratories

During a virtual showcase, NREL and other national laboratory researchers presented the projects they conducted through WPTO’s Seedlings Program, which has provided more than 60 smaller funding awards to national laboratory researchers—often junior researchers—to explore new projects and creative ideas in marine energy and hydropower.

Tidal Power Turbine Demonstrates Thermoplastic Blades

In collaboration with Verdant Power, NREL researchers constructed and validated the performance and durability of thermoplastic composite blades on tidal turbines in New York City’s East River. These materials have the potential to revolutionize the marine energy industry by improving performance and sustainability and make the manufacturing process faster and more energy efficient.

March 03, 2020 – NREL researchers Robynne Murray and David Barnes laying up a turbine blade in a blade mold at the CoMET at Flatirons Campus. The work is part of the Verdant Power Project being done at Flatirons campus. Photo by Dennis Schroeder/NREL.

United States Contributes to New International Marine Energy Standards

In 2020–2021, an NREL-led team contributed to two recent technical specifications—which are like well-researched design guides—for testing tidal stream energy systems and assessing mooring systems for marine energy converters. These resources help the most promising marine energy technologies achieve commercialization by providing a foundation for certification; promoting international trade of uniform, high-quality products, and supporting the transfer of expertise from traditional energy systems.

River Currents Power Remote Alaskan Village

For the past 50 years, the Alaskan Native village of Igiugig on the Kvichak River has depended on diesel fuel to power its homes and businesses, making the community dependent on a costly and sometimes unpredictable fuel delivery network. But in 2021, village members partnered with Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company to retrieve their most advanced river energy device from the Kvichak River for maintenance and, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy, deployed a second device, marking important progress in the village’s goal to quit diesel by 2025. This project is one of the first long-term deployments of an operational river current device in the United States and has resulted in many collaborations between universities and national laboratories, including NREL.

Critical Advancements Made Available in Marine Energy Data-Processing Tool

Researchers from NREL, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories made significant advancements to the data processing toolkit known as the Marine and Hydrokinetic Toolkit. Tools and software are essential to help developers and researchers model and validate new technologies during development. The toolkit helps fill this need with tools for data processing, visualization, quality control, and other activities.

Wave Energy Test Facility Nears Subsea Construction Milestone

Construction began in 2021 on PacWave South, the first accredited, grid-connected, open-ocean wave energy testing facility in the United States and one of only a few worldwide. NREL researchers evaluated how wave energy devices could produce reliable, stable energy for the power grid. The laboratory’s researchers also supported efforts to earn accreditation for the PacWave facility so it can produce certified test data.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Testing Expertise and Access for marine Energy Research program accelerates the viability of marine renewables by providing access to the nation’s best facilities and expertise to solve critical challenges, build knowledge, foster innovation, and drive commercialization. Photo from the University of Maine.

Testing Network Grows and Initiates 37 New Technical Support Activities

Navigating new marine energy technologies from idea to commercial viability, with testing and development challenges in between, represents a substantial barrier to the commercialization of these systems. The Testing Expertise and Access for Marine Energy Research (or TEAMER) program accelerates the idea-to-market process by providing support for developers seeking access to the nation’s best marine energy testing facilities and leading marine energy experts. By the end of 2021, NREL hosted 13 of the 62 TEAMER projects.

Online Portal Corrals Broad Range of Marine Energy Data Into a Single Search Engine

In 2021, the Portal and Repository for Information on Marine Renewable Energy (usually shortened to PRIMRE) team, which includes members from NREL, aggregated marine energy information from seven knowledge hubs into a centralized system accessible with a single search engine.

WPTO Hosts Second Marine Energy Collegiate Competition

The NREL-run Marine Energy Collegiate Competition provides college students the opportunity to build real-world experience and professional connections that will help them land jobs in marine energy and the blue economy (providing clean energy for offshore work, like aquaculture, marine research, or even shipping, as well as to coastal and remote island communities).

Community-Centric Program Launched To Accelerate Energy Transition to Clean Energy

In 2021, WPTO selected 11 communities in four states for the first Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project cohort. These community projects help reduce reliance on fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency and resilience, and optimize renewable resources and battery technologies. NREL administers the program and provides technical assistance to communities.

Team members prepare to deploy a preliminary testing device that supports foundational research for small, modular, wave-powered desalination systems in the water at Jennette’s Pier in North Carolina. Photo from the Coastal Studies Institute.

Waves to Water Prize Concludes Two Stages and Prepares for Final Testing To Demonstrate Wave Energy-Powered Desalination Systems

The Waves to Water Prize seeks to develop sustainable water delivery systems to create clean drinking water in communities that need it the most. In 2021, WPTO and NREL advanced competitors through two stages and selected the finalists. (The year after, in April 2022, one team earned first place after the finalists tested their devices off the coast of North Carolina).

Competitors Advance Marine-Energy-Powered Ocean Observing Platforms

The NREL-managed Ocean Observing Prize challenges innovators to integrate marine renewable energy with ocean observation platforms and develop innovative technologies that can help fill the data gaps that make it difficult to predict the intensity of hurricanes. Accurate forecasting could better protect coastal communities from the disastrous impacts of oncoming storms.

First Foundational R&D Efforts Identified and Launched To Integrate Marine Energy With Blue Economy Applications

In 2021, NREL researchers helped map and implement 10 initial research areas related to fundamental challenges in marine energy. This included market exploration and analysis, design and development of device prototypes, and deployment and testing of marine energy systems.

Download the entire WPTO 2020–2021 Accomplishments Report to learn more about how NREL, other national laboratories, universities, and industry partners are advancing water power.

To see more NREL water power successes, check out the 10 Significant Water Power Accomplishments From 2021 and sign up for the NREL water power newsletter: The Current.

Article courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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