New Wave Energy Devices To Suck Clean Kilowatts From The Seven Seas

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Building a better mousetrap is one way to catch attention, but if that is out of reach, the next best thing is to build a better wave energy converter. After all, wave energy is practically infinite, and it’s available 24/7. That’s not as simple as it may seem, and most of the activity is still taking place in the experiment-and-demonstrate phase. Nevertheless, the US Navy is among those cheering hard for success.

Why Wave Energy?

If you’re wondering why people are still pursuing experimental wave energy devices when offshore wind turbines are already on the market, that’s a good question.

Part of the answer is visibility. Wave energy devices have an extremely low profile. Some resemble boats or buoys, which have long been familiar elements in the offshore landscape. They could be put to sea in coastal areas where the argument against offshore wind turbines rests mainly on aesthetic concerns and objections from tourism stakeholders about things sticking up from the water.

From a military perspective, things sticking up out of the water could interfere with aircraft flight paths, which places a limitation on site selection for new offshore wind farms.

The US Department of Defense has some additional answers up its sleeve. The US launched its first grid-connected wave energy testing site in 2010. Called WETS for Wave Energy Test Site, the facility comes under the auspices of the US Navy, in the waters of Kaneohe Bay at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in Oahu.

The US Department of Energy got the funding ball rolling in a partnership with the startup Ocean Power Technologies, and the Navy has also chipped in for upgrades to the site through the years.

As for why, the Honolulu Civil Beat summed it up back in 2021, noting that “Hawaii wants cleaner energy to fight climate change. The military wants renewable energy for fighting China.”

“The military is looking for ways to more efficiently fuel forces increasingly focused on the Pacific as it battles China for influence,” they elaborated.

That leaves out quite a bit of detail, but the gist of it is that the economy of Hawaii has been tied to imported petroleum for generations, and state energy planners have had enough. Locally sourced, 100% renewable energy is Hawaii’s ultimate goal.

On its part, the Navy is looking to pound more resiliency and reliability into its coastal facilities by drawing energy from local renewable resources. Wave energy could also be put to work powering underwater drones and other remote equipment.

Making Wave Energy Happen

Some promising wave energy devices are beginning to advance through the demonstration phases. In September, for example, Ocean Power Technologies won three multi-year contracts with NOAA to deploy its PowerBuoy wave converter and information systems platform for uncrewed maritime observation and exploration tasks.

The startup C-Power (formerly Columbia Power) also seems to be moving along with new iterations of its Navy-supported StingRAY wave converter. In 2019, the company won an Energy Department grant to continue work on its new StingRAY H3 device, aimed partly at providing an economical replacement for diesel generators at offshore oil and gas operations.

Last June, the Energy Department also awarded additional funding for the effort through an agency-supported program called Testing Expertise and Access to Marine Energy Research.

Another WETS participant, Oscilla Power, has been readying its new Triton-C converter for a full, commercial scale demonstration in Hawaii. The demo will take place after another upgrade at the site is completed.

The prep work involved a 12-hour tow from Honolulu Harbor to a location near WETS, enabling the Oscilla team to rehearse their final deployment steps and fine tune the system. Grid connection is expected soon, so stay tuned for more on that.

What About The Moorings?

WETS participants have the key advantage of relying on built-in mooring systems at the site, which is located in relatively calm, shallow, near-coast waters. Stepping up to deep ocean deployment is another matter entirely, and with that in mind the Energy Department has been prepping a new open-ocean site seven miles off the coast of Oregon, described as the first utility-scale test site of its kind in the US.

Called PacWave South, the new test site is currently under construction, complete with new mooring systems. Researchers are currently assessing how a generic mooring solution could help cut costs, by providing for different types of wave energy devices to hook up with the same system. Once complete, PacWave can accommodate up to 20 wave converters, spread among four different berths.

Like WETS, PacWave South is also a pre-permitted site that relieves wave converter innovators from permitting timelines and paperwork burdens, enabling them to focus on the technology.

Oregon State University is a partner in the project. Last January the school issued a construction update, noting that the final two key elements of the project are falling into place — namely, 80 kilometers of undersea cable and an onshore facility to shunt the clean kilowatts to the local grid.

“These are the last two major pieces of the project,” explained Burke Hales, an OSU professor who holds the title of PacWave chief scientist. “The cable manufacturing and installation is the most technically challenging aspect.”

“Authorization of the manufacturing is a huge milestone for PacWave and is critical to its success,” he emphasized.

If all goes according to plan, the cables will be installed next summer and PacWave South will be ready for its first visitors in 2025.

More Wave Energy For The USA

Meanwhile, the Energy Department has not been letting the grass grow under its feet. Last March the agency’s Water Technologies Office awarded a total of $25 million in funding to launch the first cohort of eight wave energy devices to be tested at PacWave South.

Part of the award program aims at deploying wave energy converters for remote and microgrid systems. CalWave Power Technologies Inc. is contributing its xWave device to the effort, and C-Power is adding its SeaRAY to the mix.

The program also focuses on off-grid and grid-connected applications, with Oscilla Power winning a slot along with a project called Centipod, supported by the University of New Hampshire and other partners.

The other four awardees are tasked with R&D missions that benefit the wave energy industry overall. “These projects are expected to advance WEC systems, system components, environmental monitoring technologies, instrumentation and prognostic health monitoring systems, wave measurement systems, and other supporting technologies,” the Energy Department explains.

The four groups are public-private-academic partnerships spearheaded by Littoral Power Systems, Portland State University, the University of Washington, and the firm Integral Consulting, which will focus on developing an environmental assessment tool.

Among other innovators to catch the CleanTechnica eye in recent months is the startup EcoWave Power, which has come up with a portside wave energy device that eliminates the big question of how to anchor wave converters to the ocean floor.

Wave energy stakeholders are also looking into piggybacking their devices onto offshore wind turbine farms, with the aim of working around the mooring issue.

Where’s Congress?

Of course, no story about wave energy would be complete without a mention of Republican leadership in Congress, or lack thereof.

As the majority party in the House of Representatives, Republicans control of the House agenda. That is a fact.

Nevertheless, they have dropped the ball in spectacular fashion. The House has drifted rudderless and leaderless for more than 10 days, after Republicans booted Kevin McCarthy out of the all-important position of Speaker on October 4.

In effect, they are refusing to conduct normal House business under Democratic President Joe Biden. That’s not particularly shocking. In fact, it’s of a piece with their actions on the heels of the failed insurrection of January 6, 2021, when 139 House Republicans voted in support of a scheme to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from taking office and install the losing candidate, Donald J. Trump.

By firing their own Speaker without a replacement, House Republicans are still racing their train down the same election-denying track, only this time they don’t have the help of a violent mob of white supremacists — so far.

Meanwhile, over in the US Senate, Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama has been holding up hundreds of military promotions. Republican Senators Rand Paul (Kentucky), JD Vance (Ohio), and Ted Cruz (Texas) have similarly shut down key State Department appointments., in yet another demonstration of the outsized influence that Trump continues to wield on Republican members of Congress.

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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Photo (cropped): Oscilla Power is among the US startups to keep the wave conversion ball rolling, courtesy of Oscilla Power.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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