PG&E to Try Next Round of Wave Power Tests off Santa Barbara Coast

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Moving on from the problems encountered in the Northern California wave energy tests off Mendocino and Humboldt Counties; PG&E has just filed a new preliminary permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for another three-year study of a potential wave power site.

Vandenberg Air Force Base on the Santa Barbara County coast is the new host. Like every Federal Agency, the Air Force is now under Executive Order to cut transport carbon emissions 30% and to power buildings with renewable energy, possibly making this location more amenable to tests of a renewable energy source that has the potential to do that.


The WaveConnect permits applied for are just the first step; allowing PG&E to put in the needed infrastructure to conduct tests. A grid extension to the ocean that brings an undersea cable 5 to 10 miles offshore to several WaveConnect “sockets” to plug the tested wave energy devices into, so that PG&E can monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the various wave energy devices they want to test.

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Under the original permits PG&E obtained from FERC in 2008, PG&E had 3 years till 2011 to test both environmental and feasibility studies for potential wave power off the coast of California, funded by $1.2 million from the Department of Energy and $4.8 million approved by the CPUC to test the waters off Mendocino and Humboldt Counties.

Those initial tests ruled out Mendocino County.

Laurel Krause at her renewable energy blog local Mendocino Current nailed the problem: stakeholders in this region are dyed-in-the-wool political activists, living in environmentally-centric coastal communities who have reacted protectively, sounding alarms that PG&E and the Federal government’s wave energy plans may foul, diminish and destroy the Pacific Ocean and marine life.

So, by this June PG&E filed with FERC to give up on Mendocino and move the funds remaining to the Humboldt spot with the “required spaciousness and the industrial infrastructure as well as a welcoming, interested community.”

Connecting to the grid at Vandenberg Air Force Base will eliminate the need for any infrastructure development on Santa Barbara County land and beaches, reducing that kind of possible opposition.

While tests continue off Humboldt County, various technical problems with the devices themselves also reveal the need to devise more solutions in the mechanics of wave power. Wave energy is in its infancy, and many different and novel approaches are being tried.

So far only a globally miniscule 300 MW (about the size of one average coal or solar plant) is producing wave energy worldwide, so the field is wide open to new ideas. Among the interesting discoveries to come out of the studies is that wave energy is higher in Winter, according to Hal LaFlash, director of emerging clean technology policy in energy procurement at PG&E.(pdf)

There is no word yet on which devices will be selected for this next round of tests.

Of the four tested devices, two have dropped out. The Finavera was rejected by the CPUC as too expensive, and the Pelamis fell apart in Portugal, so possibly PG&E will retest the Oceanlinx from the Humboldt tests. But there are so many imaginative wave energy inventions out there.

The wave energy device that I think holds great promise; with $4.4 million tests now being funded by the EU, is the WaveRoller, that works on underwater swells. I hope to visit it this Spring when it undergoes its first full scale trials.

Related stories:

WaveRoller Uses Swinging Door For Underwater Wave Energy

Reliable Wave Power Ensures Terrorism Protection

Australia Gets Wave Power Inspired By Oil Rig

Underwater Kite Harnesses Ocean Energy

Image: Patrick Smith Photography

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