Space for Ocean: Highlights from LDE NL Space Campus Summer School 2023

 Space for Ocean: Highlights from LDE NL Space Campus Summer School 2023

In this article, read the highlights of Iliad Digital Twin of the Ocean (DTO) as a student challenge in the LDE NL Space Campus Summer School 2023! dotSPACE and Iliad DTO passed the reins to a team of Master’s students, and gained a unique perspective on using space-based techniques for a renewable energy digital twin of the ocean.

About the LDE NL Space Campus Summer School

From the 9 to 14th July 2023, Iliad DTO was represented at the LDE NL Space Campus Summer School. The six day event involved meeting and learning about various space programmes, developments and research activities at the Leiden, Delft and Erasmus universities. Based at the NL Space Campus in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the students went on to tour the space agencies, institutes and industry in South Holland including ESA ESTEC, TNO, Sron, AirbusDS, Galileo Reference Centre and SBIC. Alongside like-minded students, the attendees took part in multiple space and non-space events, engaging with experts and learning about the basics of space technology. The School hosted students from 2nd, 3rd and 4th year bachelors as well as masters students, bringing fresh perspectives to the table. During the summer school, six projects were presented to student teams, including the Iliad DTO challenge topic – presented by the team of consortium partner dotSPACE. 

Iliad Digital Twin of the Ocean as a Challenge Topic

Iliad is an EU-funded project which aims to develop and launch virtual models of the ocean that will provide highly accurate predictions of future developments at global seas. The DTO develops representations designed to accurately reflect changes and processes accruing at the ocean. Iliad will commercialise an interoperable, data-intensive, and cost-effective model, capitalising the explosion of new data provided by many different earth sources, modern computing infrastructure including Internet of Things, social networking, Big Data, cloud computing and more.

Two Iliad DTO pilots are Wind Energy and Renewable Energy from the Ocean: Currents, Waves and Floating Solar. In connection with the Norwegian Northwind research centre, the Wind Energy pilot aims to make wind power cheaper, more efficient and more sustainable. Similarly, the Renewable Energy pilot strives to unlock the potential of ocean energy in the North-Easter Atlantic Ocean by investigating currents, waves and solar irradiance combined with meteorological data from seas around Portugal, Spain and Norway. 

Iliad as a Challenge Topic

As part of the Summer School, the students work on a project. Presented and organised by Iliad consortium partner dotSPACE, the challenge titled ‘Space Data-enabled Renewable Energy’ was tackled. 

How can digital twin technology, including space data, (Iliad DTO) be utilised to optimise renewable energy generation from waves or offshore wind?

As the demand for cleaner energy production intensifies, the need to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness becomes increasingly crucial. Although the infrastructure for renewable energy exists, there is untapped potential for improvement; Revolutionary technologies like digital twins and diverse earth observation techniques are bound to play a pivotal role in addressing these challenges. Digital twins enable the analysis of virtual counterparts to predict the future of physical assets, while space data facilitates the assessment and forecasting of renewable energy sources. Digital twins fuse various data sources, and through geo and immersive visualisation, users can explore, analyse, and present geospatial data interactively. 

The Iliad DTO leverages these technologies to address Earth Data challenges, with renewable energy being one of them. 

Ocean wind farm
Image credit: Shaun Dakin

In this interdisciplinary collaboration, the students were challenged to evaluate the current state of integrating these technologies into renewable energy production, to identify unexplored opportunities, and to devise economically viable and technically feasible solutions to overcome identified challenges. With the mission to promote a sustainable ocean economy, these renewable energy sub-projects, a.k.a pilots, are an integral part of the Iliad system of systems. 

The overall goal was to develop a business case for a solution that leverages space data and digital twins (Iliad DTO). Through an interdisciplinary objective, and while keeping in line with the interoperable system of systems approach, the solution built on the pilots and aimed to improve accuracy, efficiency, and sustainability in renewable energy generation while considering technical feasibility, regulatory compliance, financial viability, and environmental impact.

Image credit: NL Space Campus. Photo of 3 student members from team Iliad presenting the final solution at Space Expo, the Netherlands

The Result

Guided by Iliad consortium partner dotSPACE, the following team of five tackled the Iliad challenge:

  • Varun Gottumukkala: MSc Aerospace Engineering, TU Delft
  • Thomas Verstuyft: MSc Aerophysics & Engineering, NFU 
  • Sebastian Oliver Scholts: MSc Aerospace Engineering, TU Delft
  • Saurab den Butter: MSc Business Administration MiM, RSM
  • Marinka de Wellingen: MSc Chemistry, Leiden university

The team provided a summary of their solution:

With the global energy demands ever increasing there is a need to improve the efficiency of renewable energy in order to move to a more sustainable greener future. A business case was built around incorporating space data with digital twins technology to improve and optimise renewable offshore energy. Several pilot cases for wave and tidal energy have already been implemented to obtain valuable insights and useful data.

Technical aspects 

For this project, our team focused on one of these pilot cases, wave energy due to the complex dynamic interaction of the waves with the environment. Waves are influenced by unpredictable phenomena such as the wind, while tides are much more predictable. Therefore, we decided that wave-energy generation would benefit more from satellite data. Wave energy generators work by utilising the movement of waves and converting that mechanical energy in electricity. The main performance parameters for optimising wave energy are wave height & period, wind speed, ocean density, ocean depth and ocean currents. All of these are parameters that can be measured from space. This data would be obtained by instruments aboard the Sentinel spacecraft part of the open-access Copernicus program.

The influence of the space data would allow short & long-term trends to be observed, as well as locating areas of high wave energy content. This would lead to higher fidelity predictions of wave energy generation and assess the sensitivity in performance when altering the location and orientation of the wave energy devices.

Business case

The business problem regarding the use of wave energy devices is trying to utilise wave energy in an efficient manner, which allows us to profit from the energy as well. We tried to map out this problem in our market analysis. During our market analysis we came to the conclusion that wave energy is not, yet, commercialised. There are companies who are researching and developing wave energy devices, but not one company offers wave energy to a customer. We did find some companies, who eventually went under the water, who tried to employ wave energy farms. These companies mostly went under because of the high costs and relatively low energy output. The source of these high costs were maintaining the turbines, transporting and (de)installing.

Relocating a wave energy farm was therefore a very costly undertaking. Relocating however was not that uncommon, sometimes the wave turbines did not generate enough energy or they were harmful to marine life and therefore they were forced to relocate. It is also important to note that some of these companies went under in the period of 2008/2010 during and after the economic crisis from 2008. Our solution is to incorporate space satellite data to search for the optimal location for our wave turbine farms.

With the use of satellite data we can calculate the amount of kinetic energy there is in the waves for us to harness and utilise. Efficiency of wave farms in Europe is between 54 and 84%, this efficiency is (among other things) wave dependent. Furthermore, with this satellite data we can prevent locating our wave turbine farms at locations which would harm marine life. In short: location optimisation by satellite data.

Economic aspects

The question arises, how much is this going to cost us and who is willing to pay for it. Mainly the initial investments can be a hurdle. The cost-benefit analysis is divided between the Capex (capital expenditure) and the Opex (Operational Expenditure). The initial cost for one wave turbine to be made, shipped and be operational is between $6.22 and $8.19 million (Jenne, Yu, Neary, 2015; WACOP Wave Atlas). Then there are costs to consider, for example: insurance, marine operations, HR, engineers, replacement of parts (maintenance), etc. Stakeholders for this idea might be a governmental organisation or an energy company. What would such an entity’s incentives be to invest in this costly operation? Eventually we have to reduce our pollution to stop the warming of our Earth and stop using our finite resources in the ground.

The UN (IPCC) and climate accords are striving for an economy of renewable energy. Wave Energy is mentioned frequently in the UN, you could argue that this is the future whether you like it or not.

Business wise there are some hurdles to overcome. Since waves will be here forever, thus utilising their full potential will give you endless energy to sell. We did a small calculation in our presentation. The total magnitude of the recoverable wave resources in the US (beaches and rivers) is 1670 TWh, average selling in Europe (unfortunately we could not find the price in Europe) is €110/MWh, this would mean that the potential total sales would be around €184 million annually. Obviously, this is without the costs to consider: transportation, storage, insurance etc. With the use of satellite data we might be able to recover even more energy from the waves, which would increase our potential total sales.

Image credit: Iliad DTO challenge team

Legal aspects

Potential legal issues around our project, mainly include laws around protecting wildlife, like marine and offshore organisms, and also coral reefs. These energy generating systems could potentially damage or harm these ecosystems. So the placement of those machines are very crucial, so that we do the least amount of damage to these protected habitats. There are several directives placed around the world, and in most European countries that we have and should follow. As discussed in our business plan, we have tackled these issues by for example: the use of simulations, to see when and where we should plan implementing our project ideas.

If you would like to ask questions or get in touch with Varun, Thomas, Sebastian, Saurab or Marinka they are open for discussion on LinkedIn. 

Image credit: NL Space Campus. Photo of Jerry Yao and Tessa Buckley from consortium partner dotSPACE, representing Iliad DTO at the NL Space Campus Summer School

Final Word

A special thank you to Maaike Smelter, Ian van den Broek and Peter Batenburg for organising the prestigious LDE NL Space Campus Summer School 2023, Jerry Yao from dotSPACE for creating the Iliad DTO challenge, as well as Varun, Thomas, Sebastian, Saurab and Marinka for providing the challenge result.

Follow the journey of Iliad DTO by viewing the expert webinars, articles and events on the dotSPACE Iliad page. 

Iliad DTO project page

View past and upcoming events on the Iliad DTO Events page, where you can subscribe to the expert webinars and more, including The Iliad Digital Twins of the Ocean Summer School 2023.

Iliad DTO Events page

The Iliad Digital Twins of the Ocean Summer School 2023

Tessa Buckley

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