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USA seeks to catapult self into vanguard of ocean energy R&D with PacWave South, a first-of-its-kind wave power test site off the coast of Oregon (image courtesy of PacWave South).

Clean Power

Ocean Energy Gets Its Galaxy Quest On: Never Give Up, Never Surrender

USA seeks to catapult self into vanguard of ocean energy R&D with PacWave South, a first-of-its-kind wave power test site off the coast of Oregon.

Ocean energy has been an also-ran in the decarbonization race, but that could change in short order. Last week, the US Department of Energy threw down a cool 25 million clams in funding for 8 new ocean-based energy projects at PacWave South, which is billed as the first ever accredited, grid-connected, pre-permitted, open-water wave energy test facility in the US.

What’s The Big Deal About Ocean Energy?

Oceans cover about 71% of the Earth’s surface, a figure that is all but certain to bump up a notch or two as the impacts of climate change take hold. With all that surface area ripe for the picking, it’s little wonder that researchers and investors are eyeballing the ocean environment for new opportunities to harvest zero emission energy.

Offshore wind technology has made a good start on oceangoing energy harvesters, and there is already talk of piggybacking floating solar panels on offshore wind farms. That’s all well and good, but neither wind nor solar energy is unique to oceans. The really interesting activity in the ocean energy field is taking place in the area of wave power, in which mechanical devices are deployed to convert the infinite energy of ocean waves into electricity.

That’s not quite as easy as it sounds. Over the past 10 years, the pages of CleanTechnica have been filled with news about one wave energy device after another, but widespread commercial deployment has proved elusive.

However, in recent months, the idea of piggybacking wave energy converters on wind farms has begun to catch on, and that could breathe new life into the field. The wind-wave mashup could help defray the cost of transmitting wave-generated electricity to shore, by sharing transmission cables, onshore substations and other infrastructure.

25 Million Clams For Ocean Energy R&D

With that in mind, let’s take a good look at the new $25 million in funding showered by the Water Power Technologies Office of the US Department of Energy on the PacWave South ocean energy test site, off the Oregon coast.

Part of the reason for wave energy’s second-rate status among renewables is the difficulty in obtaining suitable sites for testing. Back in 2010, the US Navy and Marine Corps supported the establishment of a wave energy test site in the state of Hawaii. It is the first grid-connected test site of its kind in the US, but its location in Kaneohe Bay means that it falls short in the open-ocean department.

Meanwhile, researchers at the US Department of Energy were eyeballing the Oregon coast for a next-level test site that would take advantage of the superior energy density of waves in the region. CleanTechnica caught wind of the project in 2018 as it was winding through the permitting process under the umbrella of Oregon State University.

“If all goes according to plan — in other words, once the facility is operational and connected to the grid, wave energy developers can come and test their devices at four test berths,” we said.  “The idea is to provide developers with ‘robust wave environments’ leading to key goals for commercialization.”

8 New Wave Energy Projects For The US

That thing about attracting developers is a significant angle. There are other ocean energy test sites around the world all seeking to attract ocean energy developers, and policymakers in the US are determined not to be left out.

The payoff for coastal communities in the US could be huge. The Energy Department estimates that up to 1,400 terawatthours of potential energy generation per year are hanging around just offshore, if you count tide-based generation along with wave energy.

Aside from the economic and planet-saving benefits of zero emission wave power, the ability to scavenge ocean energy could provide military advantages, which explains why DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has been involved in the field, as well as the Navy and Marine Corps.

That brings us to last week’s ocean energy announcement. The Wave Power Technologies Office divided the $25 million pot among 8 projects in three areas. One involves optimizing the PacWave facilities for maximum impact, and one involves next-level monitoring systems and other supporting technologies for wave conversion devices.

The devices themselves are covered in a third funding area, which was split among two companies.

CalWave Power Technologies Inc. made the cut. The firm was selected to refine its trademarked xWave conversion device, on which it is partnering with the American Bureau of Shipping, along with Eaton Corporation, Evergreen Innovations, Fluor, Glosten Associates, Sause Brothers, and Thompson Metal Fab.

“Building on its 2021 deployment off the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s research pier in San Diego, CalWave plans to deploy and test a 50-kilowatt xWave WEC device at PacWave. The goal of this project is to advance the technology’s efficiency and increase its cost-effectiveness,” explained the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in a press release.

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

CalWave launched in 2014 during the renewables-friendly Obama administration, and it is one of many renewable energy startups that continued to receive federal funding after Obama concluded his second term in office, which just goes to show that persistence pays off.

The other company to receive funding for a PacWave project is Columbia Power Technologies, for something called the SeaRAY k2 Autonomous Offshore Power System. The kernel of the technology was birthed as a graduate student project at Oregon State University that began in 2004, and C-Power licensed it in 2007.

Back in 2016 C-Power popped up on the CleanTechnica radar when it nailed a statement of feasibility for its StingRAY megawatt-scale wave energy conversion device. The SeaRAY project operates on a much smaller scale, but it could have a huge impact on marine operations. Instead of exporting power to shore, SeaRAY is an autonomous, integrated device that deploys ocean energy to run ocean-based systems.

“This project aims to advance the SeaRAY k2 autonomous offshore power system (AOPS) to commercial readiness,” explains the Energy Department.  “The SeaRAY k2 AOPS consists of the SeaRAY k2 WEC with fully integrated station keeping (or the ability to perform adjustments to maintain its position) and the capacity to collect and send data and store energy. It is designed to support unmanned offshore activities and equipment, including subsea vehicles, sensor packages, and operating equipment.”

Things seem to be moving along at a good clip for C-Power. Last fall, C-Power announced that a demonstration is in the works for the Kaneohe Bay test site, which will provide a closeup look at the 2-kilowatt device and its 55 kilowatt-hour energy storage system working their offshore magic.

“The Hawaii demonstration will be the first time an AUV has been supported by a renewable energy system without a topside vessel and the first time that both mobile and static assets have been supported simultaneously by a renewable energy system,” C-Power explains, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: USA seeks to catapult self into vanguard of ocean energy R&D with PacWave South, a first-of-its-kind wave power test site off the coast of Oregon (image courtesy of PacWave South).

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Written By

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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