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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

FRANK HARTZELL, Fort Bragg Advocate News, June 11, 2010

Rising acidity of ocean waters will wipe out the world’s coral reefs and could devastate crab, scallops and other creatures that build shells from calcium compounds in ocean waters, a top professor told a Fort Bragg audience last Friday.

San Francisco State Professor Jonathon Stillman presented figures that showed the pH balance of ocean waters has tilted toward acid in the past 20 years. That’s nearly as much as it did in the previous 200 years, which were themselves a steady but slow increase over historical levels.

The bad news could be good news for Fort Bragg’s efforts to launch a marine science study center. Millions in study funding has already been pledged by various organizations to monitor new Marine Life Protected Areas. Ocean acidification and upwelling present further tasks critical to the planet’s future that a local marine study center could help with, locals said.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative is a public-private effort to create a connected array of new areas of the ocean where fishing uses are prohibited or restricted. The MLPAI is a private organization authorized by the state and funded by the Resources Legacy Foundation Fund to gather public input and create the proposed maps of closed areas.

Stillman presented preliminary experimental data that showed disturbing changes to mollusks, crustaceans and even fish, including decreasing shell-building and creature size.

Rising proof about the impacts of global climate change and acidification show that coral reefs will actually be melted in this century if current rates of acidification continue.

Perhaps most distressing to the crowd of about 40 people was that the life-giving upwelling off the Mendocino Coast actually adds to acidification by bringing up more acidic deep waters.

The more upwelling, the more acidic waters become.

Ocean acidification is caused by atmospheric carbon dissolving in the oceans. Ocean acidity has been rising since the beginning of the industrial revolution, as factories, cars and even cows have pumped out increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. About 30% of carbon released into the atmosphere ends up in the oceans.

Stillman was both harried and delighted by the steady barrage of questions from the audience. Many were complex and scientific in nature such as queries from geologist Skip Wollenberg and seaweed harvester Tomas DiFiore.

Everybody seemed to have a question and got an answer from the professor:

  • Do rising salinity levels contribute? Answer: No and icecap melting means salinity is actually going down.
  • What about studying the winds that drive upwelling? Answer: Important question but too tangential.

Wollenberg wanted to know if the fossil record provided any warnings of what happens when oceans get more acid. Stillman said it does, but wanted time to share important recent studies on that subject before answering, and he ran out of time, due to all the questions and discussion.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative never came up, although, it has greatly raised local interest (and controversy) in ocean issues and local participation in solving problems with the oceans.

The talk was sponsored by COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea) and OST (Ocean Science Trust). COMPASS seeks to help scientists like Stillman step outside the ivory tower and communicate complex topics to the general public.

“They are an effort to provide relevant science talks to our communities — which is such a treat,” said Jeanine Pfeiffer, a locally-based college science teacher who is also outreach coordinator for MLPAI. “I personally am thrilled to have free access to the types of seminars I used to be able to see on a weekly basis at UC Davis, but are so rare here on the coast, due to our remote location.”

Stillman provided no solutions, with his handout stating that reduced carbon output is the only solution to ocean acidification (as well as rising sea levels).

More scientific study of the oceans — like that locals hope to create with a science center on the former Georgia Pacific mill site — is critical to the survival of the planet, Stillman said.

“At present we cannot adequately predict how marine ecosystems as a whole will respond to ocean acidification and our ability to deal with (acidification) depends on how well we can predict its effects,” Stillman’s handout states.

State efforts to stem global climate change and prepare for rising sea levels were explained to the crowd by Sheila Semans, project specialist with the California Ocean Protection Council, the state agency that oversees the oceans.

She explained the sweeping Global Warming Solutions Act signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 that targets emission reductions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Among important specific actions she cited was the acquisition of Bay Area wetlands, mostly from the Cargill Corporation, another public-privatized effort (like MLPAI) financed by the Resources Legacy Foundation.

Unlike Georgia Pacific at the mill site, Cargill was allowed to convey tens of thousands of acres to the state before cleaning up toxic effects of generations of salt mining.

This reporter, accompanied by dissident Bay Area local environmentalists and Department of Fish and Game employees, toured miles of these former salt marshes, which support little life in many places. The state has little funding for a cleanup that could cost a billion.

Local critics of the acquisition process for the salt marshes (such as refuge friends organizations) say they were unable to influence the centralized marketing and acquisition process. After the massive land tracts were acquired amid much fanfare, problems with the amount paid and the extent of the cleanup needed emerged, as local critics had predicted.

The MLPAI effort pledges better follow up study, but many locals remain skeptical that study dollars or efforts will involve locals and those with hands-on familiarity with the local ocean.

– For an overview of climate change: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/

– California Climate Change portal: http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/

The site with videos addressing rising sea levels (and other topics): http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/visualization/index.html

– Cargill acquisition: http://baynature.org/articles/jul-sep-2007/highway-to-the-flyway/napa-sonoma-marshes

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Electric Light & Power, June 11, 2009

menu01onAs the Obama administration shapes its policy on transmission planning, siting and cost allocation, the Large Public Power Council (LPPC) has sent a joint letter voicing its transmission policy views and concerns to Energy Secretary Chu, Interior Secretary Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, FERC Chairman Wellinghoff, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Sutley and Presidential Energy Advisor Carol Browner.

The letter was sent to the Obama policy makers by Bob Johnston, Chair of the 23 member not-for-profit utility organization. Members of the LPPC own and operate nearly 90% of the transmission investment owned by non-federal public power entities in the United States.

The LPPC told the Obama Administration that it is “most supportive of a framework for interconnection-wide planning that addresses the growing need to interconnect renewable resources to the grid.”

“Many of our members are leaders in renewable deployment and energy efficiency. We are committed to these policy goals and closely tied to the values of our local communities,” the LPPC emphasized. “But we also believe that creating a new planning bureaucracy could be costly and counterproductive in achieving needed infrastructure development.”

The LPPC voiced strong support for the region-wide planning process recently mandated by FERC Order 890 that directed implementation of new region-wide planning processes that the LPPC claims “require an unprecedented level of regional coordination, transparency and federal oversight.”

“It seems quite clear that federal climate legislation and a national renewable portfolio standard will further focus these planning processes, the LPPC asserted. “LPPC fully expects that the regional processes to which parties have recently committed will take on new urgency and purpose. Adding a planning bureaucracy to that mix will be time consuming and will likely delay rather than expedite transmission development.”

The LPPC also told the Obama policy makers that, “it would be unnecessary, inequitable and counterproductive to allocate the cost of a new transmission superhighway to all load serving entities without regard to their ability to use the facilities or their ability to rely on more economical alternatives to meet environmental goals.”

The LPPC contended, “that certain proposals it has reviewed to allocate the cost of new transmission on an interconnection-wide basis would provide an enormous and unnecessary subsidy to large scale renewable generation located far from load centers, at the expense of other, potentially more economical alternatives. Utilities, state regulators, and regional transmission organizations should determine how to meet the environmental goals established by Congress most effectively by making economic choices among the array of available options, without subsidy of one technology or market segment over others.”

The LPPC letter further claimed that the cost of a massive transmission build-out will be substantial and that cost estimates they had reviewed “appear to be meaningfully understated.” The LPPC estimates that nationwide costs for such a build-out “may range between $135 billion and $325 billion, equating to a monthly per customer cost between $14 and $35.  This is a critical matter for LPPC members, as advocates for the consumers we serve.”

The Large Public Power Council letter concluded by offering its support for additional federal siting authority for multi-state transmission facilities “in order to overcome the limited ability of individual states to address multi-state transmission projects to meet regional needs. LPPC is confident that such new authority can be undertaken in consultation with existing state siting authorities in a manner that capitalizes on existing expertise and ensures that state and local concerns are addressed in the siting process.”

The LPPC’s membership includes 23 of the nation’s largest publicly owned, not-for-profit energy systems. Members are located in 10 states and provide reliable, electricity to some of the largest cities in the U.S. including Los Angeles, Seattle, Omaha, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio, Jacksonville, Orlando and Austin.

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JAMES RICKMAN, Seeking Alpha, June 8, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoOceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. As the world’s largest solar collectors, oceans generate thermal energy from the sun. They also produce mechanical energy from the tides and waves. Even though the sun affects all ocean activity, the gravitational pull of the moon primarily drives the tides, and the wind powers the ocean waves.

Wave energy is the capture of the power from waves on the surface of the ocean. It is one of the newer forms of renewable or ‘green’ energy under development, not as advanced as solar energy, fuel cells, wind energy, ethanol, geothermal companies, and flywheels. However, interest in wave energy is increasing and may be the wave of the future in coastal areas according to many sources including the International Energy Agency Implementing Agreement on Ocean Energy Systems (Report 2009).

Although fewer than 12 MW of ocean power capacity has been installed to date worldwide, we find a significant increase of investments reaching over $2 billion for R&D worldwide within the ocean power market including the development of commercial ocean wave power combination wind farms within the next three years.

Tidal turbines are a new technology that can be used in many tidal areas. They are basically wind turbines that can be located anywhere there is strong tidal flow. Because water is about 800 times denser than air, tidal turbines will have to be much sturdier than wind turbines. They will be heavier and more expensive to build but will be able to capture more energy. For example, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest region alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity.

Companies to Watch in the Developing Wave Power Industry:

Siemens AG (SI) is a joint venture partner of Voith Siemens Hydro Power Generation, a leader in advanced hydro power technology and services, which owns Wavegen, Scotland’s first wave power company. Wavegen’s device is known as an oscillating water column, which is normally sited at the shoreline rather than in open water. A small facility is already connected to the Scottish power grid, and the company is working on another project in Northern Spain.

Ocean Power Technologies, Inc (OPTT) develops proprietary systems that generate electricity through ocean waves. Its PowerBuoy system is used to supply electricity to local and regional electric power grids. Iberdrola hired the company to build and operate a small wave power station off Santona, Spain, and is talking with French oil major Total (TOT) about another wave energy project off the French coast. It is also working on projects in England, Scotland, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Pelamis Wave Power, formerly known as Ocean Power Delivery, is a privately held company which has several owners including various venture capital funds, General Electric Energy (GE) and Norsk Hydro ADR (NHYDY.PK). Pelamis Wave Power is an excellent example of Scottish success in developing groundbreaking technology which may put Scotland at the forefront of Europe’s renewable revolution and create over 18,000 green high wage jobs in Scotland over the next decade. The Pelamis project is also being studied by Chevron (CVX).

Endesa SA ADS (ELEYY.PK) is a Spanish electric utility which is developing, in partnership with Pelamis, the world’s first full scale commercial wave power farm off Aguçadoura, Portugal which powers over 15,000 homes. A second phase of the project is now planned to increase the installed capacity from 2.25MW to 21MW using a further 25 Pelamis machines.

RWE AG ADR (RWEOY.PK) is a German management holding company with six divisions involved in power and energy. It is developing wave power stations in Siadar Bay on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland.

Australia’s Oceanlinx offers an oscillating wave column design and counts Germany’s largest power generator RWE as an investor. It has multiple projects in Australia and the U.S., as well as South Africa, Mexico, and Britain.

Alstom (AOMFF.PK) has also announced development in the promising but challenging field of capturing energy from waves and tides adding to the further interest from major renewable power developers in this emerging industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced several wave energy developments including a cost-shared value of over $18 million, under the DOE’s competitive solicitation for Advanced Water Power Projects. The projects will advance commercial viability, cost-competitiveness, and market acceptance of new technologies that can harness renewable energy from oceans and rivers. The DOE has selected the following organizations and projects for grant awards:

First Topic Area: Technology Development (Up to $600,000 for up to two years)

Electric Power Research Institute, Inc (EPRI) (Palo Alto, Calif.) Fish-friendly hydropower turbine development & deployment. EPRI will address the additional developmental engineering required to prepare a more efficient and environmentally friendly hydropower turbine for the commercial market and allow it to compete with traditional designs.

Verdant Power Inc. (New York, N.Y.) Improved structure and fabrication of large, high-power kinetic hydropower systems rotors. Verdant will design, analyze, develop for manufacture, fabricate and thoroughly test an improved turbine blade design structure to allow for larger, higher-power and more cost-effective tidal power turbines.

Public Utility District #1 of Snohomish County (SnoPUD) (Everett, Wash.) Puget Sound Tidal Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. SnoPUD will conduct in-water testing and demonstration of tidal flow technology as a first step toward potential construction of a commercial-scale power plant. The specific goal of this proposal is to complete engineering design and obtain construction approvals for a Puget Sound tidal pilot demonstration plant in the Admiralty Inlet region of the Sound.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company – San Francisco, Calif. WaveConnect Wave Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. PG&E will complete engineering design, conduct baseline environmental studies, and submit all license construction and operation applications required for a wave energy demonstration plant for the Humboldt WaveConnect site in Northern California.

Concepts ETI, Inc (White River Junction, Vt.) Development and Demonstration of an Ocean Wave Converter (OWC) Power System. Concepts ETI will prepare detailed design, manufacturing and installation drawings of an OWC. They will then manufacture and install the system in Maui, Hawaii.

Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMT) – Manassas, Va., Advanced Composite Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion – “OTEC”, cold water pipe project. Lockheed Martin will validate manufacturing techniques for coldwater pipes critical to OTEC in order to help create a more cost-effective OTEC system.

Second Topic Area, Market Acceleration (Award size: up to $500,000)

Electric Power Research Institute (Palo Alto, Calif.) Wave Energy Resource Assessment and GIS Database for the U.S. EPRI will determine the naturally available resource base and the maximum practicable extractable wave energy resource in the U.S., as well as the annual electrical energy which could be produced by typical wave energy conversion devices from that resource.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation (Atlanta, Ga.) Assessment of Energy Production Potential from Tidal Streams in the U.S. Georgia Tech will utilize an advanced ocean circulation numerical model to predict tidal currents and compute both available and effective power densities for distribution to potential project developers and the general public.

Re Vision Consulting, LLC (Sacramento, Calif.) Best Siting Practices for Marine and Hydrokinetic Technologies With Respect to Environmental and Navigational Impacts. Re Vision will establish baseline, technology-based scenarios to identify potential concerns in the siting of marine and hydrokinetic energy devices, and to provide information and data to industry and regulators.

Pacific Energy Ventures, LLC (Portland, Ore.) Siting Protocol for Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Projects. Pacific Energy Ventures will bring together a multi-disciplinary team in an iterative and collaborative process to develop, review, and recommend how emerging hydrokinetic technologies can be sited to minimize environmental impacts.

PCCI, Inc. (Alexandria, Va.) Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Technologies: Identification of Potential Navigational Impacts and Mitigation Measures. PCCI will provide improved guidance to help developers understand how marine and hydrokinetic devices can be sited to minimize navigational impact and to expedite the U.S. Coast Guard review process.

Science Applications International Corporation (SAI) – San Diego, Calif., International Standards Development for Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy. SAIC will assist in the development of relevant marine and hydrokinetic energy industry standards, provide consistency and predictability to their development, and increase U.S. industry’s collaboration and representation in the development process.

Third Topic Area, National Marine Energy Centers (Award size: up to $1.25 million for up to five years)

Oregon State University, and University of Washington – Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center. OSU and UW will partner to develop the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center with a full range of capabilities to support wave and tidal energy development for the U.S. Center activities are structured to: facilitate device commercialization, inform regulatory and policy decisions, and close key gaps in understanding.

University of Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii) National Renewable Marine Energy Center in Hawaii will facilitate the development and implementation of commercial wave energy systems and to assist the private sector in moving ocean thermal energy conversion systems beyond proof-of-concept to pre-commercialization, long-term testing.

Types of Hydro Turbines

There are two main types of hydro turbines: impulse and reaction. The type of hydropower turbine selected for a project is based on the height of standing water— the flow, or volume of water, at the site. Other deciding factors include how deep the turbine must be set, efficiency, and cost.

Impulse Turbines

The impulse turbine generally uses the velocity of the water to move the runner and discharges to atmospheric pressure. The water stream hits each bucket on the runner. There is no suction on the down side of the turbine, and the water flows out the bottom of the turbine housing after hitting the runner. An impulse turbine, for example Pelton or Cross-Flow is generally suitable for high head, low flow applications.

Reaction Turbines

A reaction turbine develops power from the combined action of pressure and moving water. The runner is placed directly in the water stream flowing over the blades rather than striking each individually. Reaction turbines include the Propeller, Bulb, Straflo, Tube, Kaplan, Francis or Kenetic are generally used for sites with lower head and higher flows than compared with the impulse turbines.

Types of Hydropower Plants

There are three types of hydropower facilities: impoundment, diversion, and pumped storage. Some hydropower plants use dams and some do not.

Many dams were built for other purposes and hydropower was added later. In the United States, there are about 80,000 dams of which only 2,400 produce power. The other dams are for recreation, stock/farm ponds, flood control, water supply, and irrigation. Hydropower plants range in size from small systems for a home or village to large projects producing electricity for utilities.

Impoundment

The most common type of hydroelectric power plant (above image) is an impoundment facility. An impoundment facility, typically a large hydropower system, uses a dam to store river water in a reservoir. Water released from the reservoir flows through a turbine, spinning it, which in turn activates a generator to produce electricity. The water may be released either to meet changing electricity needs or to maintain a constant reservoir level.

The Future of Ocean and Wave Energy

Wave energy devices extract energy directly from surface waves or from pressure fluctuations below the surface. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity. (A terawatt is equal to a trillion watts.)

Wave energy rich areas of the world include the western coasts of Scotland, northern Canada, southern Africa, Japan, Australia, and the northeastern and northwestern coasts of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. The West Coast of the United States is more than a 1,000 miles long.
In general, careful site selection is the key to keeping the environmental impacts of wave energy systems to a minimum. Wave energy system planners can choose sites that preserve scenic shorefronts. They also can avoid areas where wave energy systems can significantly alter flow patterns of sediment on the ocean floor.

Economically, wave energy systems are just beginning to compete with traditional power sources. However, the costs to produce wave energy are quickly coming down. Some European experts predict that wave power devices will soon find lucrative niche markets. Once built, they have low operation and maintenance costs because the fuel they use — seawater — is FREE.

The current cost of wave energy vs. traditional electric power sources?

It has been estimated that improving technology and economies of scale will allow wave generators to produce electricity at a cost comparable to wind-driven turbines, which produce energy at about 4.5 cents kWh.

For now, the best wave generator technology in place in the United Kingdom is producing energy at an average projected/assessed cost of 6.7 cents kWh.

In comparison, electricity generated by large scale coal burning power plants costs about 2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Combined-cycle natural gas turbine technology, the primary source of new electric power capacity is about 3 cents per kilowatt hour or higher. It is not unusual to average costs of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and up for municipal utilities districts.

Currently, the United States, Brazil, Europe, Scotland, Germany, Portugal, Canada and France all lead the developing wave energy industry that will return 30% growth or more for the next five years.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThree miles off the craggy, wave-crashing coastline near Humboldt Bay, California, deep ocean swells roll through a swath of ocean that is soon to be the site of the nation’s first major wave energy project.

Like other renewable energy technology, ocean energy generated by waves, tidal currents or steady offshore winds has been considered full of promise yet perennially years from reaching full-blown commercial development.

That’s still true – commercial-scale deployment is at least five years away. Yet there are fresh signs that ocean power is surging. And if all goes well, WaveConnect, the wave energy pilot project at Humboldt that’s being developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), could by next year deploy five commercial-scale wave systems, each putting 1 megawatt of ocean-generated power onto the electric grid.

At less than 1% of the capacity of a big coal-fired power plant, that might seem a pittance. Yet studies show that wave energy could one day produce enough power to supply 17% of California’s electric needs – and make a sizable dent in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nationwide, ocean power’s potential is far larger. Waves alone could produce 10,000 megawatts of power, about 6.5% of US electricity demand – or as much as produced by conventional hydropower dam generators, estimated the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the public utility industry based in Palo Alto, California, in 2007. All together, offshore wind, tidal power, and waves could meet 10% of US electricity needs.

That potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Obama administration. After years of jurisdictional bickering, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Department of Interior — MMS last month moved to clarify permitting requirements that have long slowed ocean energy development.

While the Bush administration requested zero for its Department of Energy ocean power R&D budget a few years ago, the agency has reversed course and now plans to quadruple funding to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

If the WaveConnect pilot project succeeds, experts say that the Humboldt site, along with another off Mendocino County to the south, could expand to 80 megawatts. Success there could fling open the door to commercial-scale projects not only along California’s surf-pounding coast but prompt a bicoastal US wave power development surge.

“Even without much support, ocean power has proliferated in the last two to three years, with many more companies trying new and different technology,” says George Hagerman, an ocean energy researcher at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, Va.

Wave and tidal current energy are today at about the same stage as land-based wind power was in the early 1980s, he says, but with “a lot more development just waiting to see that first commercial success.”

More than 50 companies worldwide and 17 US-based companies are now developing ocean power prototypes, an EPRI survey shows. As of last fall, FERC tallied 34 tidal power and nine wave power permits with another 20 tidal current, four wave energy, and three ocean current applications pending.

Some of those permits are held by Christopher Sauer’s company, Ocean Renewable Power of Portland, Maine, which expects to deploy an underwater tidal current generator in a channel near Eastport, Maine, later this year.

After testing a prototype since December 2007, Mr. Sauer is now ready to deploy a far more powerful series of turbines using “foils” – not unlike an airplane propeller – to efficiently convert water current that’s around six knots into as much as 100,000 watts of power. To do that requires a series of “stacked” turbines totaling 52 feet wide by 14 feet high.

“This is definitely not a tinkertoy,” Sauer says.

Tidal energy, as demonstrated by Verdant Power’s efforts in New York City’s East River, could one day provide the US with 3,000 megawatts of power, EPRI says. Yet a limited number of appropriate sites with fast current means that wave and offshore wind energy have the largest potential.

“Wave energy technology is still very much in emerging pre-commercial stage,” says Roger Bedard, ocean technology leader for EPRI. “But what we’re seeing with the PG&E WaveConnect is an important project that could have a significant impact.”

Funding is a problem. As with most renewable power, financing for ocean power has been becalmed by the nation’s financial crisis. Some 17 Wall Street finance companies that had funded renewables, including ocean power, are now down to about seven, says John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Even so, entrepreneurs like Sauer aren’t close to giving up – and even believe that the funding tide may have turned. Private equity and the state of Maine provided funding at a critical time, he says.

“It’s really been a struggle, particularly since mid-September when Bear Sterns went down,” Sauers says. “We worked without pay for a while, but we made it through.”

Venture capitalists are not involved in ocean energy right now, he admits. Yet he does get his phone calls returned. “They’re not writing checks yet, but they’re talking more,” he says.

When they do start writing checks, it may be to propel devices such as the Pelamis and the PowerBuoy. Makers of those devices, and more than a dozen wave energy companies worldwide, will soon vie to be among five businesses selected to send their machines to the ocean off Humboldt.

One of the major challenges they will face is “survivability” in the face of towering winter waves. By that measure, one of the more successful generators – success defined by time at sea without breaking or sinking – is the Pelamis, a series of red metal cylinders connected by hinges and hydraulic pistons.

Looking a bit like a red bullet train, several of the units were until recently floating on the undulating sea surface off the coast of Portugal. The Pelamis coverts waves to electric power as hydraulic cylinders connecting its floating cylinders expand and contract thereby squeezing fluid through a power unit that extracts energy.

An evaluation of a Pelamis unit installed off the coast of Massachusetts a few years ago found that for $273 million, a wave farm with 206 of the devices could produce energy at a cost of about 13.4 cents a kilowatt hours. Such costs would drop sharply and be competitive with onshore wind energy if the industry settled on a technology and mass-produced it.

“Even with worst-case assumptions, the economics of wave energy compares favorably to wind energy,” the 2004 study conducted for EPRI found.

One US-based contestant for a WaveConnect slot is likely to be the PowerBuoy, a 135-five-foot-long steel cylinder made by Ocean Power Technology (OPT) of Pennington, N.J. Inside the cylinder that is suspended by a float, a pistonlike structure moves up and down with the bobbing of the waves. That drives a generator, sending up to 150 kilowatts of power to a cable on the ocean bottom. A dozen or more buoys tethered to the ocean floor make a power plant.

“Survivability” is a critical concern for all ocean power systems. Constant battering by waves has sunk more than one wave generator. But one of PowerBuoy’s main claims is that its 56-foot-long prototype unit operated continuously for two years before being pulled for inspection.

“The ability to ride out passing huge waves is a very important part of our system,” says Charles Dunleavy, OPT’s chief financial officer. “Right now, the industry is basically just trying to assimilate and deal with many different technologies as well as the cost of putting structures out there in the ocean.”

Beside survivability and economics, though, the critical question of impact on the environment remains.

“We think they’re benign,” EPRI’s Mr. Bedard says. “But we’ve never put large arrays of energy devices in the ocean before. If you make these things big enough, they would have a negative impact.”

Mr. Dunleavy is optimistic that OPT’s technology is “not efficient enough to rob coastlines and their ecosystems of needed waves. A formal evaluation found the company’s PowerBuoy installed near a Navy base in Hawaii as having “no significant impact,” he says.

Gauging the environmental impacts of various systems will be studied closely in the WaveConnect program, along with observations gathered from fishermen, surfers, and coastal-impact groups, says David Eisenhauer, a PG&E spokesman, says.

“There’s definitely good potential for this project,” says Mr. Eisenhauer. “It’s our responsibility to explore any renewable energy we can bring to our customers – but only if it can be done in an economically and environmentally feasible way.”

Offshore wind is getting a boost, too. On April 22, the Obama administration laid out new rules on offshore leases, royalty payments, and easement that are designed to pave the way for investors.

Offshore wind energy is a commercially ready technology, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy already deployed off European shores. Studies have shown that the US has about 500,000 megawatts of potential offshore energy. Across 10 to 11 East Coast states, offshore wind could supply as much as 20% of the states’ electricity demand without the need for long transmission lines, Hagerman notes.

But development has lagged, thanks to political opposition and regulatory hurdles. So the US remains about five years behind Europe on wave and tidal and farther than that on offshore wind, Bedard says. “They have 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind and we have zero.”

While more costly than land-based wind power, new offshore wind projects have been shown in some studies to have a lower cost of energy than coal projects of the same size and closer to the cost of energy of a new natural-gas fired power plant, Hagerman says.

Offshore wind is the only ocean energy technology ready to be deployed in gigawatt quantities in the next decade, Bedard says. Beyond that, wave and tidal will play important roles.

For offshore wind developers, that means federal efforts to clarify the rules on developing ocean wind energy can’t come soon enough. Burt Hamner plans a hybrid approach to ocean energy – using platforms that produce 10% wave energy and 90% wind energy.

But Mr. Hamner’s dual-power system has run into a bureaucratic tangle – with the Minerals Management Service and FERC both wanting his company to meet widely divergent permit requirements, he says.

“What the public has to understand is that we are faced with a flat-out energy crisis,” Hamner says. “We have to change the regulatory system to develop a structure that’s realistic for what we’re doing.”

To be feasible, costs for offshore wind systems must come down. But even so, a big offshore wind farm with hundreds of turbines might cost $4 billion – while a larger coal-fired power plant is just as much and a nuclear power even more, he contends.

“There is no cheap solution,” Hamner says. “But if we’re successful, the prize could be a big one.”

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PATRICK BLUM, International Herald Tribune, March 15, 2009

LISBON: Projects for wind and wave energy beset by technical snags and dwindling investment

mj_newsletter_12-2-09_pelamisIn July, a Pelamis wave power generator, an articulated steel machine like a giant semi-submerged sausage, was towed into the deep Atlantic, off the coast of Aguçadoura in northern Portugal, and attached to a floating mooring.

By September, two more Pelamis units, each capable of generating 750 kilowatts of electricity, had joined the first, about three miles, or five kilometers, off shore, and the Portuguese power utility Energias de Portugal was able to announce proudly that “the world’s first commercial wave power project,” was transmitting electricity to the national grid.

Costing about €9 million, or $11.5 million, the three machines were the first phase of a plan intended ultimately to be expanded to 28 units, with a total generating capacity of 21 megawatts — enough to power more than 15,000 homes and save more than 60,000 tons a year of carbon dioxide from being spewed into the skies by conventional power plants.

In mid-November all three were disconnected and towed back to land, where they now lie in Leixões harbor, near the city of Porto, with no date set for their return to operation.

So what went wrong?

First, there was a buoyancy problem, said Max Carcas, a spokesman for Pelamis Wave Power, the British company that designed and built the units and retained a 23% stake in the project. According to a report on ocean energy systems published by the International Energy Agency, foam-filled buoyancy tanks for the mooring installation leaked and needed to be replaced, delaying startup.

The buoyancy problem was resolved, Mr. Carcas said during a telephone interview this month, but other technical issues emerged, as could be expected in a prototype project. “Like all things new, you have niggles to work through, and we continue to do that.”

Then, the financial crisis kicked in.

The Aguçadoura wave farm was announced in September as a joint venture between Pelamis and a group of three promoters including EDP, the Portuguese electrical engineering company Efacec, and the asset manager Babcock & Brown, an Australia-based specialist in power and other infrastructure investments.

But, by November, as the global credit crunch and falling share markets took a deepening toll of highly leveraged investors, Babcock & Brown announced a major program of asset sales to pay down its debt: and the Portuguese partners pulled back from the venture.

“Babcock & Brown are in process of winding down and we’re looking at offers for all our assets,” Anthony Kennaway, a Babcock & Brown spokesman, said from London. “Pelamis is part of that. All our assets are for sale. We are not putting any more money into the project.”

Against that background, Mr. Carcas, of Pelamis, said that there was no timetable for returning the generators to sea.

“As soon as things are resolved,” he said. “Could be next week. Could be anything.”

Harnessing ocean power for energy seemed an ideal option for Portugal, a small country with no oil and limited resources, and a long Atlantic coastline south of the Bay of Biscay, famed for its fierce waves and storms.

Portugal now imports more than 80% of its energy supplies, far above the European Union average. Domestic power generation is heavily dependent on hydroelectric projects, which are vulnerable to big fluctuations in output, depending on seasonal weather conditions.

Ambitious government plans still aim for a radical transformation of Portugal’s energy profile, with as much as 60% of the country’s electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2020. That compares with an EU target of 20% for the union as a whole.

But the Aguçadoura project points up the risks of a strategy relying on cutting-edge, and potentially costly, technology. Whether or not the target is achievable, particularly in current economic conditions, is a subject of debate among the country’s renewable energy specialists.

“We assumed there would be no critical technical issues,” to hinder deployment of offshore generators, said Antonio Sarmento, director of the Wave Energy Center, WavEC, a Portuguese nonprofit organization that promotes ocean wave power generation.

“Also we assumed there would be no environmental impact and that the energy would be relatively cheap. So we were optimistic,” Mr. Sarmento said. “It’s an educated guess. We are still guessing. When you pick up a new technology and look at the future it’s difficult to say what will be.”

On the cost side, investments in ocean-based technologies “are very high and operating costs are not entirely negligible because you have the problem of corrosion from salt water,” said Colette Lewiner, head of the global energy and utilities sector at the French consultancy and services company Capgemini.

While the Aguçadoura partners put the cost of the first phase at a relatively modest €9 million, the true cost of such developments is difficult to calculate, said Hugo Chandler, a renewable energy analyst at the International Energy Agency in Paris.

“Part of the problem is the absence of data,” he said. “Countries are still at an early stage and don’t want to reveal real costs.”

It’s a very young technology, Mr. Chandler said, but “the indications are that it is considerably more expensive than other technologies.”

Still, the Aguçadoura experience has not discouraged EDP from pursuing other high-tech ocean solutions. Last month it signed an agreement with Principle Power of the United States to develop and install a floating offshore wind farm off the Portuguese coast, one of the first projects of its kind in Europe.

The project would use proprietary Principle Power technology designed to allow wind turbines to be set in high-wind but previously inaccessible ocean locations where water depth exceeds 50 meters, or 164 feet. The agreement foresees commercial deployment in three phases, but sets no timetable.

Offshore wind power generation currently costs 50% to 100% more than equivalent onshore wind farms, according to a recent Capgemini report on clean technologies in Europe. But Portugal is eager to press ahead with the new technology. “Offshore wind is one of our key innovation priorities,” said the chief executive of EDP, António Mexia.

“The development of floating foundations for wind turbines is a prerequisite to the development of offshore wind farms world-wide, as areas in which the sea bed is less than 50 meters deep are scarce and fixed structures in deeper waters are economically not feasible,” he said.

Still, he noted, the agreement with Principle Power “is not a binding contract; there are a number of prerequisites, technical and financial, that need to be met.”

A €30 million first phase, covering development and infrastructure construction, could see a small, five megawatt floating generator in operation by the second half of 2012. But for that to happen, full funding would need to be in place “by the end of this semester,” Mr. Mexia said.

WavEC, meanwhile, has several wave power projects in the pipeline, including tests of prototype systems from three companies — WaveRoller, of Finland; Ocean Power Technologies of the United States; and Wavebob, of Ireland.

For sure, the economic recession and financial crisis are adding to the challenges facing such projects, as investors pull back. “There will be a pause, a slowdown, in renewable energy investment until we see the recovery,” said Ms. Lewiner, of Capgemini. But “these investments take time and you can’t sleep through the recession. These plants are needed.”

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PETER BROWN, EnergyCurrent.com, February 16, 2009

stromnessOn a Monday morning in May last year, the Atlantic tide set a turbine in motion on the seabed off Orkney, and the energy captured was connected to the national grid. It was, said Jim Mather, Scotland’s Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, a “massive step forward”.

The amount of electricity generated may have been tiny, but for marine engineers the significance was huge. Their industry had stopped paddling and started to swim.

For small companies trying to get wave or tide devices off the drawing board and into the sea, many problems lie in wait. All turbines, whether they sit on the seabed or float, must withstand that once-in-a-century wave that could be a thousand times more powerful than the average. Conditions vary with the seasons and the seabed. A device that works in a fjord might not function in a firth. Rigorous, long-term testing is therefore vital.

“There are parallels with wind,” says Alan Mortimer, head of renewables policy at Scottish Power. “Many different types of turbine were proposed in the early Eighties. They boiled down to a small number of successful concepts. The same needs to happen with marine devices, but the difference is that they need to be full- size just to be tested.

“To get a reasonable number of prototypes into the water costs millions. What these small companies need is capital support.”

That, however, is hard to find. The Wave and Tidal Energy Support Scheme (Wates), which put GBP13.5 million into promising technologies, is now closed. Last year the Scottish Government offered the 10m Saltire Prize for a commercially viable scheme, but the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), in its recent report Marine Energy: More Than Just a Drop in the Ocean?, called on the Government to provide another 40m.

This would go towards schemes to be tested at EMEC, the European Marine Energy Centre, which has two supported sites, with grid access, at Orkney. It was there that an Irish company, OpenHydro, made the grid breakthrough last year. “It’s desperately important that we grasp the nettle now,” says William Banks, IMechE’s president. “We have the micro-systems in place and I’d like to see them developed to the macro stage. However, unless we do that step by step, we’ll be in trouble.”

An estimated 50 teams are working around the world on marine energy. The danger is that Britain, and Scotland in particular, could lose the race, even though, as Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, says, “Scotland has a marine energy resource which is unrivalled in Europe.”

Scotland has a quarter of Europe’s tidal resources and a tenth of its wave potential.

Around 1,000 people work in Scottish marine energy, but that figure could billow. “You’re talking about an exercise that could transform the marine industry into something equivalent to oil and gas,” says Martin McAdam, whose company, Aquamarine Power, is growing fast.

Among his rivals in Scotland are AWS Ocean Energy, based near Inverness, with Archimedes, a submerged wave machine; Hammerfest UK, which wants to develop three 60MW tidal sites and is working with Scottish Power; Pelamis Wave Power, who are based in Edinburgh; and Scotrenewables, based in Orkney, who are currently developing a floating tidal turbine.

Politicians need to be educated about marine energy’s potential, says Banks. Indeed, IMechE has highlighted the need for sustained political leadership if what many see as the biggest problem – that of the grid – is to be solved. Why bring energy onshore if it can’t then reach homes?

“Grids were built to connect large power stations to cities. Now you’re going to have electricity generated all over the countryside. It’s a huge challenge,” says McAdam.

“We have had meetings with Ofgen and the national grid companies and we’re outlining the need to have grids to support at least 3,000MW of energy by 2020. That is definitely possible.” McAdam adds: “A European undersea grid is also being promoted and we’re very supportive of that.”

Such a system would help to overcome a frequent objection to renewables – their fickleness. If waves were strong in Scotland, Finland or France could benefit, and vice versa.

Another challenge is the cost of installation. “At the moment we’re competing with oil and gas for boats,” says McAdam. “We need to move away from using heavy-lift, jack-up vessels.” The answer might be devices that can be floated into position and then weighted down.

The race between suppliers is speeding up. Permission for a 4MW station at Siadar, off Lewis in the Western Isles, has just been granted to Wavegen, based in Inverness, and Npower Renewables. It could power about 1,500 homes, creating 70 jobs.

Among the success stories are the three 140-metre, red tubes developed by Pelamis (named after a sea serpent) which already float off the northern Portuguese coast at Aguadoura. More Pelamis turbines are to be installed at EMEC, along with Aquamarine’s wave device Oyster.

Oyster is basically a giant flap which feeds wave energy onshore to be converted to electricity. It has already been made, at a former oil and gas plant at Nigg, north of Inverness. A high- pressure pipeline was completed in December and a hydro-electric station will be installed this spring. In the summer, Oyster will finally be bolted to piles hammered into the seabed.

Unlike wave energy, tidal power needs a channel between two land masses – and in the roaring Pentland Firth, between Caithness and Orkney, Scotland has what has been called “the Saudi Arabia of marine power”, Europe’s largest tidal resource. To exploit it, a GBP2 million contract to build Aquamarine’s tidal power device, Neptune, was awarded last month. It will be tested at EMEC.

Elsewhere, SeaGen, an “underwater windmill” developed by a Bristol company, has just generated 1.2MW near the mouth of Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.
But the most controversial of Britain’s tidal energy schemes is, of course, in the Severn Estuary, where a barrage could provide around 5% of Britain’s energy. Environmentalists fear irreparable damage to marshes and mudflats, but the Government is known to prefer the barrage to other, smaller options. The decision it takes next year is sure to be eagerly watched in Scotland.

Somewhat overshadowed by the Severn plan is Wave Hub, a project to build a wave-power station 10 miles off St Ives, on Cornwall’s north coast, using both Pelamis and a sea-bed device developed by ORECon of Plymouth. An application to create a safety area around it has just been submitted, part of the meticulous planning that precedes any marine trial.

“We have to have environmentalists looking at the impact on fisheries, flora and fauna,” says McAdam. “And we have to be completely open with the communities we’re going into. But most people realise that climate change and energy security are real things. We want to minimalise our environmental impact and give the country a means of isolating itself from the volatility of oil and gas.”

In theory, marine energy could generate a fifth of the UK’s electricity needs, but that would require a multitude of stations. Bill Banks believes nuclear power will be needed. “But we also need a variety of renewables,” he says. “Marine will take its place along with bio, hydro and wind energy. It’s available, it’s there at the moment, and if we get our act together I think we can lead Europe. We need a synergy of activity.”

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MendoCoastCurrent from Platts Energy Podium, February 12, 2009

The recently approved Economic Stimulus Plan includes expanding the US electric transmission grid and this may be the just the start of what will be a costly effort to improve reliability and deliver renewable energy to consumers from remote locations, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Acting Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told the Platts Energy Podium on February 12, 2009.

Wellinghoff defines the Stimulus energy funds as “seed money. But it really isn’t [enough] money to make huge advances in the overall backbone grid that we’re talking about to integrate substantial amounts of wind.”

While details of the plan compromises are unclear, the measure could provide $10 billion or more to transmission upgrades. Wellinghoff said backbone transmission projects could cost more than $200 billion. “And I think we’ll see that money coming from the private sector,” based on proposals already submitted to FERC.

Wellinghoff’s focused on Congress strengthening federal authority to site interstate high-voltage electric transmission lines to carry wind power to metropolitan areas and expects FERC to be heavily involved in formulation of either a comprehensive energy bill or a series of bills meant to address obstacles to increasing renewable wind, solar and geothermal energy, and other matters that fall within FERC’s purview. 

FERC plays a critical role “given the authorities we’ve been given in the 2005 and 2007 acts and our capabilities with respect to policy and implementation of energy infrastructure.”

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