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Automation systems for Energy Observer Project

28 August 2018

The world’s first vessel powered by hydrogen and renewable energy, the Energy Observer, is on a six-year trip around the world to prove a potential energy system of the future. Rockwell Automation has become an official supplier and service provider for this project, providing automation systems that help power the vessel, which operates with zero greenhouse gasses or fine-particle emissions.

To help ensure 24-hour energy autonomy throughout its global expedition, the Energy Observer uses a combination of intermittent renewable energy: solar panels, wind turbines, lithium-ion batteries and a hydrogen production system.

The Energy Observer team turned to Rockwell Automation for advanced automation technology to help control the vessel’s energy management system. The solution consists of an Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable automation controller, Allen-Bradley PowerFlex drives, Allen-Bradley POINT I/O, FactoryTalk View Site Edition (SE) supervision software and FactoryTalk Historian data-capture software, all of which integrate seamlessly to monitor and control the system. A central human machine interface (HMI) completes the solution, delivering real-time information to the crew.

The energy management solution helps the Energy Observer team monitor, control and optimise the distribution of energy sources and make smart decisions about when and how to switch from one energy source to another. It also records the vessel’s operational data throughout its journey and communicates it back to the rest of the team on shore.

One example of this is the lithium-ion battery power being used to drive on-board systems like propulsion and desalination. Solar panels and wind turbines charge the batteries using PowerFlex drives. Should unfavorable environmental conditions cause the battery level to reach 30 percent or lower, the vessel’s hydrogen power source – fed from hydrogen created during the ocean water desalination process – activates to supply additional charging capabilities.