Marine energy innovation flows more smoothly and quickly
The EU-funded MaRINET project has given researchers and developers free access to wave, tidal and offshore-wind energy test infrastructures and has harmonised test practices. This should speed up the commercialisation of marine energy devices.
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The early exploitation of marine energy is needed to support EU energy security and to tackle climate change, by allowing a move away from fossil fuels.
Under MaRINET, researchers and developers were allocated a total of 700 weeks at 45 test facilities that they might have otherwise been unable to use. They tested a wide range of scale-model devices and related equipment, including moorings and systems for delivering power back to shore.
MaRINET maximised the use of testing capacity, developed harmonised testing practices and strengthened the path to wave energy commercialisation.
The project also improved links between facilities, researchers, developers and investors through the free access and networking opportunities. This has helped to reinforce the EU's leading position in marine energy –an emerging global market.
For example, several developers raised additional investment thanks to having access to well-respected world class facilities that they would not normally have been able to use because of limited resources, says former MaRINET coordinator Tony Lewis, at the SFI Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy (MaREI) at University College Cork in Ireland.
Others have used test results to win grants or investments, adds current project manager Gerry Sutton, senior research fellow at MaREI.
"It has been quite industry-focused," says Lewis. "We have been trying to take the research and development into the real world." Many of the users of the test facilities were small and medium-sized enterprises, and included academic research partners.
An important aim was to avoid unrealistic development, such as the premature testing of full-scale units. "People have tried to push things too quickly from the laboratory to the open sea," says Lewis. MaRINET therefore established a structured development plan, which matched systems to the appropriate test facilities for phased development through the technology readiness levels.
The project also established a rich knowledge resource with many peer-reviewed publications plus 178 publicly accessible reports on the tests, says Lewis. There were also training sessions, which were oversubscribed, on how to get best value from using test facilities.
Wave of interest
MaRINET issued six calls for access to test facilities, which had to be in a different country to the proposer. "It was a very robust evaluation process," says Lewis. The team of voluntary evaluators rejected some bids for lack of scientific excellence, lack of a spending commitment or a mismatch between test infrastructure and stage of development.
Travel and accommodation costs were also supported, but successful bidders had to pay for their own devices to be constructed and for their staff costs. In return, they were able to take their ideas to new countries and connect with new collaborators, says Sutton.
Test facilities could offer up to 20% of their time and claim only actual operating costs, such as staff and electricity costs, without any profit.
Some facilities were particularly suitable for testing smaller devices that developers could prepare with modest investment, while larger, more-advanced devices needing large or open-sea facilities required substantial spending in advance.
MaRINET used 'round robin' testing of similar devices in the same way at different facilities so that results could be compared and harmonisation factors produced for facilities. "This round robin technique was new," says Sutton. It was challenging, especially with wave devices, but there were good matches between results, such as the power outputs of tidal devices, he says: "They were remarkably consistent."
Flood of new ideas
With 10 new members, the MaRINET group has now been awarded a follow-on MaRINET 2 project under the EU's Horizon 2020 programme. Boosting cooperation between facilities and improving the integrity of test results would give developers more confidence, says Sutton: "That's very important from the investors' point of view."
MaRINET has strong brand recognition. "Marine energy has now become a firm component of the [European Commission's] Strategic Energy Technology plan," says Lewis. And the Horizon 2020 programme has received many proposals, within the competitive calls, from MaRINET consortia or facilities.
MaRINET has also been accepted as one of four emerging technology groupings by the EU's European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), with a bid submitted for EU funding to define marine energy gaps and formalise the consortium.
MARINET 2 and ESFRI work would also use IT to improve the quality of, and remote access to, data and documentation. "It's the cement of the entire venture and it's also a way of ensuring that what we have done gets out there effectively in order to maximise impact," says Sutton.