It looks like wave energy is finally getting its place in the sun, thanks in part to wind energy. ARPA-E, the federal office charged with funneling cash into the advanced energy technology pipeline, has included a project in its latest round of funding that adapts a new wave energy mooring system for floating wind turbines. The wave project didn’t get the biggest share of the $175 million funding pot, but it could have an outsized impact on harvesting ocean energy.
Wait — Wave Energy?
Offshore wind farms have been dominating the ocean power headlines, but that’s all over-the-surface electricity generation. Within the ocean itself is a barely tapped gold mine of renewable energy in the form of wave power.
That doesn’t mean much to landlocked nations, but it’s a big deal over here in the US. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the US could generate more than 1,170 terawatt-hours per year, or about one-third of its total electricity needs, by channeling the motion of waves along its coasts into electrical currents.
That is trickier than it sounds. Wave energy conversion devices need to battle salt water corrosion and withstand stormy weather, and the wave power industry will need to find offshore workers somewhere. That will be a tough row to hoe. Parts of the maritime industries sector are already facing worker shortages, and offshore wind stakeholders are making matter worse by sucking up labor and equipment as fast as they can go.
If You Can’t Lick ‘Em, Attach Your Wave Energy Conversion Device To ‘Em
In a clever twist, some wave energy stakeholders are beginning to piggyback their devices onto offshore wind farms. That could help trim labor and installation costs a bit.
Wave energy stakeholders who dream of such a thing are already thinking one step ahead to the floating offshore wind turbine field, which has been taking off like a rocket. They are also cottoning on to the idea of attaching their conversion devices to offshore fields of wind turbines with floating solar panels, too.
Bringing The Cost Of Wave Energy Down
That’s all well and good, though hitching wave energy development to offshore wind turbines is a limiting factor. Offshore wind turbines have a high profile and they can conflict with other maritime industries, coastal tourism, and real estate stakeholders who don’t want their view spoiled, in addition to wildlife conservation issues.
Nevertheless, in the US there is still plenty of coast to go around. The waves off the coast of Oregon are especially energy-dense, and the US Department of Energy has partnered up with Oregon State University, the European Marine Energy Centre, and several private firms to launch a new wave energy test site there.
The stated goals are:
- Optimize WECs [wave energy converters] and arrays to increase their energy capture, improve their survivability and reliability, and decrease their levelized cost of energy
- Refine deployment, recovery, operations, and maintenance procedures
- Collect interconnection and grid synchronization data
- Gather information about potential environmental effects, and economic and social benefits
The project got under way in 2018, and now it is ready for action. Last month the Energy Department announced $25 million in funding for 8 new ocean-based energy projects at the so-named PacWave South wave energy test bed off the Oregon coast.
For those of you keeping score at home, OSU also has another test site under its wing up north on the Oregon coast, though that one is closer to shore. A third US wave test site is located in Hawaii, in collaboration with the Navy and Marine Corps.
Best Of Both Worlds For Ocean Energy Harvesting
Circling back to that new wave energy project funded by ARPA-E, the winning firm, Makai Ocean Engineering of Waimanalo, Hawaii, has come up with a new grid-scale mooring system that can be used for wave harvesting devices and floating wind turbines, too. It also addresses that pesky labor shortage issue.
Under the project title, “Remotely Installed Anchorages for Floating Offshore Wind and Other Offshore Renewables Cost Reduction,” Makai nailed $849,951 in ARPA-E funding to develop its remote-controlled “micropile” installation system. The system was initially developed for wave devices in partnership with the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii. The new funding will enable Makai to fine-tune it for use with floating wind turbines.
“The team’s unique approach to remotely installing micropiles on the seafloor will enable installation of an anchorage strong enough to secure these systems,” ARPA-E explains. “This approach does not require large and costly equipment and vessels, dramatically reducing the initial installation costs. In addition to reducing costs, Makai’s system will enable offshore renewable deployment where it would otherwise not be feasible.”
If all goes according to plan, that little note about “Anchoring infrastructure not shown” at the bottom of the PacWave South schematic might need to be updated.
More Advanced Energy Projects From ARPA-E
As for the 67 other projects in ARPA-E’s latest funding round, plenty of consideration has been given to fans of nuclear energy. You can count the number of new full-scale nuclear power plants currently under construction in the US on one finger, but it seems that some dreams just won’t die.
Maybe they’ll even figure out that thing about getting costs under control. The Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia is the one under construction, and back in 2018 CleanTechnica was among those taking note of the cost overruns:
“In 2008, estimates put the cost of the Vogtle project at $10.4 billion. By 2017, the estimate had ballooned to $15.7 billion. The latest revision suggests the cost is now about $18 billion, which S&P estimates to be $27 billion to $28 billion including financing costs.”
Our friends over at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution have the latest update. Apparently Vogtle’s owner, Georgia Power, took another hit of almost $1 billion related to the plant, pushing most estimates closer to the $28 billion end of the scale.
That sure would pay for a lot of micropiles, wave energy harvesters, and floating wind turbines.
Oh, well. Once Vogtle is up and running, maybe they can set it to work on producing green hydrogen. A nuclear-to-hydrogen concept has been bubbling up in France and elsewhere, with the idea of using nuclear power plants to run hydrogen electrolyzers during periods when demand for electricity is low.
Hydrogen fuel cell car skeptics may scoff (and they do), but there are plenty of industrial sectors that could use carbon-free hydrogen to decarbonize.
Come to think of it, another project on the ARPA-E roster is something called “Direct Reduction of Iron by Hydrogen Plasma in a Rotary Kiln Reactor.” The idea is to “disrupt the steel industry by developing a potentially zero-carbon ironmaking process that eliminates the use of coke or natural gas and requires less energy than current processes.”
When decarbonized steel hits the market, look for renewable energy firms like Makai to sign up for their share.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: PacWave South wave energy test site courtesy of Oregon State University via US DOE.