Ireland’s waters are famous for their crashing waves and as the country looks for ways to meet its renewable energy standard of 16% by 2020, these waves are becoming an increasingly important energy resource.

IBM and The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) have announced a joint effort to both understand and minimize the potentially harmful environmental impacts of so-called “wave energy conversion devices.” Chief among the concerns is noise pollution that can disrupt fish migrations and other marine ecosystems.

Under the lead of IBM Distinguished Engineer Harry Kolar, the two groups will use various monitoring sensors, including arrays of hydrophones, sensing platforms and communications infrastructure to assess, in real time, the noise levels of various wave energy devices. The first test site will be located at Galway Bay and will also study pattens of marine life.

“Underwater noise is a global environmental issue that has to be addressed if we are going to take advantage of the huge potential of ocean energy,” said European Union Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Maire Geoghegan-Quinn. “I’m delighted to see Ireland playing a lead role in this area, which has great importance for meeting the EU’s energy challenges.”

Kolar told AOL Energy that Ireland has one of the highest percentages of potential wave energy in the world, but for any new technology to secure government permitting, developers need to submit environmental impact studies. The joint venture with SEAI is the first step in deploying wave energy devices on a commercial scale off the coast of Ireland.

The devices themselves, which can be as large as two trailer trucks, are still in the testing phase as well. Some of them have moving parts that could have additional environmental impacts.

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Although wave energy conversion devices are shorter and therefore do not present the same aesthetic hurdles as offshore wind turbines, developers will face similar transmission issues. Kolar said each country will have to make its own cost-analysis assessment, taking into account to the wealth of its ocean resources.

Wave devices may be more predictable than wind turbines. Kolar said meteorologists can predict ocean activity better than wind speeds and can generally model ocean activity a few days in advance, an ability that will become increasingly important as wave energy farms are built and electrical grids begin to incorporate their power into power portfolios. Tidal devices, which are also being developed off of Ireland’s coast, are even more predictable than wave energy devices as they are powered from the regular daily tides.

Kolar said developers will also use smart grid technology to efficient grid connectivity devices to further streamline the eventual incorporation of wave power into grids.

Once operation, the monitoring devices will produce one of the largest ever continuous collections of underwater acoustic data and will provide develops from various fields with a better understanding of ocean life. A grant from the Ocean Energy Industry Prototype Fund, administered by the SEAI Ocean Energy Development Unit is funding the project.

Photo Caption: The west coast of Ireland boasts one of the largest concentrations of wave energy in the world, and consequently, Ireland has been pursuing the development of wave energy as a sustainable/renewable energy alternative. Wave energy conversion devices, such as the ones pictured above, are being developed and tested by a number of companies.