Tech Insights

NREL Visualization Offers 3D Peek Inside Water-Powered Island 

June 27, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

A 3D visualization from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory showcases a virtual island with several renewable energy-powered systems, including ocean research buoys, a navigation network, water purification and hydropower plants, and technologies like underwater tidal turbines and wave energy converters.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently unveiled a 3D visualization of a mini-island community powered by rivers, waves, tides, and other renewable energy resources. 


Renewable Energy Discovery Island

The Renewable Energy Discovery Island shows water’s role in supporting power generation and storage, ocean research, clean drinking water, and other facets of society. Image used courtesy of NREL (illustration by IKM 3D)


The Renewable Energy Discovery Island (REDi) showcases the range of communities renewables can power, from cities to remote villages, and applications like seawater desalination plants, ocean monitoring buoys, eco-tourism, an aquaculture farm, and cooling at airports. 

REDi was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office and developed by Scotland-based IKM 3D, a division of IKM Testing UK offering 3D animation, imagery, and interactive software services. NREL awarded IKM 3D a contract in 2020 to design and build the platform. The company said in July 2022 that the online portal would cover over a dozen renewable energy technologies, particularly focusing on the latest hydropower, wave, and tidal systems

The tool is designed for educational use, as teachers can incorporate the content into lessons about renewable energy and climate change. It can also inform career development, covering various fields such as marine science, water purification, and farming. 

So far, the island features six water-powered ports, as previewed in videos available in a YouTube playlist. New applications will be added to the island over the next few months to reach 15 stops total, covering wind turbines, hydrokinetic energy, river power, and other technologies. NREL said an interactive web-based application will launch for teachers and students later this year. 


interactive REDi platform

A preview of the interactive REDi platform. Image used courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory


Six Stops on the Renewable Energy Discovery Island

REDi features six ports powered by various water technologies: 

  • Desalination station: A reverse osmosis desalination plant that receives seawater, removes small particles via filters, recycles energy from the brine, separates salt, and stores the water for distribution after the final cleaning stage. The plant is powered by nearby wave energy converters that pressurize seawater. 
  • Hydro Heights: This closed-loop pumped storage system provides utility-scale energy storage and generates electricity during peak demand to prevent outages from heat waves and other extreme weather events. Two reservoirs at different altitudes generate power as water travels through turbines. 
  • Hydro Hollow: A conventional dam releases water and generates electricity in periods of high demand.
  • Navigation network: A series of wave-powered buoys stop boats from getting caught in hazards such as shallow reefs. It contains a column that pulls air through turbine blades as the unit moves up and down with the waves. Then, all generated power is transferred to a battery module used to power sensors that trigger a warning signal when vessels approach a hazard. 
  • Research reef: Offshore environmental monitoring sensors can record oceanographic and biological conditions. A cable system fixed to the seabed can rotate to harness wave energy from the buoy’s movement. This rotational energy is converted into electricity and stored in batteries to power the buoy’s sensors. 
  • Tidal town: Tidal turbines capture tidal variations in shallow waters and send a rotational force into the generator via a gearbox. The power is then transferred to shore, where electrical cables connect to a battery bank to store energy for future use. 

More technologies will be added over the coming months. 


Video used courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory