The US offshore wind industry has been facing some headwinds of late, but that doesn’t mean it’s all over for the ocean energy field. Wave energy innovators have been lobbying for a seat at the offshore table in California, where they just won a key victory in the state legislature. That’s no surprise, but New Jersey could also become the next hotbed of activity for zero emission electricity from the sea, wind turbines or not.
The Long, Slow Journey Of US Wave Energy Innovation
The compact, squat mechanisms of wave energy converters are not nearly as dramatic as the long, sweeping blades and tall towers of offshore wind turbines, but they offer the same thing: An infinite supply of free 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,” CleanTechnica observed back in January of last year. “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.”
Instead of capturing wind power, wave energy devices gather the up-and-down motion of waves into mechanical systems for conversion to electricity.
However, there being no such thing as a free lunch, engineering a cost-effective wave energy device has proved to be an elusive target, at least until recently.
Wave-powered devices first tracked across the CleanTechnica radar during the Obama administration, with the US Department of Defense among the chief cheerleaders.
In 2010 the US Navy and Marine Corps established the first grid-connected wave power test bed in the US, located in Hawaii. The US Department of energy also chipped in to expand the site’s use as a test bed for wave converters back in 2014.
After a period of relative quiet, activity in the US wave conversion field has picked up within the past year or so highlighted by the launch of the nation’s first long distance, open-ocean test site, off the coast of Oregon. Called PacWave South, the new test site complements the PacWave North testing site, located in shallower waters closer to shore (see more CleanTechnica coverage here).
Wave Energy On The Move: Cue The Golden State
Despite the considerable allure of wave energy, the obstacles are many, with salt water corrosion topping the list. That explains why state-level policy makers have been treading cautiously, but it looks like the dam is about to burst open, partly with the help of pressure from seaport stakeholders.
The AltaSea technology project at the Port of Los Angeles is among those taking credit for the success of SB 605, a bill in support of wave and tidal energy signed into law by California Governor Gavin on October 7.
“The legislation calls for an extensive study and assessment of wave and tidal energy potential off California’s 840-mile coastline,” explains AltaSea, noting that the bill sailed through the California Senate and Assembly on a unanimous vote.
The AltaSea campus spans 35 acres at the Port of Los Angeles. As part of a soup-to-nuts decarbonization plan for the Port, AltaSea is shepherding a coalition of more than 30 other wave and tidal energy companies. Front and center is the woman-headed Israeli firm Eco Wave Power, which is installing its signature wave converter at the port on a pilot basis. The project marks Eco Wave’s first foray into the US wave power market.
Look Out, Here Comes Wave Energy
For California the allure of wave power is significant. AltaSea cites a recent assessment by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which determined that it is technically feasible to harvest enough wave energy from the outer continental shelf to power 13 million homes.
The numbers for states without an 840-mile coastline can still be impressive. With near-shore tidal energy factored in, the NREL report indicates that the combo of wave and tidal energy could provide for 30% of the nation’s energy supply overall.
As if on cue, last month NREL drew attention to the first wave of four trials at PacWave South, scheduled to launch in 2025.
“The United States’ marine energy resources — the energy available in our waves, ocean and river currents, and tides — equates to about 60% of the country’s annual electricity needs,” NREL emphasized. “While we cannot capture all that power, in part because we cannot blanket our waters with tech, we can harness a portion of it.”
The four companies to make the cut for prototype testing under the harsh conditions of PacWave South are CalWave Power Technologies Inc., C-Power, Littoral Power Systems, and a project that hooks up Portland State University with the firm Aquaharmonics.
Another three wave energy innovators — Dehlsen Associates, Integral Consulting, and Oscilla Power Inc. — will receive technology assistance from NREL, aimed at developing test-worthy prototypes for their designs.
“NREL’s support can help make sure their inventions do not go splat,” observed the lab.
Here Comes New Jersey, Eventually
New Jersey has seen its ambitious offshore wind plans buffeted by opponents who reportedly receive funding from fossil energy stakeholders, which is no surprise. Nevertheless, so far the state is holding firm. It has even attracted a new offshore wind developer in recent days, with the firm Attentive Energy proposing up to 1,342 megawatts’ worth of offshore turbines.
If all goes according to plan, wave energy will also join the Garden State’s roster of clean energy resources.
Last year the New Jersey State Assembly took up Assembly Bill 4483, legislation aimed at tapping into wave energy resources along the state’s 140-mile coastline. As a first step, the bill requires the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to study the matter.
“In order for New Jersey and the United States to transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy, it is essential that we think outside the box and consider ways to bolster our renewable energy portfolio,” said Democratic State Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak, who sponsored the bill.
That remains to be seen. When last heard from, the Assembly bill made it through the Assembly Special Committee on Infrastructure and Natural Resources. A companion bill in the Senate, S3141, was also introduced last year and was referred to Senate Environment and Energy Committee.
If and when the New Jersey Legislature gets its act together, the Jersey Shore’s famous Steel Pier amusement park could become the site of the state’s first near-shore wave energy converters, so stay tuned for more on that.
Of course, no news about renewable energy would be complete without a mention of Republican leadership in Congress, or not, as the case may be.
At a time when the global economic and military might of the US should be focused squarely on helping its allies — namely, Ukraine and Israel — the Republican-led House of Representatives has been focused squarely on undercutting the very American exceptionalism they purport to champion.
For example, now would be a good time for Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama to drop his hold on hundreds of military promotions. That’s just one example. If you can think of others, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Image (cropped) Wave energy conversion devices courtesy of Eco Wave Power.
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