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Ocean Electricity

New efforts to generate power from waves and tides.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a series.

The Pacific Northwest is an ideal location for the deployment of marine renewable energy, primarily wave energy, but also some tidal energy. The waters off of Oregon alone contain more than 200 terrawatt-hours of available wave resource per year. Various technologies exist both domestically and internationally that are designed to extract that resource and convert it to useable electricity.  While significant challenges must be addressed, the amount of energy resource, the proximity of that resource, and the available supply chain in the region, combine to make marine energy a tremendous opportunity for clean and reliable electricity generation.

To realize the potential of this resource, the Department of Energy continues to invest in the advancement of marine technologies, with the intention to add a secure and reliable resource to the nation’s energy mix. The DOE’s Water Power Program focuses on several types of marine renewable technologies. The primary focus has been wave and tidal energy extraction. The Pacific Northwest offers a highly energetic wave resource, with tidal resources located primarily in the Puget Sound area of Washington.

A wide range of technologies at differing stages of development currently exist within the wave energy industry; some technologies have spent significant time in the ocean and are capable of producing consistent and reliable electricity, while other technologies with great promise are still in the early stages of development. Unlike other renewables technologies, the wave energy industry has yet to settle on a singular design of wave energy converter. Even as the industry converges, separate designs that are better suited for specific ocean conditions will continue to develop.

One crucial step in the advancement of wave energy technologies in the United States is the development of a fully energetic grid-connected wave energy test site. Test facilities assist developers in many ways, by providing a pre-permitted site with supporting infrastructure, thus greatly reducing the time and cost of deployments.

The United States has begun to develop testing sites with publicly supported wave energy test facilities in Hawaii and Oregon. The Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS), located at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Oahu, Hawaii, is currently the United States’ only grid-connected test site, but it is restricted to companies working with the Navy. WETS has a lower wave power density than other sites, however has significant spikes throughout the year to test durability of devices.

In 2014, Oregon State University and the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center received a $4 million grant from the DOE to begin development of the Pacific Marine Energy Center’s South Energy Test Site. The proposed site, located five miles off the coast of Newport, will provide for grid-connected testing and device certification in a highly energetic ocean environment. The site is planned to be in operation in 2019. In addition, The Northwest National Marine center currently supports full-scaled wave energy device testing at its North Energy Test Site which can accommodate up to 100 kilowatts for grid emulation using its Ocean Sentinel buoy.

Jason R. Busch is executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust.

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