The ocean energy industry is entering a rapid growth phase. Leading ocean energy companies have begun launching products and solutions into a market hungry for the power and data at sea needed to unlock the future of the ocean economy.
Early in our product development process, we talked to potential customers and learned they had four primary offshore operation use cases for ocean energy:
- Data-gathering equipment
- Robotic systems, such as autonomous underwater vehicles
- Operating equipment
- Uncrewed surface vessels
As C-Power works to build an ecosystem of partners and customers for this new ocean economy through our Partner Engagement & Co-Development program, we’ve learned a lot about the technical characteristics that are most important to make ocean energy solutions a success. These insights come from what we’ve heard during our market-discovery process with partners and customers and also from the many lessons we’ve learned during development and demonstration efforts.
So what has C-Power found is most important to make an ocean energy system desirable to customers who need to use them to power their offshore activities? It boils down to answers to two key questions.
Question 1: Are the Solutions Tailored for Unique Customer Needs?
To win customers, ocean energy companies need to provide products and solutions that solve real-world needs. Customer discovery is a critical part of taking a holistic view of the product development process, but many companies don’t take customer use cases into consideration. For example, C-Power has discovered many potential customers have a need for deep-water installations. That capability is not always top of mind for ocean energy technology providers focused on near-shore, utility-scale installations or multi-leg mooring systems.
Another consideration is energy capacity, specifically power generation versus available stored energy. For remote, offshore needs, an ocean power system is essentially part of a power and data communications mini-grid. The purpose of the mini-grid is to provide power and a connection to the data cloud for the customer’s offshore assets. Those assets will operate and consume power at different rates than is generated. Ocean energy — whether it come from waves, tides, or floating solar — is somewhat seasonal. Additionally, supported assets may have peak power needs that require building storage levels or having multiple generation sources at hand. Making sure that sufficient amounts of energy are stored and available, whether it’s winter or summer, is a critical capability of any market-ready system.
Customer requirements should drive ocean energy product design. Any organization seeking an ocean energy partner should ask their suitors to explain how their solutions are tailored for relevant use cases through a fit-for-purpose design.
Question 2: Does the Technology Properly Address the Trilemma?
Once an ocean energy provider understands the full range of customer needs, it can go about the work of solving the engineering challenges that will optimize its technology for the market.
The “trilemma,” as we call it in the ocean energy space, is the interlinked nature of three big challenges — acceptability, affordability, and availability — to delivering a market-winning ocean energy technology. As engineers optimize to solve one challenge, it is often to the detriment of solving one or both of the other challenges.
An organization considering ocean energy solutions can find out if a technology solves the trilemma for its specific needs by asking the technology provider the following questions.
- Is the technology acceptable?
An ocean energy technology should be acceptable for a customer’s regulatory, environmental, and end-user requirements. Are there other stakeholders to satisfy?
- Is the technology affordable?
Each market sector faces unique energy costs. Energy for operations at sea is much more expensive than energy from the grid for operations on land. If an ocean energy solution isn’t affordable against an organization’s energy alternatives or doesn’t lower the cost of ownership or operation of the supported assets, it’s not viable.
- Is the technology available?
An ocean energy solution should be available — through durability to withstand the relevant ocean environment and the reliability to supply energy matching the customer’s need. Based on where a customer needs a solution deployed and the energy requirements, the ocean energy technology provider should be able to use a variety of techniques to match supply with demand. This could include coupling ocean energy with battery storage, co-generation such as floating solar or built-in redundancies to ensure systems don’t go offline.
Asking those questions will help you determine if an ocean energy company has thought about the trilemma for your specific use case and how they’ve solved it. At C-Power, our technology is designed to solve the trilemma, whether the need is offshore where getting energy today is often costly, complex, and carbon-intensive or whether it is onshore where grid electricity is reliable and comparatively affordable.
C-Power Solves for Specific Customer Market Needs
C-Power developed a market segmentation approach to drive its product development roadmap. The market segments are based on where and how much energy is needed, and we charted our product development to best serve three of them:
- Offshore low-power needs market (e.g., data gathering, operating equipment, robotics)
- Offshore high-power needs market (e.g., operating equipment, large vessel charging)
- Onshore high-power needs market (e.g., grid electricity)
The result is the SeaRAY autonomous offshore power system (AOPS), designed for the offshore low-power needs market, and the StingRAY AOPS, designed for the offshore and onshore high-power needs market.
The offshore low-power needs market is the first segment that ocean energy solutions can serve competitively. Once we understood the use cases, we could optimize a solution. That meant designing the SeaRAY AOPS to generate and store enough energy for continuous use by those operations and to enable real-time, bidirectional data and communications. With those features, the SeaRAY AOPS was designed to be the missing piece of the puzzle offshore operations needed to unlock the digital, autonomous, resident future of the ocean economy.
The lesson is that, at the end of the day, customers aren’t interested in the first-place science project. They should be able to choose an ocean energy solution that is designed for them.