TERRY DILLMAN, South Lincoln County News, September 23, 2008
Oregon’s emergence as a national leader in developing wave energy technology crested Thursday, when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced grant support to establish the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) in Newport.
The agency selected 14 research teams to receive as much as $7.3 million -representing a cost-shared value of more than $18 million – for projects to “advance commercial viability, cost-competitiveness, and market acceptance of new technologies that can harness renewable energy from oceans and rivers.” It’s part of the federal Advanced Energy Initiative designed to dramatically boost clean-energy research funding to develop cleaner, reliable alternative energy sources that cost less. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) signed into law in December 2007 authorizes DOE to establish a program of research, development, demonstration, and commercial application to expand marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy production.
“Wave, tidal, and current-driven hydro power is an important clean, natural, and domestic energy source that will promote energy security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” John Mizroch, acting assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy, noted in announcing the selections.
A merit review committee of national and international water power experts made the selections. Two awards of up to $1.25 million in annual funding, renewable for up to five years, went to establishing marine energy centers.
One went to the University of Hawaii in Honolulu for the National Renewable Marine Energy Center.
The other went to OSU and the University of Washington to establish the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at HMSC, with “a full range of capabilities to support wave and tidal energy development” for the nation. DOE officials want the center to “facilitate commercialization, inform regulatory and policy decisions, and close key gaps in understanding.”
The federal grant will add to funding from the Oregon legislature, OSU, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET), the University of Washington and other sources to bring in $13.5 million in five years to – according to Robert Paasch, the interim program director for the new center – “help move the generation of energy from waves, ocean currents and tides from the laboratory to part of the nation’s alternative energy future.”
The main effort is to build a floating “berth” to test wave energy technology off the Oregon coast near Newport, as well as fund extensive environmental impact studies, community outreach, and other initiatives.
“This is just the beginning,” Paasch added. “There’s still a lot of work to do on the technology, testing, and environmental studies. But we have no doubt that this technology will work, that wave energy can become an important contributor to energy independence for the United States.”
Oregon can now lead those efforts, thanks to involvement by numerous partners.
The state legislature committed $3 million in capital funding to help create the new wave energy test center.
OWET – a private, not-for-profit organization founded in 2007 and funded by Oregon Inc. to be an integral part of the state’s effort to become the leader in renewable wave energy development – has provided $250,000 in funding, and is working to coordinate support from government agencies, private industry, fishing, environmental, and community groups.
OWET’s goal is to have ocean wave energy producing at least 500 megawatts of energy by 2025 for Oregon consumption.
The University of Washington has committed funding support and will take the lead role in innovative research on tidal and ocean current energy. The National Renewable Energy Center in Golden, Colo., will support studies on how to integrate wave energy into the larger power grid, and help it take its place next to other alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar.
Lincoln County officials immersed themselves in the effort from the outset. OSU’s wave energy test site is off county shores, and groups such as the Newport-based FINE – Fisherman Involved in Natural Energy – are active in providing input and advice from coastal constituencies.
“Oregon is now the unquestioned national leader in marine renewable energy,” Paasch said. “But as this technology is still in its infancy, we want to get things right the first time. We need extensive research on environmental impacts, we need to work with community groups and fishermen, and we need our decisions to be based on sound science as we move forward.”
OSU’s College of Engineering, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and Hatfield Marine Science Center will lead technology development, as well as diverse research programs on possible environmental impacts on the wave resource, shores, marine mammals and other marine life.
Construction of the new floating test berth should begin in 2010, Paasch said, after design, engineering work and permits have been completed. The facility will open on a fee basis to private industry groups that want to test their technology, and will provide detailed power analysis, as well as a method to dissipate the power.
“When complete, we’ll be able to test devices, see exactly how much power they generate and be able to assess their environmental impact, using technologies such as the OSU Marine Radar Wave Imaging System and on-site wave sensors,” Paasch
OSU will also continue its own research on wave energy technology led by Annette von Jouanne, professor of electrical engineering.
The university is working closely with private industry partners, recently finished a linear test bed to do preliminary testing of new technology on the OSU campus, and will test prototypes that OSU researchers consider as having the best combination of power production, efficiency and durability. In 2007, the university hosted a workshop to begin looking at the potential ecological implications of establishing wave energy parks along the West Coast. On-going research will continue to ponder that and many other questions. Much of that research will take place at HMSC.