Customizable Data Acquisition System Helps Developers Design Marine Energy Technologies

October 14, 2022 by Claire Turvill

As a novel field, marine energy technology lacks access to historical data to help guide prototype development, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has developed a customizable data acquisition system to help developers test marine energy technology prototypes with greater accuracy.

Our oceans have become a pollution hotspot as waste, oil, and greenhouse gas absorption put marine, environmental, and human health at risk. Yet, oceans may be their own savior as wave energy offers a substantial opportunity for renewable energy generation, contributing to pollution reduction. To help this process, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are improving the development of data collection tools to support marine energy technologies function well.


Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock


Marine Energy Technology

Marine energy is a growing field that relies on the natural movement of water – waves, tides, and currents – to harness energy for a renewable power source. Temperature disparities in water can also be used by marine energy technologies with a process called ocean thermal energy conversion. As marine energy technologies are in the early stages of development, researchers have found a limit to the data available to help design their prototypes and steer any commercial advancements.

Many experts, including the researchers at NREL, see marine energy technologies as a breakthrough point for fighting climate change. It is more predictable and stable than solar and wind, making it more comfortable for investors and complementary to existing renewable energy sources. Marine energy resources can be placed in diverse geographic regions and are either underwater or out at sea, allowing oceanside views to remain unobstructed. These resources also have the potential to study unexplored reaches of the ocean, assist in providing clean drinking water, bring energy to isolated areas, and expand blue economy implementation.

Graph showing locations with technical power potential around the U.S. Image used courtesy of


Improving Data Collection Technology

With so many opportunities, this is why NREL researchers want to help improve data collection as soon as possible.

The team is developing a field data collection system called Modular Ocean Data Acquisition (MODAQ) that expands access to information on many different marine energy prototypes, such as various characteristics like wave response and potential energy production. Using MODAQ will help developers gauge the performance of their prototypes and reach the ocean sooner.

MODAQ is a trio of products, MODAQ Field, MODAQ Cloud, and MODAQ Web, that together offer practical data collection that users can access to view data almost as soon as it is collected. The system is marine-energy-standards compliant so developers can also utilize the functions to perform third-party verification tests. This ensures high-quality data is being used to measure equipment and follow industry standards, helping developers save money and satisfy investors in the process.

Andrew Simms and Mark Murphy, who built MODAQ’s hardware, compare the system to Lego blocks in that the team can configure the “blocks” to meet each prototype's unique needs.

MODAQ hardware. Image used courtesy of NREL


A research development team from the University of Hawaii – where waves and ocean thermal energy conversion have the potential of supplying 390 TWh/year – has used their custom MODAQ to collect authentic data from wave tank tests and open water field tests to improve a smaller version of the Hawai’i Wave Surge Energy Converter (HAWSEC). Their work thus far has substantiated the theoretical models of another NREL project, the Wave Energy Converter Simulator (WEC-Sim), as the Hawaii team’s MODAQ data has closely matched the simulated data.

Knowing that the MODAQ and WEC-Sim data are comparable, gives the NREL research team and wave energy technology developers faith in the analysis they are getting from the MODAQ system. Being able to use MODAQ to assess device performance reduces the cost to developers who would otherwise have to develop their own data collection system.

The NREL team is excited for MODAQ to continue to help marine energy technology developers better their prototypes and get them deployed to the ocean. They are currently developing MODAQ 2.0, which will be more accessible and cost less.