Green Energy Corp recently tried out a prototype wave-powered turbine at Newport Beach, a beach which is famous for it’s waves, and now it wants permission from the officials of that city to set up a more-permanent trial, possibly off from one of the city’s two piers.
The fiberglass prototype generator is roughly twenty feet long, is cylindrical in shape, and floats, but is tethered to the ocean floor. In such a setup, these generators would normally be connected to each other as well, but this time, it is only one generator.
The strong waves at Newport Beach would move the devices up and down, and this movement is converted into rotation that is used to turn an electricity-generating turbine. This generator would be connected to a transistor that is onshore via a cable.
Each generator generates approximately 5 kW (5,000 watts) of power during 7-foot swells. This is enough to power an average American household. I said American, specifically, because (as you may know) average household power consumption is considerably different in other countries.
Strict environmental regulations have complicated the effort to set up a permanent trial for these generators. In 2011, PG&E suspended its efforts to construct a wave-powered pilot plant near Eureka in Northern California, and it blamed high costs and hard-to-obtain permits. Venture capitalists have had a skittish attitude towards backing wave power projects because the concept is unproven.
“We are trying to approach all these projects with an open mind,” said Chad Nelsen, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation. “At the same time, they have potential impacts…. There’s not a lot really well known about what those effects would be.”
Another obstacle to the advancement of such projects is their high capital cost. These power plants cost $9 USD per watt of generation capacity—not cheap.
“Wave technology in California is particularly attractive because we have a ton of coastline,” he said. “It’s a huge amount of untapped energy, but no one has been able to effectively capture it.”
There is a wave farm in operation in Portugal (as Susan wrote less than two weeks ago) and it is considered the first commercially viable technology of this kind.