Bringing the Cloud to the Ocean: What Will the SeaRAY Autonomous Offshore Power System Demonstration Really Show Us?

More than a thousand miles from any ocean, tucked inside a testing facility near Boulder, Colorado, away from the dry, hot September weather, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was making waves. 

Or, virtual waves, with its new 40 kW hydraulic dynamometer, which was testing the SeaRAY autonomous offshore power system (AOPS). The dynamometer testing ensured the SeaRAY would operate as intended while rocking in the ocean waves once it was shipped thousands of miles to Hawaii for a real-life demonstration in the Pacific Ocean.  

With validation and verification testing at NREL’s Flatirons Campus concluding soon, it’s nearly time for the components of the SeaRAY AOPS to make the journey from points around the world to Hawaii for a demonstration program conducted in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Navy. After months of work bringing more than 50 industry-leading partners and suppliers together to manage the challenges of a global supply chain constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the demonstration will mark a significant achievement in C-Power’s journey to provide the energy and data services needed to bring the cloud to the ocean.  

But what does that vision mean at the technical level? Previous posts have covered what an AOPS really is and four ways the AOPS will transform the ocean economy. But in short, C-Power is bringing unprecedented reliability to offshore operations at the kilowatt-scale.  

Whether the Navy is remotely operating an underwater vehicle from thousands of miles away or an oil and gas company is monitoring emissions compliance at an offshore field, reliability is essential. These operations often only require between 10 W and 10 kW of electricity, but existing wave energy-harnessing technologies being developed for the market can’t deliver that reliably and cost-effectively.  

Using an unreliable energy source on the ocean would be like buying solar panels to power your electric car, then not having enough charge to drive to work on a rainy day. Except instead of being able to borrow a neighbor’s plug next door, you’d have to hitch a ride hundreds of miles to bring power to your vehicle.  

That’s why these institutions have tolerated the people-, capital- and carbon-intensive activities needed to deliver power to remote devices in the ocean. But by demonstrating its ability to deliver 2 kW of electricity reliably to a host of payloads over the course of several months, the SeaRAY will signal that the ocean economy is finally ready to enter a new era of innovation.  

A C-Power AOPS provides in-situ power, energy storage, and real-time data and communications support that will advance the marine economy toward a future of autonomous, connected and resident technologies. The systems are designed to support unmanned offshore activities, including subsea vehicles, sensor packages and operating equipment.  

The SeaRAY AOPS at WETS is a moored configuration consisting of a surface wave energy converter; a single, combined mooring, data, communications and power cable; and a seafloor base unit that provides 100 kWh of energy storage for payload operation. The SeaRAY has been developed under a $4 million DOE and Navy-sponsored research and development program. 

C–Power has already initiated commercial launch of the SeaRAY.