Is a New Approach to Renewables Set to Make Waves?

by | Jan 3, 2017

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ocean wave energy manageThere is a new approach to renewable energy on the horizon that energy managers — and the people to whom they report — should be aware of before making long-term investments in what is commercially available today.

On the last day of 2016, Clean Technica reported that the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has invested $40 million to create a utility scale wave energy test site off the coast of Oregon. The Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site will be run by Oregon State University’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center.

The story discusses the potential of wave approaches. Most of the population lives within 50 miles of the coast, so the power is generated near where it is needed, and the proportion is growing. Nuclear power plants are aging and, the story says, and probably won’t be replaced. Wind and solar sources can’t carry the load themselves.

It is an important step. “This facility is an important step toward realizing the Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office’s vision of a commercial U.S. marine and hydrokinetic energy industry that expands and diversifies the nation’s renewable energy portfolio,” wrote Jim Ahlgrimm, the Acting Director, Water Power Technologies Office, in response to emailed questions from Energy Manager Today. “Wave energy is a significant untapped energy resource that predictably churns off our coasts, but investors and the business community must see proof-of-concept before supporting a new energy technology. When operational, the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site (PMEC-SETS) will serve as the nation’s first fully permitted, grid connected, array test site for multiple wave energy converter (WEC) technologies.  The facility will provide world-class capabilities for wave energy converter testing clients to prove their technologies as a critical step toward commercialization.”

Graphic Courtesy of the Department of Energy

Click on graphic to expand. Courtesy of the Department of Energy.

The press release announcing the test said it will be financed with a combination of federal and non-federal funds and will be completed by early 2020. It will include, according to the release, “four grid-connected berths where researchers can test full-scale wave energy conversion device concepts.”

Of course, the fate of research and ultimate development is unclear as the new administration takes the helm. However, testing and development are ongoing elsewhere. Last week, the South China Morning Post reported that an Australian company, Carnegie Wave Energy, is seeking partners in China. The goal, the story says, is to cut the cost of wave energy production by 80 percent. The company feels that this will make the approach commercially viable.

The story says that the company’s goal is to build projects with a cumulative power of 1,000 MW in the next five to ten years. The story makes the distinction between wave energy and tidal power. The former is generated as wind transfers its power by blowing across the ocean, while the driver of the latter is the result of gravitational forces.

The bottom line of the story is that it the potential is great:

Both wave and tidal power are more stable and predictable than wind and solar power and require less land resources.

The sign that people are serious about a technological innovation is when it hits the consumer media. That’s precisely what is happening with wave energy. CNN last week reported on Yam Pro Energy, an Israeli company that is building a wave energy plant on the coastline of Accra, which is the capital city of Ghana. The approach is straight forward: Crashing the hydraulic press from crashing waves will be turned into electricity, the story says.

Ahlgrimm is optimistic. “The potential for wave energy is great, especially with 50% of the U.S. population living within 50 miles of coastlines,” he wrote. “Major load centers adjacent to coasts could one day be powered by wave energy. Even before that, we expect to see wave energy providing power in areas with high electricity costs, such as in remote locations or at military bases. The Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office completed resource assessments finding the technical resource potential for wave energy in the U.S. to be 898 to 1,229 TWh/year. For perspective, 90,000 homes can be powered with 1 TWh/year. The potential power that could be provided by wave energy is significant to say the least.”

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