Tapping ocean waves to generate clean electricity sounds simple enough, but the devil is in the details. Corrosion and durability issues are daunting out there on the open seas. Nevertheless, the US is racing to grab a share of the Earth’s wave energy, and the reason is simple. An estimated 1,170 terawatt-hours per year in recoverable wave resources sits along the shores of the US and Puerto Rico, accounting for a sizeable portion of the nation’s annual electricity demand.
Wave Power: What’s Taking You So Long?
What is taking so long, indeed. The Electric Power Research Institute has been assessing the state of affairs in the wave energy field every year since 2000. Doing the math, that was 23 years ago.
In a 2005 update, EPRI cautioned that “because so many conflicting and overly optimistic claims are often made about the performance and economic potential of emerging energy sources like ocean tidal and wave energy, it is important to conduct careful and objective assessments of the status, performance, cost, environmental impacts, and other aspects of the technologies.”
The US Marine Corps got the memo. In 2010, it cranked up the first ever grid-connected testing system for wave energy converters at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in Oahu. The idea was to help spur private sector investment by offering hopeful innovators a place to test their wares.
CleanTechnica was paying attention as well. We took note of the project launch and cited then-Secretary of the Navy and huge climate action fan Ray Mabus, who said: “This project demonstrates the Navy and Marine Corps commitment to lead the country toward a new energy future.”
The Oahu test site has also gotten an assist from the Department of Energy as well as the Department of the Navy.
In 2011, EPRI rendered a meticulous analysis of wave energy resources off the coasts of the US and Puerto Rico, in collaboration with the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute and the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. They came up with an estimate of 2,640 terrawatt-hours per year, of which 1,170 terawatt-hours is potentially recoverable.
Here Comes PacWave
The Marines Corps wave energy test site is located in a bay. The next step in terms of attracting interest from the private sector is an ocean test site off an open coast. That set the stage for the twin PacWave projects off the coast of Oregon: PacWave North, an established test site located in relatively shallow waters north of the port of Newport, Oregon, and PacWave South, a more expansive site in deeper waters south of the port.
PacWave South is billed as the first pre-permitted, grid-connected, open-waters test facility in the US. It is capable of testing up to 20 different wave energy converters at a time. The devices will be distributed among four berths with a total output of up to 5 megawatts each.
“The facility will offer wave energy developers the opportunity to try different technologies for harnessing the power of ocean waves and transmitting that energy to the local electrical grid,” explains Oregon University, which is a lead partner in the project along with the US Department of Energy.
The PacWave South facility is still under construction and is actually not connected to the grid yet (more on that in a sec), but activity is already beginning to stir. Last September the Energy Department put up $25 million to fund for eight wave energy converter projects at the site.
The Pieces Of The Wave Energy Puzzle Are Coming Together
PacWave is getting closer to that grid connection. Construction began on a medium voltage onshore facility earlier this month, and is expected to finish next year.
Another big piece of the puzzle is the cable that connects the test bed to the shoreside facility, and that’s where Nexans comes in.
The Paris-based company emailed CleanTechnica with an advance look at its press release, announcing that it has been selected “for the design, engineering and manufacturing of the 36kV submarine and terrestrial cables that will run across the ocean floor.”
“This major project is a significant step in the American sustainable energy transition and will further solidify Nexans’ position as a pure player in sustainable electrification,” the company emphasized.
Meanwhile, wave energy converters are already proliferating all over the world in various stages of development. They’re being disguised as boats, integrated with solar panels, and piggybacked onto offshore wind farms.
Wait, What Is Nexans?
CleanTechnica took note of Nexans back in 2009 when it won the contract to lay cable for the London Array offshore wind farm, and we have a lot of catching up to do.
Nexans has roots in the cable business going back 120 years, and it is shifting gears into sustainability. The company is transitioning from a “generalist cable manufacturer” to a “pure electrification player.”
“The electrification market represents 65% of the world cable market and is expected to grow by +4.3% per annum over the next 10 years driven by key growth trends: changing of lifestyles and growing energy consumption, demand for sustainable energies, grid modernization and protection,” Nexans explains.
“The world is becoming more electric and carbon neutral. Likewise, our scope of customer needs are changing from cables to systems and interconnected solutions,” Nexans adds.
They’re not kidding around when it comes to marine energy. Nexans’s Generation and Transmission branch already has a hand in offshore wind, floating wind, and floating solar. The new PacWave South contract provides it with a high profile foothold in the wave energy field.
That thing about carbon neutral may set off a new round of bleating and braying among US office holders in the Republican party, who have taken to attacking the corporate ESG (environment, social, governance) movement along with something called “woke capitalism.”
Apparently Nexans did not get the memo. Last month, the company announced that it has joined the new CAC SBT 1.5° index, which is the climate-focused iteration of the main stock index in France, the CAC 40 index.
The stock exchange operator Euronext launched the CAC SBT 1.5° in January. It builds on the CAC 40 ESG Index, which Euronext introduced in 2021, and it conforms to guidelines for companies to measure and track their greenhouse gas emissions under the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).
“The CAC SBT 1.5° will provide a climate-focused version of the CAC 40 and respond to the growing demand for sustainable investment tools from investors and from the market,” Euronext explains.
“The CAC SBT 1.5° Index is designed to facilitate the adoption of mainstream ESG investment approaches by institutional and private investors while providing a strong focus on climate change considerations,” they add.
Euronext notes that the application of SBTi methodology is a “first for a stock exchange operator. The index was created with the support of the leading European asset manager Amundi and the nonprofit CDP (the Carbon Disclosure Project) as well as SBTi.
Olivier Chevreau, Nexans VP of Sustainability, states that “Nexans’ inclusion in the SBT 1.5° index is a further recognition of the decarbonization efforts undertaken by the Group, and of the seriousness of its approach, reviewed by the SBTi in April 2022.”
Stay tuned for more on that. Meanwhile, here in the US the energy transition marches on. Some of the most far-reaching and influential clean tech projects are taking form in states where Republican office holders are beating the anti-ESG drum the most loudly, so go figure.
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Photo: PacWave South wave energy test site courtesy of US Department of Energy.
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