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Published on April 30th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Energy Department Bets $10 Million On Bigger, Better Wave Energy

April 30th, 2014 by  

Back in 2012 the Navy announced big plans for expanding its wave energy test site in Hawaii, to accommodate more ambitious technology. It looks like all systems are go now, and the Energy Department has just announced a new $10 million funding opportunity for testing two deep-water wave energy conversion (WEC) devices at the site.

The test facility (formally, the Wave Energy Test Site) at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Oahu has been in use for about ten years now for demo-scale devices at about 30 meters. The new $10 million in funding will go to test larger devices at 60 and 80 meters, which according to our source at NavyTimes.com is about where you’d want them to be for producing electricity at commercial scale.

us navy wave energy converter powerbuoy

OPT PowerBuoy at Hawaii test site by Lance Cpl. Vanessa M. American Horse.

No More Fooling Around With Wave Power

Now that the Navy has a commercial-grade test facility available, the Energy Department is not messing around with small fry. The new WEC funding opportunity is open only to WEC developers that fit this description:

The Water Program is seeking applications from wave energy conversion technology developers that are in advanced stages of technology development and are prepared to design, build and test technology at close to full-scale in the ocean environment.

Aside from checking out how the devices perform, the Energy Department is going to scrutinize their levelized cost of energy in order to formulate cost comparisons with other energy sources.

If you think you have the right stuff to apply for funding, here’s the link, which includes sign-up information for an application webinar.

Marine Corps Sails Off The Grid

The last time we checked out WETS (for Wave Energy Test Site — clever, no?) was in June 2012, when the company Ocean Power Technologies was testing a utility scale wave energy converter called PowerBuoy® PB150.

That device was a scaled up version of an earlier PowerBuoy installed at the test site. Launched in 2010, it gave Marine Corps Base Hawaii the distinction of being the first facility in the US to hook up to a grid-connected wave energy converter.

The end goal is to take Marine Corps Base Hawaii off the state’s electric grid, from which it was racking up $25 million in annual electricity bills as of 2012. In addition to wave power, solar panels are at work along with other strategies to achieve net zero energy.

A parallel goal is to take the base’s vehicles off petroleum, with the help of electric vehicles and biofuel, including biofuel reclaimed from cooking oil used at the base.


If this is all starting to ring some bells, you’re probably thinking of the Army’s eloquently stated Net Zero Vision for national security and environmental stewardship at bases throughout the US, as well as other ambitious DoD initiatives such as the 100 percent EV goal at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

Statewide, Hawaii has emerged as a national test bed for transitioning out of expensive, polluting petroleum fuels and into energy sources that are less risky and more sustainable. Local innovators and clean tech start-ups are being motivated to engage in the effort through public-private partnerships like WETS and Hawaii’s Energy Excelerator, which recently got another $30 million from the Navy.

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About the Author

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+.

  • Burnerjack

    Curious as to the cost breakdown. Seems like a lot of money for what it is.
    I’d like to see Hawaii investigate geothermal. Seems like the perfect source for that particular locale.

    • Hayden

      No need to reinvent the wheel. Carnegie Wave Energy have a proven, scaleable technology. Will be supplying the naval base in Perth, Western Australia in a few weeks from now.

      • Otis11

        Just because we know one way that works doesn’t mean we should stop investing in research for other possible solutions. The first working solution is rarely the best approach.

  • JamesWimberley

    $10m is very small beer in this field. You can’t start small – the devices have to resist real ocean waves from day 1. Britain has just cut funding for marine energy to £20m. One informed critic – Maria McCaffery, the head of lobbying group Renewables UK – says this:

    The first generation of marine energy projects is likely to cost £80m per 10MW scheme, and we need at least three or four projects to drive costs down …


    • LookingForward

      80m per 10 mw, with tidal running 24/7 means a pay back in a little more than 4.5 years, if production 100% 24/7, even if it was 9 years would still be profitable as long a they last longer then that.

      • sault

        1.00 GBP = 1.686488 USD, so this demosntration project will be $13.50 / Watt. While nuclear power is very expensive, this project will run about twice as much as nuclear power (without disposal or decommissioning costs or risks of cost overrun, but that’s another story). There is no way it will pay for itself in 4.5 years. This would mean that nuke plants break even after 2.25 years.
        If the 80M GBP is the wave facility’s all-in cost, it will generate 10,000 kWh * 24 * 365 = 87.6M kWh per year for a total of 394M kWh over 4.5 years. Total cost is $134.88M, so the cost per kWh would be 34 cents. This is WAY too high. Payback at 20 years would produce power at 7.65 cents per kWh. Although at these timeframes, the cost of money becomes a significant issue, making your capital cost even higher. And since moving parts in a salty oceanic environment are not a good mix, it will be very challenging to design this demonstration project to last 20 years.

        • A Real Libertarian

          $0.34/KWh is just about right for Hawaii.

          • GraceAdams830

            Electricity in Hawaii is very expensive because much of it, especially at night is from diesel generators, with high-price diesel because it has to be shipped in. It might help to get a utility-size battery to get through the night most nights and keep the diesel as a backup when the battery isn’t enough.

          • sault

            We got kinda side-tracked discussing a project in the UK.

        • LookingForward

          Good point.
          I had price for the consumer in my mind 0.20GBP roughly.
          Should indeed be much lower for the utility.
          Let’s say a third of it about .07 GBP per KWH, so to brack even I need to triple the time. say 14 years rounded up 15 years.
          Different countries have different prices, here in Holland we pay 0.23 euro/KWh that’s about $0.29/KWh. Look at the different prices in the US alone.
          Anyway, if the military, a campagny or industry paid for the marine project, since they have to pay normal or higher rates, it would be a different ball game. Pay back could be within 5 years with 100% operation.

          • sault

            Does the 80M GBP cover the grid hook up? Also a utility company has to distribute the electricity and make a profit on top of that. If you’re buying electricity ay $0.29 / kWh, your utility is buying that electricity from power plants at a lower cost driven by their operational costs and profit percentage.

          • LookingForward

            I don’t know, I’m shure it those.
            I know, just saying, from a customers perspective, it would be worth the investment.

  • Kompani

    Now that PowerBuoy® PB150 has been operational for 2 years are there any figures / data on its kwh cost, reliability etc?

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