Artist’s impression of a wave energy farm (Illustration by Alfred Hicks, NREL)

Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are teaming to develop assessment methods and identify technical challenges, both common and unique to the US WEC industry. This effort, known as Wave-SPARC (Systematic Process and Analysis for Reaching Commercialization), will provide an opportunity for WEC technology developers to systematically improve their technologies to make them economically viable for the commercial market. The team will also deliver early stage WEC concepts with high economic promise for the WEC industry to further advance and commercialize.


Wave energy converter (WEC) technology development, as a whole, has not yet delivered the desired commercial maturity or the desired techno-economic performance. Both are required for commercial readiness and economic viability. Historically, a technology’s progress, value and funding are driven by Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). Originating primarily from the Space and Defense industries, TRLs focus on procedural implementation of technology developments of large and complex engineering challenges where cost is neither mission critical nor a key design driver. For energy generation devices such as WECs, however, techno-economic performance should be considered early in the development process, when fundamental conceptual, operational and design choices have to be made.

Context diagram for the Wave Energy Farm defining the problem boundaries and its environment.


The use of TRLs as the primary metrics has led to challenges in the WEC industry. Appreciating lessons learned from WEC technology developments to date, the labs refined the concept of Technology Performance Levels (TPLs), originally introduced in 2012, as a techno-economic performance metric for WEC technology. The TPL metric considers all key cost and performance drivers in a large number of assessment criteria. The TPL assessment can be applied at all technology development stages and associated TRLs. For technologies with low TRLs, the TPL assessment is particularly effective because it considers a wide range of WEC system attributes that define the techno-economic performance potential when developed to higher TRL and highlights potential showstoppers at the earliest possible stage of the WEC technology development.

Benefits to Industry

  • A holistic methodology to assess a WEC technology’s ability to achieve continental grid market competitiveness and acceptability.
  • Streamlined technology development pathways enabling focused technology improvements through the identification of technology-specific and common “pain points.”
  • Potential game-changing WEC concepts that will provide the required step change reduction in LCOE when fully developed to commercial readiness by the WEC industry
    • Early-stage, high techno-economic performance concepts provided to industry on a non-exclusive basis

When the project is completed, it will offer

  • Standard TPL assessment methodology
  • Quantitative metrics for high consequence WEC farm functions
  • Identification of common challenges specific to the US WEC industry
  • High-potential WEC technology concepts to TRL 3 and TPL 7+


Jesse Roberts


Jochem Weber