Ocean Technologies are Moving Forward but Still Have a Ways to Go

by | Jul 29, 2016

tidal energyIt’s been a long time coming, but Oregon may finally get a wave energy test center. The US Department of Energy said that it will release up to $40 million for the effort.

According to the Portland Business JournalOregon State University’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center and CalWave are competing to build the test site. The OSU group, it adds, would build the test center about 6 miles off the coast and consist of four testing berths connected to a subsea cable that would carry up to 20 megawatts of power ashore.

Philosophically, advocates of the green energy form say that it is another arrow in the quiver of the nation’s energy portfolio. As such, it increases reliability while also being environmentally friendly. But detractors say that the energy form is unproven and expensive, and that governments should not fund such risks.

“Wave and tidal energy represent a large, untapped resource for the United States and responsible development of this clean, renewable energy sources is an important part of our (energy) strategy,” says David Danielson, former Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The Energy Department has said it would invest $16 million in 17 different projects that capture energy from waves and tides. The energy source has been a slow mover primarily because so many different permits are required to build. That means private sector dollars are hard to come by and it is why these projects are most often publicly funded. Sources have said that the permitting process is tough going because mankind is unkind to the oceans. 

To be clear, wave energy is when generators are placed on the ocean’s surface and energy levels are determined by the strength of the wave. Tidal energy converts energy from tides, or the continuous flow of water. Impediments to further growth are wide ranging and cover such issues as the preservation of aquatic resources, water quality and the maintenance of marine life. However, if those obstacles could be overcome, the energy sources would have a huge advantage over solar and wind energy: a continuous flow of power. 

On the positive side,  the 398 megawatt MeyGen Tidal stream energy project  is set to launch September 1, 2016 in Scotland. A press release issued by the owner, Atlantis, says that four turbines will initially be installed. 

“It represents a critical moment in the development of tidal stream power generation globally and will firmly position Britain as the world leader in commercial tidal power,” says Atlantis Chief Executive Tim Cornelius. 

On the gloomy side, New Jersey-based Ocean Power Technologies decided to stop its efforts to build a wave project in Oregon. A news report says that after receiving monies from the federal government and a coalition of utilities, the deal continued to suffer financial losses.

Meantime, Ocean Renewable Power Co. has a tidal 317 kW project at Cobscook Bay in May. But it has asked the federal government to delay its pilot license until 2017. It has been working with the Bangor Hydro-Electric to deliver power.

Critics are calling the Maine project a “boondoggle,” noting that the government has invested $10 million — part of the $87 million it allocated to marine and hydro-kinetic energy projects in fiscal 2008. The Heritage Foundation says that the initial price of the project comes to 21.5 cents per kilowatt hour, which is substantially higher than what Maine’s citizens now pay.

Ocean technologies are part of tomorrow’s energy portfolio. The research will continue but the industry needs to prove itself in the market.

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