Navy Gets A $24 Million Pool, We Get Low Cost Wave Power

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The US Department of Energy has just announced a new $6.5 million competition to promote low cost wave power, and it has recruited the Navy’s newly renovated indoor test pool as the proving grounds. At a whopping $24 million and six years in the making, the upgraded pool is almost as technologically exciting as the new competition.

The “pool” is the MASK Basin (MASK stands for Maneuvering and Seakeeping) in West Bethesda, Maryland, part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division. It is designed to test submarines and torpedoes as well as surface ships, so wave power devices should fit right in.

low cost wave energy prize
Newly upgraded MASK Basin courtesy of US Navy.

Making Waves For Wave Power

Those who enter the new competition better be prepared to run their wave power devices through some pretty tough tests. Here’s how the Navy describes the upgraded MASK Basin:

Imagine a giant swimming pool with 12 million gallons of water that in seconds can produce waves matching those found almost anywhere on Earth; reproduce those waves precisely on command; and in less than a minute regain its original placid surface in preparation for a new kind of wave to be generated.

The original facility was built in 1962 using a pneumatic system to generate waves, so an upgrade was long overdue. Here’s the meat and potatoes:

During the six-year upgrade, Carderock replaced the original pneumatic wave-making system with 216 individually-controlled electro-mechanical wave-boards that significantly enhance the capability to create a precise wave environment. The new finger-style technology…provides the Navy with an unprecedented capability to create extreme, realistic ocean environments inside of the facility.

The Race For Low Cost Wave Power

The new $6.5 million competition is formally titled the Wave Energy Converter (WEC) Prize. The idea is to spur private sector and academic partners to develop a device that brings down the cost of wave power, as described in the competition’s mission statement:

The Program envisions that this competition will achieve game-changing performance enhancements to WEC devices, establishing a pathway to sweeping cost reductions at a commercial scale.

The initial goal is a  levelized cost of energy of 15 cents per kilowatt hour, though that could change during the development phase of the competition.

The goal of 15 cents seems pretty modest compared to solar power, which is already a few cents below that mark and poised to go lower. However, regional and environmental considerations could make wave power a winner in some markets.

The winning device will also score points for durability, ease of operation and maintenance, environmental friendliness, and capability of scaling up to the commercial energy market.

There is a way to go before any of these devices get their turn in the Navy’s “Indoor Ocean,” as some are calling it. The parameters of the competition are still in development and the Energy Department is seeking a partner to launch it.

There is also a sister competition with a prize of $3.5 million for marine hydrokinetic power, so stay tuned for that.

And The Winner Is…

Developers of the winning wave power device are also going to have to demonstrate their ability to promote their technology and engage the public in supporting wave power development. That’s a key consideration given the flood of misinformation directed at the solar and wind power industries, aimed at undercutting public support for new energy technologies.

Just last month, for example, the Wind Energy Association had to fire back at a string of “canned attacks” by a former Koch Industries lobbyist.

The Koch brothers have a long history of anti-renewable and pro-fossil lobbying and it’s only a matter of time before they turn their attention to wave power.

Wave power has a bit of a running start, though. The Navy already has a newly upgraded open air wave power test bed up and running in Hawaii and the Energy Department is determined to tap into a potential 1400 terawatt hours of electricity in marine energy.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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