Project assesses impact of wave energy conversion noise

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IBM and the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI) are working together to understand and minimise the environmental impact of converting wave energy into electricity.  

The project is claimed to be the first to utilise real-time streaming analytics for monitoring underwater noise generated by wave energy conversion devices and is a possible step towards ensuring the environmental sustainability of using this renewable energy resource.

The environmental impact of collecting renewable energy generated in the ocean is not fully understood. While underwater noise limits have been established by the European Union’s (EU’s) marine environmental policy, there are no established global standards for the noise impact of wave energy collection devices on the marine ecosystem and noise emissions from these devices have not been assessed.  

The project seeks to accelerate methods and technologies that enable the environmental impact assessment of these devices to ensure an environmentally friendly, sustainable approach to wave energy collection.

‘Underwater noise is a global environmental issue that has to be addressed if we are to take advantage of the huge potential of ocean energy,’ said EU commissioner for research, innovation and science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. 

The system is reported to consist of sensing platforms, a communications infrastructure and advanced stream analytics that utilise cloud computing. 

The first test site, located in Galway Bay, has been part of the Smartbay collaboration involving IBM Research and the Marine Institute Ireland to monitor wave conditions, acoustics, marine life and pollution levels in and around the bay.

Development of a full-scale, grid-connected test site on the west coast of Ireland near Belmullet, County Mayo, is also under way. Teams from IBM Research and Development — Ireland and SEAI will work closely with Ireland’s Marine Institute, which is providing technical marine services support at both sites.

‘Ireland has one of highest concentrations of wave energy in the world, presenting a significant opportunity to expand its renewable energy portfolio and develop new industry capabilities,’ said Prof Owen Lewis, chief executive officer of SEAI.

The data generated will be made available to marine researchers and regulatory agencies in an effort to further advance the knowledge of natural and man-made underwater sound. Those set to benefit include marine environmental agencies as well as those working in renewable energy, shipping and offshore oil industries.

‘While the issue of environmentally sound, renewable energy resources is clearly of global importance, the demand in Ireland is particularly great,’ said IBM vice-president of industries research Katharine Frase. 

‘In 2010, Ireland imported approximately 86 per cent of its energy, the vast majority of which was fossil fuels, and the European Renewables Directive has set a target for Ireland to source 16 per cent of its energy from renewable resources by 2020,’ she said.

This project is supported by a grant issued under the Ocean Energy Industry Prototype fund, administered by the Ocean Energy Development Unit in SEAI.