Stakeholders and regulators in the U.S. are working to develop deeper understanding of the potential environmental impacts posed by deployments of marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) devices, and in particular wave energy conversion (WEC) devices, in coastal waters. The first pilot-scale WEC deployments in the U.S. have had to absorb unsustainabl e costs and delays associated with permitting to get devices in the water. As such, there is an urgent industry need to streamline the technical activities and processes used to assess potential environmental impacts. To enable regulators and stakeholders to become more comfortable and confident with developing effective MHK environmental assessments, a better understanding of the potential environmental effects induced by arrays of WEC devices is needed. A key challenge in developing this understanding is that the assessment of the WEC effects must come prior to deployment. A typical approach in similar environmental assessments is to use numerical models to simulate the WEC devices and array layouts so that the appropriate environmental stressors and recep tors can be identified and assessed using spatial maps.
Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and the U.S. Department of Energy are fulfilling the industry-wide need to develop “WEC-friendly” open-source numerical modeling tools (SNL-SWAN 2015) capable of a ssessing potential changes to the ocean environment caused by the operation of WEC arrays. Studies using these tools will advance the nation’s general knowledge of the interrelationships among the number, size, efficiency, and configuration of MHK arrays a nd the subsequent effects these relationships may have on the deployment environment. By better understanding these relationships, industry, stakeholders, and regulators will be able to work together to optimize WEC deployments such that environmental impa cts are minimized while power output is maximized.