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Published on March 7th, 2016 | by Tina Casey

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Another Milestone For US Wave Energy. #ThanksObama!

March 7th, 2016 by  


Clean, renewable wave energy has been sloshing up against the shores of North America for millennia, only to disappear into the ether, and it looks like the US is finally going to grab some back. A US wave energy startup called Columbia Power Technologies has just received a statement of feasibility for its new StingRay wave energy converter design, enabling it to pass a critical milestone on the way to commercial production.

The StingRay project is being co-sponsored by the US Departments of Energy and the Navy, so #thanksobama!

wave energy clean power

The StingRAY Wave Energy Converter

The StingRAY wave energy project crossed over the CleanTechnica radar back in 2014, when we noticed that the US Navy had shelled out $3 million to get the device under way with the lofty goal of achieving utility scale clean power production.

If the project bears fruit, the StingRAY would provide the US with a critical offshore clean power option in locations where the aesthetics of tall wind turbine towers limit site selection. The StingRAY is designed with a low profile that limits visibility from a distance down to practically nothing:

wave energy US Navy StingRAY

Nifty, right? The bulk of the device is under water:

clean power wave energy

As described by Columbia Power, the “float” and “spar” parts of the device each react differently to the shape of passing waves and swells:

At a high level, the StingRAY captures energy from each passing wave and produces electricity on-board the device. The electricity generation process includes a series of steps starting with the transfer of captured energy from the forward and aft floats to two rotary, low-speed, high-torque electric generators on board the StingRAY. The generated power is then conditioned to stable, electric-grid-compatible output. In a wave farm, this electricity is centrally collected in an offshore “sub-station” for transmission ashore and connection to the grid.

The “high level” thing is important because the higher you go, the more differential you’ll get, and that potentially yields greater efficiency.

Ocean Power Challenges

On the other hand, having part of your device floating on the surface can expose it to storm damage. CleanTechnica has covered other wave energy designs that are anchored entirely under water to catch the motion of sub-surface swells, so it will be interesting to see how the different approaches compare when the real world data and ocean environment impacts start to accumulate.

If the Columbia technology sounds fairly straightforward, it is, but doing anything in the ocean is a huge challenge. Part of the challenge is protecting the equipment from stormy weather, as mentioned above. Another huge issue is protecting submerged equipment from water damage, especially corrosive ocean saltwater.

For corrosion resistance, Columbia relies heavily on fiberglass, which has a proven track record in the ocean environment. Here’s a schematic that shows how the floats are positioned relative to the on-board generator:

wave energy stingray navy 3

Giant Step For US Wave Energy

The new feasibility statement gives the green light for Columbia to move forward with the development of a fully installed wave energy prototype.

The statement was issued by the global clean power certification body DNV GL, which apparently has issued very few such statements for wave energy converters so far. DNV GL takes a risk-based approach that helps to drive commercial investment:

…The organisation has been assessing new technologies and publishing standards and guidelines to ensure components, technologies and projects are reliable, safe and commercially profitable, with all risks mitigated. The risk-based focus is also invaluable for offshore wind and wave and tidal projects, which are pushing the boundaries of technical and engineering knowledge and capabilities. As well as those, which require reliable operation and effective risk management at all times.

DNV GL can trace its roots back to 1864, btw.

#thanksobama For More Water Power

If wave energy takes off in the US, taxpayers can go ahead and give themselves a big group hug. Back in 2012 the Energy Department upgraded its WETS (Wave Energy Test Site) facility, a shared public-private ocean energy test bed in Hawaii, and since then it has pumped millions into wave energy systems testing.

Aside from support for ocean-going clean power systems like the StingRAY, the Obama Administration has also been pursuing a raft of technology solutions for drawing more power from inland waterways without building additional hydropower dams.

A recent round of $10.5 million in Energy Department funding, for example, went to water turbines designed to capture energy from river currents and tidal currents.

The Obama Administration also leveraged the 2009 Recovery Act to upgrade seven hydropower dams for increased electricity generation, in a program designed to demonstrate more power can be harvested from the nation’s existing 2,400 hydro facilities.

Another marker of support for inland water energy harvesting was the establishment of the Riversphere research center at Tulane University, which includes a shared test bed similar to that of the WETS facility, with the help of $3 million in federal funding.

On a related note, our sister site PlanetSave recently spotlighted a startup that has leveraged an Energy Department grant to arrange private financing to develop a system for harvesting energy from a municipal water supply system.

The cool thing about this project is that the city — Portland, Oregon to be specific — pays no money up front. As with a typical solar power purchase agreement, the company will lay down new energy-equipped pipes on its own dime and the city will pay only for the electricity generated by the system. If the arrangement works out, that would provide many older cities with an affordable way to upgrade their aging water systems, so stay tuned.

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All images via Ocean Power Technologies.






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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+.



  • mike peine

    this technology started in 1775 & was 1st patented in 1799 powering heavy equipment with compressed air in N.J. for 30 years until sabotaged to promote OIL etc… by the 1% . The government is suppressing over 5,000 energy inventions since 1775 & is making claim to them . SEE Carnegie Wave Energy & others ?

  • Anonymous

    “#ThanksObama!” Obama is a f—ing disaster, you dolt. lol Horrible. I hope that satisfying your race obsession was worth drone bombing innocent families and funding terrorists in the Middle East (among many other atrocities and human rights violations).

  • Matt

    Here is where the “kite” type systems should be used. Where is “flys” under water, and it never close to surface unless being repaired. Place them in the ocean streams, yes they are not fast, but constant. And you don’t have to mess in the air/water boundary.

  • ROBwithaB

    Recent estimates put the sunk costs of wave energy research at about a billion dollars.
    So far, there is very little to show for it. And I fear that there never will be.

    Lots of dreamers and schemers in the field of wave energy. Lots of university professors looking to fund their pet projects (and pet research assistants). Lots of backyard geniuses, trying to come up with a better mousetrap. And a fair share of outright charlatans. All needing “just another million” to get it right. All of them repeating the same mistakes over and over, because there is very little collaborative effort, due to (spurious) “intellectual property” and (hide the bad results) “trade secrets”.

    Bio-fouling, corrosion, freak waves, a wildly inconsistent resource. The basic conundrum of wave energy is that maybe 80% of the available energy is locked up in the bigger waves that only occur 20% of the time. And to harvest those bigger waves, you need a big machine that is very expensive to build.
    And then you need to over-engineer the whole thing, to try to ensure that it can survive that freakish rouge wave that is statistically likely to occur once every twenty years, but might just roll through tomorrow.

    And it’s very difficult to make anything on a small scale to test a concept, because the scaling laws render your data essentially useless.

    Sure, it’s POSSIBLE to harvest energy from ocean waves. But why would one even bother? In general, those places with good wave resources will also have good wind resources. Do a quick analysis: How much material (or money) is required to build a 5MW wind energy converter? vs How much material (or money) is required to build a 5MW wave energy converter?
    What would be the capacity factor in each case, using real world data for any specific location?
    What would be the ongoing O&M costs in each case?

    There’s a reason that nobody ever quotes the LCOE for their wave energy machine…

    • Roger Lambert

      “Recent estimates put the sunk costs of wave energy research at about a billion dollars.”

      Let’s put that into proper perspective.

      1 billion dollars is ~ 1/5000th of annual world fossil fuel subsidies according to a report listed by the IMF:

      http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/cat/longres.aspx?sk=42940.0

      1 billion dollars is 1/48th of 1/1000th of total global annual energy spending, according to the IEA:

      https://www.iea.org/media/140603_WEOinvestment_Factsheets.pdf

      That doesn’t seems like very much spending to me at all, considering that wave, or tidal, or ocean current tech is completely undeveloped yet promises an unlimited supply of near constant carbon-free energy.

      • sjc_1

        $1 billion is a few F35 jet fighters.

        • Lou Gage

          Your point being?

      • ROBwithaB

        Okay, so let’s assume we devoted a trillion dollars to wave energy research.
        What would be the specific areas of research? What would we be hoping to improve?

        Where do you see any kind of “Swanson effect” for any kind of wave energy device?
        (With the possible exception of electrokinetic sheets. That might actually hold some promise as there is great scope for efficiency improvements.)

  • Ivor O’Connor

    More money wasted. Thanks Obama.

    • Kevin McKinney

      Remains to be seen… just sayin’.

    • bill_christian

      Your answer? They are not spending much to try this possibly great idea.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        My answer? Drop this and put all the money into solar and wind.

        • bill_christian

          Solar and wind have become solid proven technologies. I don’t mind putting way, way less than 1% of solar and wind investment into other renewables, in hope of another independent and maybe complementary source.

  • JamesWimberley

    “Having part of your device floating on the surface can expose it to storm damage.” Quite. Numerous ingenious wave power devices have been tried and they have all failed on reliability. You don’t need a storm; normal salt spray is lethal to machinery. If it were up to me, I would put all the ocean energy research money into fully submerged devices like the Aussie one and tidal stream turbines.

    • neroden

      There are some which are fine with the salt water — they get gummed up by seaweed and plankton and whatnot.

      The ocean is a hard place to put machinery.

  • sjc_1

    Looks like Oregon and Washington have a lot. As long as it is not in shipping channels, it might look better than offshore wind.

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