Large-scale commercial exploitation of wave energy is certain to require the deployment of wave energy converters (WECs) in arrays, creating ‘WEC farms’. An understanding of the hydrodynamic interactions in such arrays is essential for determining optimum layouts of WECs, as well as calculating the area of ocean that the farms will require. It is equally important to consider the potential impact of wave farms on the local and distal wave climates and coastal processes; a poor understanding of the resulting environmental impact may hamper progress, as it would make planning consents more difficult to obtain. It is therefore clear that an understanding the interactions between WECs within a farm is vital for the continued development of the wave energy industry.

To support WEC farm design, a range of different numerical models have been developed, with both wave phase-resolving and wave phase-averaging models now available. Phase-resolving methods are primarily based on potential flow models and include semi-analytical techniques, boundary element methods and methods involving the mild-slope equations. Phase-averaging methods are all based around spectral wave models, with supra-grid and sub-grid wave farm models available as alternative implementations.

The aims, underlying principles, strengths, weaknesses and obtained results of the main numerical methods currently used for modelling wave energy converter arrays are described in this paper, using a common framework. This allows a qualitative comparative analysis of the different methods to be performed at the end of the paper. This includes consideration of the conditions under which the models may be applied, the output of the models and the relationship between array size and computational effort. Guidance for developers is also presented on the most suitable numerical method to use for given aspects of WEC farm design. For instance, certain models are more suitable for studying near-field effects, whilst others are preferable for investigating far-field effects of the WEC farms. Furthermore, the analysis presented in this paper identifies areas in which the numerical modelling of WEC arrays is relatively weak and thus highlights those in which future developments are required.

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