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DoE research facility to use cutting-edge sensors, other technologies to improve offshore energy production

Thanks to a planned U.S. Department of Energy research center, businesses in the alternative energy technologies sector may be able to overcome obstacles that have long been standing in the way of their progress. The implications for wind and ocean power development projects could be game-changing.

At the Reference Facility for Offshore Renewable Energy, a wide array of technologies will be tested to determine their effectiveness in capturing reliable data about offshore winds and waters and their potential to generate ample amounts of energy. In so doing, they will be able to make more strategic plans for future projects and drastically improve their chances for success.

For example, one of the technologies to be tested at the facility involves a series of state-of-the-art sensors that will help researchers determine the strength and direction of offshore winds based on how light beams reflect off sea spray and other tiny particles floating on the breeze above the ocean's surface.

"The harsh environment and remote locale of offshore energy sites makes new technologies necessary to assess the power-producing potential of offshore sites. Strong winds and high concentrations of salt, for example, mean data-collecting equipment needs to be heavy duty and extremely sturdy to operate offshore," according to a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) press release.

Additionally, because anchoring meteorological towers to the ocean floor is extremely difficult and costly, project managers must look for innovative and affordable ways to gather the precise measurements needed for mapping out offshore energy systems. Metal soldering techniques that allow developers to build equipment capable of enduring these harsh conditions and delivering critical data are essential to the future success of alternative energy initiatives.

As PNNL officials note, the technologies being tested at this research center could yield data that vastly improves the potential viability of offshore energy projects, making them that much more appealing to investors who have historically been reticent to provide their support.

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