Renewable energy generation is storming into the political headlines in some regions of the world.

The UK plans to develop significant renewable energy generating capacity that will provide electricity to the national electricity network, the targets sound impressive: 10% of electricity is supposed to come from renewable sources by 2010 and 20% by 2020. The feasibility of this is still questioned by many, however Britain has the distinct advantage for wave, wind and tidal generation of the West facing Atlantic coast, a long coast line and relatively strong tides

While some renewables provide energy on demand ("firm" renewables such as biomass, landfill gas), the availability of most sources change according to environmental conditions (solar, wave, wind) and this unpredictable variability and the potential back-up capacity required elsewhere has been one of main concerns in using these power sources.

However research led by Graham Sinden at the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University UK has shown that by understanding the variability of the renewable energy available (both temporal and spatial), it is possible to combine the various types of renewable power generation to form a system with greater reliability and lower intermittency of power. Indeed the system may be even be optimised to follow the typical electricity demand patterns — for example using more wind energy provides peak power in evenings and winters, keeping solar in the mix often provides power on still days and by dispersing the generators the supply curve is smoothed. This reduced variability means that the backup capacity may be greatly decreased and renewable energy generation becomes a more realistic alternative. Indeed Graham Sinden suggests that by using a mix of wind, wave, tide, dCHP and solar technologies, renewable energy sources could reasonably provide a larger proportion of the UK energy, possibly up to 50%.

Yet the key to all this is in understanding the environmental conditions that provide the energy and this is where Seaview Realtime software is a valuable tool. The software takes data from HF radars and provides detailed, concurrent measurements of waves, winds and surface currents over a large area, typically 100–200km. The met-ocean data is provided on a grid with a resolution of 1–15km (depending on radar installation) and typically an update of data every ten minutes (again depending on radar selected). As the radar system is remotely located, typically on the shore, the equipment is easy to service and maintain, is not at risk to shipping or fishing equipment and provides a good long term data solution.

Gaining concurrent, long term wave, wind and current data over a large area may help not only in feasibility studies and system design, but may also allow refinement of the application specification and aid installation, so reducing costs. Once the generators are in commission the met-ocean data may also be used in the operation of the equipment, for example, providing long-range real-time data may allow precautions to be taken as storms are measured, approaching the generators.

Reference: 2007. Wyatt, L. R. Wave and Tidal Power measurement using HF radar. Proceedings of IEEE Oceans'07, Aberdeen, 18-21 June 2007, ISBN 1-4244-0635-8.