IBM Aims to (Quietly) Reap Energy from Waves

Pelamis wave energy converter on site at the E...
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The project may even spawn global standards for underwater noise

One device resembles a big fishing float with a piston that goes up and down as it bobs on the waves. Another uses the up-and-down motion to compress air as a way of turning a turbine. Such machines could tap the relentless power of ocean waves to harvest clean, renewable energy — so long as their underwater noise does not run afoul of environmental regulations by disrupting the lives of whales and dolphins.

Now Ireland has teamed up with IBM to hang strings of hydrophones around experimental wave-energy machines — some the size of a trailer — located off the Emerald Isle’s wave-battered coast. Along with a noise-monitoring buoy, such electronic ears aim to record both natural and man-made underwater noises. The collected data could then help policymakers figure out appropriate noise levels that could allow wave- energy machines and harbor porpoises to coexist.

“What will eventually happen is that there will be farms of such machines off the coast in many areas,” said Harry Kolar, IBM chief architect for sensor-based solutions. “It’s a big undertaking with huge investments; the faster we get to that stage of deployment, the sooner we get a steady, cleaner source of renewable energy from the ocean.”

Such a project makes business sense in a world where the European Union and other organizations have rules about permissible underwater noise levels. If successful, the project may even spawn global standards for underwater noise, and perhaps allow for continuous monitoring to ensure compliance with environmental regulations.

IBM’s powerful analytics software has already helped clean-energy startups monitor the energy efficiency of their wave-energy machines under different circumstances. It can also provide the latest updates and instant analysis of the many different noises near wave-energy machines.

“The things we have to filter out in terms of underwater noise include natural noises, wave noises, chains rattling, and ship noises coming in,” Kolar told InnovationNewsDaily. “A lot of that is dynamic based on the weather and wind, so there is a lot of dynamic filtering; it’s really to get to the essence of what is the impact on the environment.”

The project also it promises to create one of the largest continuous collections of underwater sounds ever recorded — a huge opportunity for marine scientists to discover the baseline level for natural noises. Its first test site is located near Galway Bay as part of the SmartBay collaboration between IBM and the Marine Institute Ireland.

See Also
A newly patented technology domain could build large, flexible structures from individual energy converters to create more cost-effective, highly efficient tools for generating clean energy from the ocean (and beyond). Illustration by Besiki Kazaishvili, NREL

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