WaveRoller uses IoT to tame the power of the sea
There’s good news and bad news in our on-going conflict with the environment. Bad news first: the sea is reacting to climate change by taking more land. It already occupies two-thirds of the planet and now it’s eating our coastlines.
The good news? The sea is effectively a giant battery, says freelance IoT writer, Nick Booth. There are multiple sources charging up with Brine Power – such as the sun, gravitational pull and the earth’s rotation. Its brutal kinetic energy has been largely beyond our powers of conversion, being too unpredictable and rough to play with – until, it is claimed, the arrival of a new IoT invention called WaveRoller.
The earliest attempts to convert the elements into power, such as wind turbines, have been crude.
The movements of the sea are much more predictable and constant. This should make it a better source of power for the energy markets which is more in tune with the demands of the national grid. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the enabler here, because it provides the fine-tuned management needed.
This is what AW-Energy’s IoT-controlled WaveRoller provides. This is an oscillating surge converter that turns waves to electricity with a panel that moves and absorbs energy.
Out of sight
Aesthetes will note that the panels are embedded out of sight and beneath the water line. Environmentalists will be pleased to know that the foundation for this system is much less substantial than for a turbine – it has a much lower centre of gravity for one thing. The earliest installations off the coast of Ireland and Portugal have rapidly become colonised by flora and fauna too, so the machines are more environmentally-friendly.
They are good for the local community too, since the skills needed for building the foundations for the WaveRoller are found in shipbuilding industries. So, a WaveRoller installation might create jobs for locals, since it makes economic sense to build the base as near as possible. By contrast, Wind Turbines are built remotely and shipped in at enormous expense.
Those are the selling points. But it is the IoT that is the enabler, according to former CTO Christopher Ridgewell, who is now the new CEO of WaveRoller.
The technology already existed for converting waves into watts but the process needed fine-tuning. The power of the sea can wreck equipment, so there needs to be an automated system to ensure the machinery can look after itself when conditions get too rough. Meanwhile, the electrical power generated needs to be stored and distributed, which is another process the IoT can run.
The WaveRoller’s power take off (PTO) subsystem is separated into two main subsystems. One captures the power and the other oversees its distribution.
This separation means the power capture process is attuned for each physical environment, regardless of the demands of the local electricity grid. Meanwhile, the power storage system allows production to be adapted to the local power quality requirements.
Both systems can independently be ramped up and down, depending on the force of the sea and the call of the national grid.
Sensors in the infrastructure and panels feed their intelligence on how system pressure, temperature and motion are varying. The management system has several degrees of alarm and can suspend operations if it judges that the machine needs protection.
The power-capture subsystem uses artificial intelligence to adapt to each wave and get the most out of it. It does this by deciding what levels of hydraulics to use to ‘counter force’ the torque measured against each approaching swell. This enables it to capture the maximum energy from each wave, depending on its size.
The system has inbuilt hazard identification and FMECA (failure mode effect and criticality) routines to minimise risk and calculate each load, so that system overload is prevented.
In other words, the WaveRoller develops a surfer’s instinct for each coming wave and works out how to ride it to fullest effect. These decisions have to be made at an early point in the energy conversion cycle in order to deliver power at the smooth rate needed for the national grid.
Amazingly, Ridgewell got the idea for predicting wave conversion over a hypothetical discussion in a pub. He and his auditory neuroscientist friend were speculating on how a violinist could keep synch with an orchestra when he’s always half a beat behind. If we could find out what they were drinking when they conceived this algorithm, that would be an even bigger story.
The author of this blog is Nick Booth, freelance IT and communications writer