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Clean Power PowerBuoy wave energy buoy

Published on February 15th, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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Lockheed Martin Cranks Up World’s Largest Wave Energy Project

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February 15th, 2014 by  

Lockheed Martin, best known for its military aircraft and other cutting edge airborne machinery, is switching gears in a big way. The company has signed on with Victorian Wave Partners Ltd. to engineer a 62.5 MW ocean power project off the coast of Australia, billed as the world’s largest wave energy project.

The new project will feature a little gizmo we’ve been following for several years now, the PowerBuoy® wave-powered electricity generator developed by a company called Ocean Power Technologies (OPT).

So, let’s see what these guys have been up to since we last checked in.

PowerBuoy wave energy generator by Ocean Power Technologies

PowerBuoy wave energy generator courtesy of Ocean Power Technologies.

The World’s Largest Wave Energy Project – We Built This!

Victorian Wave Partners was formed by OPT’s special-purpose company, OPT Australasia Pty Ltd., to develop the project. Lockheed Martin will leverage its experience at the manufacturing end to get the PowerBuoy components into production and integrate the wave energy converters.

We first took note of OPT back in 2010, when its small scale PowerBuoy became the first ever grid-connected wave energy system in the US.

The hookup took place at a shared wave energy test bed developed by the US Navy in Kaneohe Bay at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in Oahu, where wave energy experiments have been going on since 2003.

If you’re doing the math at home, yes, the test bed goes all the way back to the Bush Administration, partnering the US Navy with the Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center.


Scaling Up Wave Energy

The concept behind the PowerBuoy is relatively simple. The shell of the PowerBuoy is literally a buoy that bobs up and down on the waves. That produces a mechanical stroking motion, which is transferred to a converter called a “take-off unit,” which powers an on-board generator. Electricity from the generator is conveyed to shore by cable.

That’s all well and good but the next challenge is to scale up the mechanism into a useful size while maximizing efficiency, and developing a cost-effective manufacturing stream.

By 2012, the Navy was expanding and enhancing its wave energy facility, and OPT developed a utility-scale version of the device.

Aside from scaling up the design, one key efficiency improvement was the switch from a hydraulic drive take-off unit to a direct drive unit.

The device is also tunable on a wave-to-wave basis, meaning that it adjusts to squeeze the most electricity out of each individual wave.

For extra bonus points, the PowerBuoy only rises about 30 feet off the surface of the water, with the bulk of its guts resting below. That low height, relative to offshore wind turbines, could give wave energy an edge on site selection where aesthetic concerns come into play.

Although the Australia project is expected to be the world’s largest of its kind (according to OPT, there’s a potential for 100 MW), let’s note for the record that OPT also has been testing the Powebuoy off Scotland since 2011, and it is in the process of commissioning another one off the coast of Oregon.

As for Lockheed Martin, expect more of the unexpected from this aeronautics firm. As part of a move to rebrand itself as climate-focused, “smart energy” company, Lockheed Martin also recently partnered with Concord Blue Energy to commercialize that company’s high tech waste-to-energy process in global markets.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • apostasyusa

    sweet!

  • Kenneth t.Kendrick

    What’s the cost of the electricity?

    • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

      Over time, it is less and less. There are at least 3 other companies making wave power systems; two that look like this one, and two that are longitudinal tubes that have hinged sections, that pump hydraulic fluid to generate electricity.

      Hawaii and Japan should use these. Scotland already is, and other places, as well.

      We should also use tidal energy, which is yet another reliable renewable energy source.

      • Gwennedd

        Considering that there are only 22 countries in the world that DON’T have a coastline, many countries could be using this type of generator.

        I’d love to see places like where I live use tidal energy. We don’t get much sun in winter and the wind is not reliable here, but the tides are always constant, even in bad weather. Actually, since I live in an inland port, we are protected from the worst sea weather. I think I’m going to research this and bring it before my city council.

        • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

          Tidal energy is up and running in several places around the world, including Scotland and trial projects are happening in others. The Cobscook Bay which is a large branch of the Bay of Fundy, has some tidal turbines that don’t need to reverse position when the tide changes.

  • wattleberry

    All these wind and wave power innovations share one wonderful characteristic-the rougher the weather becomes due to global warming the more power these things produce.

    The latest iteration of the ‘don’t get mad…..’ maxim; ‘don’t fight it, harness it’. The irony.

    • RobS

      They can also be used to provide local protection to sensitive areas, a ring of offshore wind turbines with wave energy harvesters beneath them offshore from a harbor or port or environmentally sensitive area will extract a lot of energy from the wind and waves before they reach shore.

      • wattleberry

        Excellent; the main prerequisite would just seem to be adequately robust plant to resist the gods of destruction!

      • wattleberry

        And now the news that wind farms tame hurricanes. More than my wildest dreams…..Will we ever reach the point that there are so many wind farms that they seriously reduce the strength of the winds, thus defeating the object ?

  • JamesWimberley

    This is pin money for Lockheed, which is and will stay primarily a defence contractor. But it looks like a clever bet in a small field without well-funded competitors where Lockheed can leverage its skills in making stuff that stands up to hostile environments.

    Lockheed already had a go at another ocean energy technology, OTEC, but that hasn’t worked out yet.

    • Matt

      OTEC has been proven to work, visit Kona Ha to see the one the US government built and ran to prove it works. Decided it is ready for commerial development, so didn’t need to build a bigger one. Or if you just want “Seawater District Cooling Systems” one of the other aspects of OTEC then there is one running plant at a resort in the pacific. Without the SDCS aspect I’m not sure it is cost effective yet. There are several sites doing the cooling version.

      • mds

        Issue for OTEC is cost/kWh.

  • Michael Berndtson

    This is like the feel good story of 2014, so far. A huge government contractor, with cubicle after cubicle of technical staff, uses its know how to research, develop, and deploy a really cool renewable technology. Not since Tang(TM) or maybe the internet has a technology shown such high potential for government issue to commercial use transferability. My comment is a little snarky in tone, but serious.

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