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

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 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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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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