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West Coast Ocean Power Surge

Driving down costs of potential limitless ocean energy

EDITOR's NOTE: The last of a series. Last week: Ocean Electricity

Several wave energy technologies are approaching the need for a full-scale demonstration project in a fully energetic test environment. Four companies have deployed at the Hawaiian WETS location, or will over the next two years.  That site is an excellent location to deploy, test, and build familiarity with the operations of the various technologies. 

However, those companies will need to move their devices to a fully energetic testing and demonstration site in the future, in order to demonstrate the commercial viability of their respective technologies.  That’s why the U.S. Department of Energy’s financial support for a test site is so important.  Without such a facility, U.S. based companies will have to take their technologies overseas for that final push to commercialization, robbing the U.S. of the benefits of its investment.

Commercial opportunities for wave energy are currently limited to niche markets like Hawaii and Alaska, where the cost of power is highest in the nation.  While the above market price of MHK technologies may seem prohibitive, every effort must be made to ensure that the early projects get financed. 

The efficiency curve does not kick in until projects are happening and the costs start to decline.  Hence the importance of state and federal policies that incentivize these early projects such as California and Oregon’s recent adoption of a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard.  These nationally leading RPSs will drive the market to bring on more renewables, and as the cost of power from wave energy declines over time, projects on the west coast become more viable.

Several companies are tracking toward commercial viability:

Columbia Power Technologies – The StingRAY represents the culmination of over 10 years of academic and corporate development. The system is based on a design philosophy that values simplicity, high efficiency and durability. Columbia Power’s product development effort emphasizes stepped-scale testing. In the past three years, their third-generation system has been modeled over thousands of hours, tank-tested prototypes four times and successfully completed thirteen-month sea trials of an intermediate-scale prototype. In 2018, Columbia Power plans to deploy a full-scale device at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site in Hawaii.

Resolute Marine Energy – Resolute Marine Energy is focused on developing a near-shore, bottom-mounted hinged flap design. As a near-shore, shallow water WEC technology, a much lower proportion of total project costs need to be spent on the transmission system (pipes and cables) that carries energy from the device to shore. Resolute’s technology can also be used to create clean drinking water from seawater.  Resolute Marine plans to deploy a demonstration project in 2017 at Oregon’s Camp Rilea.

M3 Wave – M3 Wave’s device is a submerged, stationary wave energy device that converts wave pressure into electricity. Resting completely underwater and out of site, this class of technology reduces impacts on viewsheds. M3 successfully completed a month long sea trial of the technology in 2013 at Camp Rilea. The company is also a finalist in the DOE’s Wave Energy Prize Competition, where they are working on a version of the technology suited for deeper water.

Northwest Energy Innovations – NWEI’s Azura technology is a multi-mode, point absorber wave energy converter that extracts power from both the heave and surge motions of waves to maximize energy capture. The system produces power as a result of the relative rotational motion between the hull and float. The power takeoff system is based on high pressure hydraulics and is located within the Powerpod. The Azura device was tested in Oregon in 2012 and is currently undergoing testing at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site in Hawaii. NWEI has been awarded an additional $5 million to deploy their next generation, full scale technology at WETS in 2018.

Cal Wave – The WaveCarpet is a novel wave energy converter that is simple and scalable. The unique converter design uses a synthetic-seabed-carpet that has the ability to extract wave energy from waves passing along the surface, an approach inspired by the ability of a muddy seafloor to effectively absorb overpassing ocean waves. The WaveCarpet operates below the surface, allowing it to survive stormy seas while causing no visual pollution or posing any collision dangers.

Ocean Energy USA – Ocean Energy’s cornerstone product is the OE Buoy. The OE Buoy is a wave power generation platform designed around the oscillating water column principle. The result of over 10 years of research and development, the OE Buoy has only a single moving part and has just completed over 3 years of rigorous testing in Atlantic waters. The Ocean Energy is scheduled to begin testing at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site in 2017.

Fred Olsen – Fred Olson’s Lifesaver technology is an advanced electro‐mechanical point absorber WEC platform that uses point absorber hull and power take‐off configurations to harness and convert the energy of the nearshore to electricity. The technology is currently deployed at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site in Hawaii.

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


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