Amer­ica’s first wave-pro­duced power goes on­line in Hawaii

Malta Independent - - BUSINESS - Cathy Busse­witz

Off the coast of Hawaii, a tall buoy bobs and sways in the wa­ter, us­ing the rise and fall of the waves to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity.

The cur­rent trav­els through an un­der­sea ca­ble for a mile to a mil­i­tary base, where it feeds into Oahu’s power grid — the first wave-pro­duced elec­tric­ity to go on­line in the U.S.

By some es­ti­mates, the ocean’s end­less mo­tion packs enough power to meet a quar­ter of Amer­ica’s en­ergy needs and dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the na­tion’s re­liance on oil, gas and coal. But wave en­ergy tech­nol­ogy lags well be­hind wind and so­lar power, with im­por­tant tech­ni­cal hur­dles still to be over­come.

To that end, the Navy has es­tab­lished a test site in Hawaii, with hopes the tech­nol­ogy can some­day be used to pro­duce clean, re­new­able power for off­shore fu­el­ing sta­tions for the fleet and pro­vide elec­tric­ity to coastal com­mu­ni­ties in fuel-starved places around the world.

“More power from more places trans­lates to a more ag­ile, more flex­i­ble, more ca­pa­ble force,” Joseph Bryan, deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of the Navy, said dur­ing an event at the site. “So we’re al­ways look­ing for new ways to power the mis­sion.”

Hawaii would seem a nat­u­ral site for such tech­nol­ogy. As any surfer can tell you, it is blessed with pow­er­ful waves. The is­land state also has the na­tion’s high­est elec­tric­ity costs — largely be­cause of its heavy re­liance on oil de­liv­ered by sea — and has a leg­isla­tive man­date to get 100 per­cent of its en­ergy from re­new­ables by 2045.

Still, it could be five to 10 years be­fore wave en­ergy tech­nol­ogy can pro­vide an af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive to fos­sil fu­els, ex­perts say.

For one thing, de­vel­op­ers are still work­ing to come up with the best de­sign. Some buoys cap­ture the up-and-down mo­tion of the waves, while oth­ers ex­ploit the side-to-side move­ment. In­dus­try ex­perts say a ma­chine that uses all the ocean’s move­ments is most likely to suc­ceed.

Also, the ma­chin­ery has to be able to with­stand pow­er­ful storms, the con­stant pound­ing of the seas and the cor­ro­sive ef­fects of salt­wa­ter.

“You’ve got to de­sign some­thing that can stay in the wa­ter for a long time but be able to sur­vive,” said Pa­trick Cross, spe­cial­ist at the Hawaii Nat­u­ral En­ergy In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Hawaii at Manoa, which helps run the test site.

The U.S. has set a goal of re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions by one-third from 2005 lev­els by 2030, and many states are seek­ing to de­velop more re­new­able en­ergy in the com­ing decades.

Jose Zayas, a di­rec­tor of the Wind and Wa­ter Power Tech­nolo­gies Of­fice at the U.S. En­ergy Depart­ment, which helps fund the Hawaii site, said the United States could get 20 to 28 per­cent of its en­ergy needs from waves with­out en­croach­ing on sen­si­tive wa­ters such as marine pre­serves.

“When you think about all of the states that have wa­ter along their coasts ... there’s quite a bit of wave en­ergy po­ten­tial,” he said.

Wave en­ergy tech­nol­ogy is at about the same stage as the so­lar and wind in­dus­tries were in the 1980s. Both re­ceived sub­stan­tial govern­ment in­vest­ment and tax cred­its that helped them be­come en­ergy sources cheap enough to com­pete with fos­sil fu­els.

But while the U.S. govern­ment and mil­i­tary have put about $334 mil­lion into marine en­ergy re­search over the past decade, Bri­tain and the rest of Europe have in­vested more than $1 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Marine En­ergy Coun­cil, a trade group.

“We’re about, I’d say, a decade be­hind the Euro­peans,” said Alexan­dra De Visser, the Navy’s Hawaii test site project man­ager.

The Euro­pean Marine En­ergy Cen­tre in Scot­land, for ex­am­ple, has 14 grid-con­nected berths that have housed dozens of wave and ti­dal en­ergy de­vices from around the world over the past 13 years, and Wave Hub in Eng­land has sev­eral such berths. China, too, has been build­ing and test­ing dozens of units at sea.

Though small in scale, the test project near Kaneohe Bay rep­re­sents the van­guard of U.S. wave en­ergy de­vel­op­ment. It con­sists of two buoys an­chored a half-mile to a mile off­shore.

One of them, the Azura, which ex­tends 12 feet above the sur­face and 50 feet below, con­verts the waves’ ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal move­ments into up to 18 kilo­watts of elec­tric­ity, enough for about a dozen homes. The com­pany work­ing with the Navy, North­west En­ergy In­no­va­tions of Port­land, Ore­gon, plans a ver­sion that can gen­er­ate at least 500 kilo­watts, or enough to power hun­dreds of homes.

A Nor­we­gian com­pany de­vel­oped the other buoy, a 50-footwide, dough­nut-shaped de­vice called the Life­saver. Ca­bles an­chor the 3-foot-tall ring to the ocean floor. When the sea wob­bles the buoy, the ca­bles move, turn­ing a gen­er­a­tor’s wheels. It pro­duces an av­er­age of 4 kilo­watts.

Test sites run by other re­searchers are be­ing planned or ex­panded in Ore­gon and Cal­i­for­nia. One of them, Cal Wave, run by Cal­i­for­nia Poly­tech­nic State Univer­sity, hopes to pro­vide util­i­tyscale power to Van­den­berg Air Force Base.

The Hawaii buoys are barely no­tice­able from shore, but de­vel­op­ers en­vi­sion dozens of machines work­ing at once, an idea that could run into the same op­po­si­tion wind tur­bines have faced from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, tourist groups and oth­ers.

“No­body wants to look out and see wind tur­bines or wave machines off the coast,” said Steve Kopf, CEO of North­west En­ergy In­no­va­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.