In 2020, NREL released new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and workforce development portals for marine energy and hydropower. These new sites offer a centralized platform for students, educators, and the general public to learn about water power technologies, gather information about careers and training programs, and find resources to use in the classroom or in self-directed learning. Some of the resources featured in the marine energy hub are already being put to use, including as part of a public energy exhibit at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.
The hubs feature NREL-aggregated resources from a number of industry and academic partners, as well as new content commissioned by WPTO, such as workforce data, opportunities for site tours, information on training programs, and materials for educators such as animations, games, and lesson plans. While materials developed by WPTO are targeted to college and graduate school students, many of the available resources can be adapted for K—12 audiences or even the general public. Mystic Aquarium turned out to be a natural partner for WPTO, and the two were able to collaborate on a shared interest to inspire the future blue economy workforce.
The partnership began when Mystic Aquarium leadership informed WPTO that they were interested in developing an offshore renewable energy exhibit. WPTO saw this as an opportunity to disseminate new marine energy educational content to the general public and target ocean-loving kids to consider a career in marine energy or the blue economy more broadly. After two years of coordination with WPTO, NREL, and industry partner Ocean Power Technologies, the aquarium unveiled the new Renewable Ocean Energy exhibit in autumn 2020. The exhibit includes a display that spans 400 square feet on the mezzanine level of Mystic Aquarium’s main gallery and features interactive mechanical models that allow visitors to manipulate underwater surge flaps and crank offshore wind turbines, simulating the process of renewable power generation. Guests can learn from a diverse group of scientists and engineers working in ocean energy, play games, and test their renewable energy knowledge at informational kiosks. All this takes place around a large screen at the center of the exhibit that displays marine energy animation—created with strong input from NREL on behalf of WPTO—showing seven different marine energy technologies. NREL technical researchers and communications staff provided guidance to the aquarium on all content created for this exhibit.
NREL’s development and centralization of educational materials support WPTO’s goal to provide objective and accurate information about marine renewable energy technologies. Given the early stage of marine renewable energy, there are few publicly available resources to help students and those interested in pursuing possible clean energy careers gain familiarity with these technologies. This workforce challenge is exacerbated by infrequent testing and demonstration of new technologies, meaning students, and the marine energy community overall, rarely have opportunities to gain real-world experience. The STEM hub helps to address these challenges by connecting interested educators and students with informational resources about marine energy and making students aware of opportunities to develop skills needed to enter the marine energy workforce. The information provided includes relevant data from adjacent marine-related industries.
In 2021, NREL will continue to incorporate existing resources into the portal and focus content creation tasks where gaps currently exist. The lab will elicit feedback from portal users—including students, educators, and marine energy employers—to inform future development. This effort aims to support the future use of marine energy curricula in the classroom and inspire the next generation of marine energy innovators.
For additional information, contact Al LiVecchi.