Review of Wave Energy Converter Power Take-Off Systems, Testing Practices, and Evaluation Metrics: Preprint

Nathan Tom

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


While the field of wave energy has been the subject of numerical simulation, scale model testing, and precommercial project testing for decades, wave energy technologies remain in the early stages of development and must continuing proving themselves as a promising modern renewable energy field. One of the difficulties that wave energy systems have been struggling to overcome is the design of highly efficient energy conversion systems that can convert the mechanical power, derived from the oscillation of wave activated bodies, into another useful product. Often the power take-off (PTO) is defined as the single unit responsible for converting mechanical power into another usable form such as electricity, pressurized fluid, compressed air, and others. The PTO, and the entire power conversion chain (PCC), is of great importance as it affects not only how efficient wave power is converted into electricity, but also contributes to the mass, size, structural dynamics, and levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of the wave energy converter (WEC). Unlike wind and solar, there is no industrial standard device, or devices, for wave energy conversion and this diversity is transferred to the PTO system. The majority of current WEC PTO systems incorporate a mechanical or hydraulic drive train, power generator, and an electrical control system. The challenge of WEC PTO designs is designing a mechanical-to-electrical component that can efficiently convert irregular, bi-directional, low frequency and low alternating velocity wave motions. While gross average power levels can be predicted in advance, the variable wave elevation input has to be converted into smooth electrical output and hence usually necessitates some type of energy storage system, such as battery storage, accumulator super capacitors, etc., or other means of compensation such as an array of devices. One of the primary challenges for wave energy converter systems is the fluctuating nature of wave resources, which require WEC components to be designed to handle loads (i.e. torques, forces, and powers) that are many times greater than the average load. This approach requires a much greater PTO capacity than the average power output and indicates a higher cost. In addition, supporting mechanical coupling and or gearing can be added to the PCC to help alleviate the difficulties with transmission and control of fluctuating large loads with low frequencies (indicative of wave forcing) into smaller loads at higher frequencies (optimum for conventional electrical machine design) can quickly increase the complexity of the PCC which could result in a greater number of failure modes and increased maintenance costs. All of the previous points demonstrate how the PTO influences WEC dynamics, reliability, performance and cost which are critical design factors. This paper further explores these topics by providing a review of the state-of-the-art PTO systems currently under development, how these novel PTO systems are tested and derisked prior to precommercial deployment, and the evaluation metrics historically used to differentiate between PTO designs and how they can be improved to support control co-design focused development of wave energy systems.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages15
StatePublished - 2022
EventASME 2022 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition (IMECE2022) - Columbus, Ohio
Duration: 30 Oct 20223 Nov 2022


ConferenceASME 2022 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition (IMECE2022)
CityColumbus, Ohio

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5700-82807


  • laboratory testing
  • power conversion chain
  • power take-off
  • wave energy converters


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