MendoCoastCurrent, October 13, 2008
A new prototype of a wave energy device being developed by Oregon State University and Columbia Power Technologies was successfully tested last month in the ocean off Newport, Oregon, providing valuable data and moving the research program closer to commercialization.
In a $1 million research effort during the past year, 18 different “direct drive” wave energy technologies have been evaluated, five of the most promising selected from that group, and one approach has now been tested in the ocean. The work has been a collaboration of OSU, Columbia Power Technologies and the Facilities Engineering Command of the U.S. Navy.
“Our latest test went exceedingly well,” said Ted Brekken, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at OSU. “The buoy produced significant power, the hydrodynamic behavior fit our expectations and design, the placement and deployment went smoothly and we got a large amount of data to further evaluate. The Columbia Power Technologies and OSU team did a tremendous job in this collaborative effort.”
There are different approaches towards tapping the power of heaving ocean swells, scientists say, but OSU is focused on a direct drive technology that eliminates the need for hydraulic systems and may be more efficient and durable in a rugged ocean environment.
According to Annette von Jouanne, an OSU professor of electrical engineering, one approach may ultimately become the most dominant in this emerging alternative energy industry, as has been the case with wind power. However, different systems may work better depending on the application, she said.
“We may find that the best system is different depending on the need for low, mid-range or high power production,” von Jouanne said. “One might work best for commercial wave parks, while others could be better suited to local use by coastal communities or even small power devices that run sensors or self-powered buoys.”
In use, wave buoys might range widely in size, from a couple of feet to large commercial devices that are as much as 50 feet wide and 100 feet long, probably in a cylindrical shape, Brekken said. The above water portion of the buoy would be similar in size and visibility to a small boat. Researchers envision that energy production devices might have a lifespan of about 20 years with regular maintenance, similar to existing wind energy systems.
OSU is working in several areas of wave energy development, including new technologies, assessments of the potential biological or environmental impacts, site evaluations and outreach to coastal communities and interest groups.
In September, officials also announced funding support for a new Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, to be based at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center, with a total of $13.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, Oregon legislature, OSU, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, the University of Washington and other sources. A key part of this initiative will be creation of a wave energy test facility near Newport that would be available to academic researchers as well as private industry.
Experts have estimated that the electrical power available in the U.S. from wave energy might be similar to that of hydroelectric energy, and as such could become a significant part of a sustainable energy future. In Oregon, based on the amount of ocean space that is being considered for use in wave energy “parks,” it could be possible to supply as much as 10% of Oregon’s energy needs, Brekken said.
Further research is needed to address issues such as buoy spacing and placement, but a wave park that could produce 50-100 megawatts of electrical power might be about three miles long and one mile deep, Brekken said, or three square miles. It’s been suggested that Oregon might develop about seven wave parks. If buoys were placed in the areas between the offshore area from one to three miles off the state’s 300-mile-long coast, the space needed for seven energy production parks would be about one-third of 1% of this 600-square-mile area.
Continued research will further refine the optimal energy production and buoy technology, experts say, as well as methods to scale it up in size for commercial use, monitor its maintenance needs and reliability, and other issues.