We Are Bringing the Ocean to Colorado

Please join the GCD Conservation Committee for a field trip to the Sea Wave Environmental Lab (SWEL) at the National Renewable Energy Lab Flatirons Campus on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 at 1 p.m. The Wave Tank is an ocean-simulation tool that can validate small-to large-scale offshore technology, including marine energy devises and offshore wind turbines and solar panels. According to Charles Candon, a NREL research engineer, “[t]he idea is that ocean waves might one day help generate clean electricity and send it to the electrical grids onshore. The federal government estimates waves have the power to eventually provide almost 60% of the country’s electricity.”  

The NREL press release issued on April 14, 2021 announced the project this way:  

“Thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, Rebecca Fao, a research engineer with NREL’s water power technology group, and her team installed their first wave tank in Spring 2022. The tank, coupled with a motion platform scheduled to arrive in March 2023, is ‘bringing the ocean to Colorado,’ Fao said.”

Together, the two tools can help accelerate the development of ocean-bound technologies, including marine energy devices as well as offshore wind turbines and floating solar panels, saving developers time, money, and reducing risk as they develop the renewable energy technologies needed to build a 100% clean energy future.

The wave tank is about 45 feet long, eight feet wide, and a little more than four feet deep.  The tank produces waves as tall as eight inches, which move at varying speeds, and because one side is glass, researchers can also watch what is happening beneath the water’s surface. That is important to assess mooring systems, which tether some marine energy devices to the ocean floor.

The motion platform simulates the motion of the ocean, and can support about 22,000 pounds. It can mimic wave movements of up to about eight feet, and provides a controlled environment in which to test the dynamic behavior of even larger marine energy prototypes as well as scaled offshore wind turbines and floating solar panels.

In a recent Colorado Public Radio interview, Beth Harman, a program manager at the Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, stated that “[w]ave energy also has potential advantages over other renewables. Unlike solar, the resource could offer electricity at night, helping provide a steady power supply to the grid. Other concepts to harvest the power of tides could provide a highly predictable energy source.”  

Come learn more about these exciting possibilities!  The tour is limited to 20 participants, and we will have a sign-up sheet at the March General Meeting on March 12, 2024.

Story by Lynn Bolinske Dolven