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JOHN UPTON, San Francisco Examiner, January 28, 2010

Tracking gray whales as they migrate past the San Francisco shoreline will help provide key information for a proposed plan to for a wave energy farm.

The mammals — which can grow up to 50 feet long, weigh up to 40 tons and are considered endangered on the West Coast — migrate between the Alaskan coast to the shores off Mexico, where they give birth to their young.

During their travels, the whales pass near Ocean Beach — but there is a lack of information about exactly where.

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories researchers will partner with San Francisco and track the mammals’ depth and distance from the shoreline using visual surveys and satellite tracking devices. A review of existing scientific literature will also be undertaken.

“There’s a fair amount of data on gray whales down around Monterey,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Project Manager Randall Smith said. “But there’s a data gap off the San Francisco coastline.”

The study will help city officials decide how and where to safely place an array of potentially-revolutionary underwater devices that might eventually deliver power as cheaply as solar panels.

The farm would capture and convert into electricity the power of arctic storm-generated waves as they pulse toward Ocean Beach.

A wide variety of devices are being developed worldwide that could help capture the wave power: Some bob near the surface, others float midwater like balloons, and a third type undulates like kelp along the seafloor.

Learning about gray whale migration patterns will help officials determine which devices would minimize the risk of whale collisions and decide where they should be located.

Research by UC Berkeley professor Ronald Yeung previously identified Ocean Beach as having strong potential for the nascent form of energy generation.

A wave study completed by San Francisco city contractors in December confirmed the site’s potential, according to Smith.

“Potentially, we could do a 30-megawatt wave farm out there,” Smith said.

The timelines and investment structure of the wave project are unclear, largely because the U.S. Minerals Management Service — which historically managed gas and oil deposits — was recently charged with regulating offshore renewable energy projects.

While the SFPUC waits for the service to finalize its permit application procedures, it’s forging ahead with an environmental review of the project required by California law, which includes the whale study.

Gray whales – the giant mammals are an endangered species.

Annual migration: 10,000 miles
Length: Up to 50 feet
Weight: Up to 80,000 pounds
Lifespan: In excess of 75 years
Maturity: Six to 12 years
Gestation: 12 to 13 months
Newborn calves: 14 to 16 feet long; 2,000 pounds

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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DAVID TOW, Future Planet, January 16, 2010

By 2015 India and China will both have outstripped the US in energy consumption by a large margin. Cap and Trade carbon markets will have been established by major developed economies, including India and China, as the most effective way to limit carbon emissions and encourage investment in renewable energy, reforestation projects etc.

There will have been a significant shift by consumers and industry to renewable energy technologies- around 25%, powered primarily by the new generation adaptive wind and solar energy mega-plants, combined with the rapid depletion of the most easily accessible oil fields. Coal and gas will continue to play a major role at around 60% useage, with clean coal and gas technologies still very expensive. Nuclear technology will remain static at 10% and hydro at 5%.

Most new vehicles and local transport systems will utilise advanced battery or hydrogen electric power technology, which will continue to improve energy density outputs.

Efficiency and recycling savings of the order of 30% on today’s levels will be available from the application of smart adaptive technologies in power grids, communication, distribution and transport networks, manufacturing plants and consumer households. This will be particularly critical for the sustainability of cities across the planet. Cities will also play a critical role in not only supporting the energy needs of at least 60% of the planet’s population through solar, wind, water and waste energy capture but will feed excess capacity to the major power grids, providing a constant re-balancing of energy supply across the world.

By 2025 a global Cap and Trade regime will be mandatory and operational worldwide. Current oil sources will be largely exhausted but the remaining new fields will be exploited in the Arctic, Antarctic and deep ocean locations.  Renewable energy will account for 40% of useage, including baseload power generation. Solar and wind power will dominate in the form of huge desert solar and coastal and inland wind farms; but all alternate forms- wave, geothermal, secondary biomass, algael etc will begin to play a significant role.

Safer helium-cooled and fast breeder fourth generation modular nuclear power reactors will replace many of the older water-cooled and risk-prone plants, eventually  accounting for around 15% of energy production; with significant advances in the storage of existing waste in stable ceramic materials.

By 2035 global warming will reach a critical threshold with energy useage tripling from levels in 2015, despite conservation and efficiency advances. Renewables will account for 60% of the world’s power supply, nuclear 15% and fossils 25%. Technologies to convert CO2 to hydocarbon fuel together with more efficient recycling and sequestration, will allow coal and gas to continue to play a significant role.

By 2045-50 renewables will be at 75-80% levels, nuclear 12% and clean fossil fuels 10-15%. The first Hydrogen and Helium3 pilot fusion energy plants will be commissioned, with large-scale generators expected to come on stream in the latter part of the century, eventually reducing carbon emissions to close to zero.

However the above advances will still be insufficient to prevent the runaway effects of global warming. These long-term impacts will raise temperatures well beyond the additional two-three degrees centigrade critical limit.

Despite reduction in emissions by up to 85%, irreversible and chaotic feedback impacts on the global biosphere will be apparent. These will be triggered by massive releases of methane from permafrost and ocean deposits, fresh water flows from melting ice causing disruptions to ocean currents and weather patterns.

These will affect populations beyond the levels of ferocity of the recent Arctic freeze, causing chaos in the northern hemisphere and reaching into India and China and the droughts and heat waves of Africa, the Middle East and Australia.

The cycle of extreme weather events and rising oceans that threaten to destroy many major coastal cities will continue to increase, compounded by major loss of ecosystems, biodiversity and food capacity. This will force a major rethink of the management of energy and climate change as global catastrophe threatens.

Increasingly desperate measures will be canvassed and tested, including the design of major geo-engineering projects aimed at reducing the amount of sunlight reaching earth and reversal of the acidity of the oceans. These massive infrastructure projects would have potentially enormous ripple-on effects on all social, industrial and economic systems. They are eventually assessed to be largely ineffective, unpredictable and unsustainable.

As forecasts confirm that carbon levels in the atmosphere will remain high for the next 1,000 years, regardless of mitigating measures, priorities shift urgently to the need to minimise risk to life on a global scale, while protecting civilisation’s core infrastructure, social, knowledge and cultural assets.

Preserving the surviving natural ecosystem environment and the critical infrastructure of the built environment, particularly the Internet and Web, will now be vital. The sustainability of human life on planet Earth, in the face of overwhelming catastrophe, will be dependent to a critical degree on the power of the intelligent Web 4.0, combining human and artificial intelligence to manage food, water, energy and human resources.

Only the enormous problem-solving capacity of this human-engineered entity, will be capable of ensuring the continuing survival of civilisation as we know it.

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FRANK HARTZELL, Mendocino Beacon, December 17, 2009

The Obama administration has launched a new “zoning” approach that puts all ocean activities under the umbrella of nine regional planning bodies.

Public comments are being accepted through Friday, Feb. 12.

The approach is more local and integrated than the current strategy, which puts separate functions under different federal agencies. But it remains to be seen how such a plan can satisfy a plethora of federal laws that now protect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.

The issue of whales killed by ships (like the blue whale kill in October off Fort Bragg) is cited in the new report as an example of how the regional planning approach could solve problems that single agencies cannot.

In the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off Boston, the Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and several other government agencies and stakeholders reconfigured the Boston Traffic Separation Scheme, after numerous fatal collisions between marine mammals and ships.

This kind of joint action is what the new Obama approach anticipates using nationwide.

The reconfigured shipping lanes reduced risk of collision by an estimated 81% for all baleen whales and 58% for endangered right whales, studies show.

NOAA is the lone federal agency dealing with the whale kill issue locally, working with two state agencies, which have regulations that are inconsistent. With the Fort Bragg incident highlighting weaknesses in the regulatory process, a regional board could propose solutions.

In another example of oversight conflict, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) planned and launched a policy for wave energy leasing completely without local governments’ knowledge. Other federal agencies also bombarded FERC with criticism and problems their federal fellow had failed to anticipate when FERC’s program came to light.

The Obama administration’s idea is to bring all the federal and local agencies to the table at the planning stage, not the reactive stage.

“The uses of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes have expanded exponentially over time,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who also heads the Ocean Policy Task Force. “At the same time they are facing environmental challenges, including pollution and habitat destruction, that make them increasingly vulnerable.

“Without an improved, more thoughtful approach, we risk an increase in user conflicts and the potential loss of critical economic, ecosystem, social, and cultural benefits for present and future generations,” said Sutley, in a press release.

Many scientific studies have called for ocean zoning, but this is the first effort to make the idea work.

California, Oregon and Washington would be included in a single planning area The participants in the planning process, such as Indian tribes, federal agencies, states and local entities, would be asked to sign a contract modeled on development agreements.

Development agreements are widely used by housing developers to bring all county and state permitting agencies to the table so they can get loans and prepare to launch a project.

Sutley said the administration will reconvene the National Ocean Council to work with the regional planning bodies.

While the new approach promises more locally responsive planning, the job of the National Ocean Council will be to ensure that planning is consistent from region to region. That is likely to create some conflicts with monied interests representing some uses, such as oil drilling, and leave other uses with less ability to advocate at the table.

The proposal comes from the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, established by President Obama on June 12. It is led by Sutley and consists of 24 senior-level officials from administration agencies, departments and offices.

The task force’s interim framework is available for a 60-day public review and comment period. After the close of the comment period, the task force will finalize its recommendations in both this report and the Sept. 10 interim report and provide a final report to the President in early 2010.

For more details on the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, including the interim framework, and to submit comments, visit www.whitehouse.gov/oceans.

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DAVID R. BAKER, San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 2009

The waves off of Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast could one day generate electricity, if Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has its way.

The utility reported Friday that it has signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to study the area’s potential for a wave power project. If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project could one day generate as much as 100 megawatts of electricity. A megawatt is a snapshot figure, roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 750 average homes at any given instant.

Wave power technologies have the potential to provide large amounts of electricity. But they have been slow to leave the lab.

The typical wave power system consists of buoys that generate electricity as they bob up and down on the ocean’s surface. But the ocean has proven tougher than some of the systems.

PG&E two years ago agreed to buy electricity from a proposed “wave park” near Eureka to be built by Canadian company Finavera. But Finavera’s prototype buoy sank during a test, and California energy regulators killed the deal.

Under its $6 million WaveConnect program, PG&E is still studying potential wave park sites off Humboldt County. The utility, based in San Francisco, also examined the Mendocino County coast before ruling it out.

Vandenberg makes an attractive test site. It occupies a bend in the coast of Santa Barbara County where some of the beaches face west, some face southwest and others face south. PG&E in particular wants to study the area between Point Arguello and Point Conception.

“Generally, that piece of the coast is very active for waves,” said PG&E spokesman Kory Raftery. “It picks up swells from different directions.”

If the company wins federal approval, it will study the area for three years before making a decision on whether to test wave power devices there. The company wants to test several different devices but has not yet picked which ones, Raftery said.

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JESSICA MARSHALL, Discovery.com News, November 30, 2009

The patterns that schooling fish form to save energy while swimming have inspired a new wind farm design that researchers say will increase the amount of power produced per acre by at least tenfold.

“For the fish, they are trying to minimize the energy that they consume to swim from Point A to Point B,” said John Dabiri of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who led the study. “In our case, we’re looking at the opposite problem: How to we maximize the amount of energy that we collect?”

“Because both of these problems involve optimizing energy, it turns out that the model that’s useful for one is also useful for the other problem.”

Both designs rely on individuals capturing energy from their neighbors to operate more efficiently.”If there was just one fish swimming, it kicks off energy into the water, and it just gets wasted,” Dabiri said, “but if there’s another fish behind, it can actually use that kinetic energy and help it propel itself forward.”

The wind turbines can do the same thing. Dabiri’s wind farm design uses wind turbines that are oriented to rotate around the support pole like a carousel, instead of twirling like a pinwheel the way typical wind turbines do.

Like the fish, these spinning turbines generate a swirling wake. The energy in this flow can be gathered by neighboring turbines if they are placed close enough together and in the right position. By capturing this wake, two turbines close together can generate more power than each acting alone.

This contrasts with common, pinwheel-style wind turbines where the wake from one interferes with its neighbors, reducing the neighbors’ efficiency. The vortexes occur in the wrong orientation for the neighboring turbines to capture them.

For this reason, such turbines must be spaced at least three diameters to either side and 10 diameters up — or downwind of another, which requires a lot of land.

Although individual carousel-style turbines are less efficient than their pinwheel-style counterparts, the close spacing that enhances their performance means that the amount of power output per acre is much greater for the carousel-style turbines.

Dabiri and graduate student Robert Whittlesey calculated that their best design would generate 100 times more power per acre than a conventional wind farm.

The model required some simplifications, however, so it remains to be seen whether tests of an actual wind farm produce such large gains. That will be the team’s next step. “Even if we’re off by a factor of 10, that’s still a game changer for the technology,” Dabiri noted.

In the end, schooling fish may not have the perfect arrangement. The pair found that the best arrangement of wind turbines did not match the spacing used by schooling fish.

“If we just mimic the fish wake, we can do pretty well,” Dabiri said. “But, as engineers, maybe we’re smarter than fish. It turns out that for this application there is even better performance to be had.”

This may be because fish have other needs to balance in their schooling behavior besides maximizing swimming efficiency. They seek food, avoid predators and reproduce, for example.

“I think that this is a very interesting possibility,” said Alexander Smits of Princeton University, who attended a presentation of the findings at a meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics in Minneapolis last week.

But a field test will show the idea’s real potential, he noted: “You have to go try these things. You can do a calculation like that and it might not work out. But it seemed like there was a very large reduction in the land usage, and even if you got one half of that, that would be pretty good.”

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WENDEE HOLTCAMP, National Wildlife, December/January 2010

Frank Fish was browsing in a Boston sculpture shop a few years ago when he noticed a whale figurine. His first thought was, “This isn’t right. It’s got bumps on the leading edge of its flipper. It’s always a straight edge.”

Fish, a West Chester University professor specializing in the dynamics of locomotion, was surprised because all flippers he knew of had straight edges—including those of dolphins, penguins and even most whales. The straight-edge blade is also shared by ceiling fans and most industrial blades and rotors. But the store manager showed him a photo of a humpback whale, and sure enough, it had tubercles on its flippers. Humpbacks have a unique habit of catching fish in a bubble net that they create by diving deep and swimming in a spiraling circle, and Fish speculated that the tubercles may somehow give them a hydrodynamic advantage.

Turns out he was right. After testing a scaled-down flipper replica in a wind tunnel, Fish and colleagues Loren Howle and Mark Murray found the tubercles reduced drag by 32% and increased lift by 6% compared with a smooth-edge flipper. The bumps have the same effect on rotors and blades in air—a revolutionary discovery in aerodynamics. Fish co-patented so-called “Tubercle Technology” and in 2005 he helped found Whale Power, a company that is building energy-efficient windmills using scalloped-edge blades. The technology could eventually improve energy-efficiency for any machine that uses turbines, fans or pumps.

Fish is among an increasing number of scientists, inventors and companies turning to the natural world to help them create better, more sustainable products and to find solutions to some of humanity’s most vexing problems. The concept is called biomimicry and the idea behind it is simple: Over the millennia, living organisms in the natural world already have tested and solved many of the challenges humans are grappling with today.

“People are looking for ways to reduce material use, get away from toxic substances and reduce energy use. When they hear about biomimicry, they realize it’s an R&D program that’s been going on for 3.8 billion years,” says biologist Janine Benyus of the Biomimicry Guild, a Montana-based consulting firm that provides research and guidance on natural solutions for some of the country’s largest companies and government agencies.

In her landmark 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Benyus issued a call to action, urging people to engage not just in shallow biomimicry—copying nature’s forms—but to push for deep biomimicry where manufacturing processes follow nature’s lead of sustainability. The ideal industrial loop, she says, would work as seamlessly as a redwood forest, where one’s processed wastes become food or input for another and nothing is wasted. In the book, Benyus also compiled dozens of examples of how people are emulating natural processes.

Velcro, for example, one of the most famous products to come from mimicking nature, was created by a Swiss engineer in the 1940s after observing how cockleburs got stuck in his dog’s fur. Three decades later, a German botanist discovered that lotus leaves contain tiny waxy bumps that cause water to bead up and run off the surface, washing and cleaning the leaves in the process. The discovery has since inspired a number of waterproof products including Lotusan, a self-cleaning paint that keeps the outsides of buildings free of algae and fungi.

More recently, scientists from the University of New South Wales discovered a revolutionary antibacterial compound in a type of red algal seaweed that lives off the coast of Australia. Bacteria form slimy biofilms but require a “quorum” to congregate, and so they constantly communicate with one another. The seaweed stays bacteria-free by emitting the compound furanone, which jams the bacteria’s communication sensors. Mimicking that natural action, the Australian company Biosignal created cleaning fluids that keep surfaces bacteria-free without killing them, which is a breakthrough because its use does not lead to the evolution of antibiotic resistance, as has happened with the proliferation of so many antibacterial cleaning compounds. So far, furanone works on various bacteria, including staphylococcus and vibrio, which causes cholera. It also works on the bacteria that corrode pipes, leading to oil spills.

In another flip on tradition, Mercedes-Benz recently modeled an ecologically friendly, fuel-efficient concept vehicle called the Bionic Car after the yellow boxfish, a squarish tropical creature found in reefs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Traditionally, aerodynamic cars have been built long and lean, but it turns out the boxfish has a drag coefficient nearly equal to that of a drop of water, which has one of the lowest drags possible. The automobile company not only borrowed from the boxfish’s boxy but aerodynamic shape but also from its unique skeletal structure that protects the animal from injury, making the car safer by putting extra material in certain parts of its frame and economizing by lightening up the load elsewhere.

Another product, the UltraCane, was developed not long ago as a result of research at the University of Leeds in Great Britain to help the blind “see” by utilizing the echolocation systems of bats. The cane emits an ultrasonic sound that bounces off objects, allowing vision-impaired people to develop a mental picture of where and how far away objects are—and hence better navigate around them.

In Zimbabwe, the architectural design firm Arup Associates modeled the country’s largest office complex, Eastgate Centre, after the passive cooling system used by African termites in their mounds. Termites farm fungus that they must keep at a precise 87 degrees F, while outside air varies from 35 degrees at night to 104 by day. To accomplish this amazing feat, termites constantly plug and unplug cooling vents that create convection currents, drawing air through the mound as needed. The Eastgate Centre builders copied this model, using fans and chimneys to shunt hot air out, and ground-level cavities to allow cooler air in—a concept known as passive cooling. Without any modern heating or air conditioning, the facility uses only 10% of the electricity of a conventional building its size. The energy-cost savings trickle down to tenants, who pay 20% lower rent than in neighboring buildings.

Elsewhere, scientists are turning to Mother Nature for inspiration for other energy-related materials. To increase the amount of sunlight that is absorbed by solar panels, for instance, a University of Florida researcher is developing a coating for the panels based on the structure of moth eyes, which reflect little light. In China and Japan, scientists are modeling more efficient solar cells after the scales on butterfly wings, which serve as highly effective, microscopic solar collectors.

The benefits humans gain as a result of such research provide a strong argument for conserving wildlife. “Protecting plant and animal habitats means also preserving the wellspring of ideas for the next industrial revolution,” says Benyus, who in 2007 was named by Time magazine as one of its “International Heroes of the Environment.”

That same year, she also founded the nonprofit Biomimicry Institute, which urges companies to donate a percentage of their profits to the habitat from which their biomimicry-inspired products come from. “We must become nature’s apprentice at this point,” she says, “and part of that path has to be preserving the wild places we now realize are the homes of geniuses.”

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ELIZABETH RUSCH, Smithsonian Magazine, July 2009

von-Jouanne-Oregon-Otter-Rock-BeachShe was in the water when the epiphany struck. Of course, Annette von Jouanne was always in the water, swimming in lakes and pools as she was growing up around Seattle, and swimming distance freestyle competitively in high school and college meets. There’s even an exercise pool in her basement, where she and her husband (a former Olympic swimmer for Portugal) and their three kids have spent a great deal of time…swimming.

But in December 1995 she was bodysurfing in Hawaii over the holidays. She’d just begun working as an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Oregon State University. She was 26 years old and eager to make a difference—to find or improve upon a useful source of energy, preferably one that wasn’t scarce or fleeting or unpredictable or dirty. The sun was going down. The wind was dying. She was bobbing in the swells.

“As the sun set, it hit me: I could ride waves all day and all night, all year long,” says von Jouanne. “Wave power is always there. It never stops. I began thinking that there’s got to be a way to harness all the energy of an ocean swell, in a practical and efficient way, in a responsible way.”

Today, von Jouanne is one of the driving forces in the fast-growing field of wave energy—as well as its leading proponent. She will explain to anyone who will listen that unlike wind and solar energy, wave energy is always available. Even when the ocean seems calm, swells are moving water up and down sufficiently to generate electricity. And an apparatus to generate kilowatts of power from a wave can be much smaller than what’s needed to harness kilowatts from wind or sunshine because water is dense and the energy it imparts is concentrated.

All that energy is also, of course, destructive, and for decades the challenge has been to build a device that can withstand monster waves and gale-force winds, not to mention corrosive saltwater, seaweed, floating debris and curious marine mammals. And the device must also be efficient and require little maintenance.

Still, the allure is irresistible. A machine that could harness an inexhaustible, nonpolluting source of energy and be deployed economically in sufficient numbers to generate significant amounts of electricity—that would be a feat for the ages.

Engineers have built dozens of the machines, called wave energy converters, and tested some on a small scale. In the United States, waves could fuel about 6.5% of today’s electricity needs, says Roger Bedard of the Electric Power Research Institute, an energy think tank in Palo Alto, California. That’s the equivalent of the energy in 150 million barrels of oil—about the same amount of power that is produced by all U.S. hydroelectric dams combined—enough to power 23 million typical American homes. The most powerful waves occur on western coasts, because of strong west-to-east global winds, so Great Britain, Portugal and the West Coast of the United States are among the sites where wave energy is being developed.

Aside from swimming, von Jouanne’s other passion as a youngster was learning how things work. It started with small appliances. An alarm clock broke. She unscrewed the back, fixed the mechanism and put it back together. She was about 8 years old. “That was so exciting for me,” she says. She moved on to calculators and then to a computer she bought with money from her paper route. One day, she waited for her parents to leave the house so she could take apart the television and reassemble it before they returned. (Von Jouanne cautions kids not to do as she did: “there is a high-voltage component.”)

When her brothers, older by eight and ten years, came home for college breaks, she pored over their engineering textbooks. (An older sister pursued a business degree.) “Reading them confirmed that, yup, this is what I want to do,” she recalls.

She studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate at Southern Illinois University and for her doctorate at Texas A&M University. She was often one of the few women in a class. “I never saw myself as a woman engineer,” she says. “I saw myself as an engineer trying to make things better for the world.”

At Oregon State University, she related her wave-tossed epiphany to Alan Wallace, a professor of electrical engineering who shared her fascination with the ocean’s power. “We started saying, there’s got to be a way to harness this energy,” she recalls. They studied the wave energy converters then being produced and looked up centuries-old patents for contraptions to extract power from waves. Some resembled windmills, animal cages or ship propellers. A modern one looked like a huge whale. The gadgets all had one problem in common: they were too complicated.

Take, for example, a device called the Pelamis Attenuator, which was recently deployed for four months off the coast of Portugal by Pelamis Wave Power. It looks like a 500-foot-long red snake. As waves travel its length, the machine bends up and down. The bending pumps hydraulic fluid through a motor, which generates electricity. Complex machines like this are riddled with valves, filters, tubes, hoses, couplings, bearings, switches, gauges, meters and sensors. The intermediate stages reduce efficiency, and if one component breaks, the whole device goes kaput.

After analyzing the field, von Jouanne says, “I knew we needed a simpler design.”

Von Jouanne’s lab is named in memory of Wallace, who died in 2006, but the Wallace Energy Systems & Renewables Facility (WESRF) is familiarly known as “We Surf.” Painted in deep blues and grays and bearing murals of curling waves, the lab has been a research facility and testing ground for such innovative products as an all-electric naval ship, a hovercraft and the Ford Escape Hybrid engine. In one corner is a tall buoy that resembles a huge copper-top battery. Beside it another buoy looks like two cross-country skis with wire strung between them. The designs were among von Jouanne’s earliest. “Breakthroughs are almost always born of failures,” she says.

Her breakthrough was to conceive of a device that has just two main components. In the most recent prototypes, a thick coil of copper wire is inside the first component, which is anchored to the seafloor. The second component is a magnet attached to a float that moves up and down freely with the waves. As the magnet is heaved by the waves, its magnetic field moves along the stationary coil of copper wire. This motion induces a current in the wire—electricity. It’s that simple.

By early 2005, von Jouanne had engineered one of her prototypes and wanted to test whether it was waterproof. She hauled the wave energy converter to her basement, into a flume that circulates water to let her swim in place. Her daughter Sydney, then 6, sat on the prototype, much as a seal might cling to a real buoy. It floated.

Next she phoned a nearby wave pool, where people go to play in simulated waves.

“Do you rent out your pool?” she said.

“For how many people?” the attendant asked.

“Not many people—one wave energy buoy.”

The park donated two early mornings to her venture. Von Jouanne anchored the machine with ten 45-pound weights from a health club. It performed well in the playful waves, bobbing up and down without sinking.

Then came the real test, at one of the longest wave simulators in North America.

At the west end of the leafy Oregon State University campus, past the scholarly red-brick buildings, is a massive T-shaped steel shed in a giant paved lot. Though the building is 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean and well beyond the reach of killer tidal waves, a blue and white metal sign at its entrance says “Entering Tsunami Hazard Zone.”

When von Jouanne first brought a buoy to test in the 342-foot-long concrete flume at Oregon State’s Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, “things didn’t go as planned,” says Dan Cox, the facility’s director, with a laugh. Von Jouanne and co-workers plopped the buoy in the 15-foot-deep channel and buffeted it with two-, three- and four-foot waves. The first five-foot wave tipped it over.

“We had a ballast problem,” von Jouanne says somewhat sheepishly. She goes on, “We’re electrical engineers, and we really needed more help from ocean engineers, but to get them we needed more funding, and to get more funding we needed to show some success.”

Von Jouanne kept refining her buoys. A small group watched as a five-foot wave headed for one of her latest versions. As the buoy lifted with the surge, a 40-watt light bulb on top of it, powered by wave energy, lighted up. “We all cheered,” Cox recalls.

Route 20 winds from Oregon State to the coast though cedar and fir trees, following the Yaquina River. Near the mouth of the river is a sandy spit with low buildings decorated with oyster shells and gnarly driftwood. Breezes set halyards from the nearby marina clanking against metal masts. This is the home of Oregon State’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, devoted to research about marine ecosystems and ocean energy.

George Boehlert, a marine scientist and director of the center, looks out of his office at a field of undulating sea grass. “What we know now is what we don’t know,” says Boehlert, whose dirty blond curls resemble ocean waves. “Ocean energy is a fast-moving field and environmental researchers have a lot of questions.”

For instance, the buoys absorb energy from waves, reducing their size and power. Would shrunken swells affect sand movement and currents near shore, perhaps contributing to erosion?

Buoys, as well as the power cables that would connect to the electrical grid on-shore, emit electromagnetic fields. And mooring cables would thrum in the currents, like a guitar string. Might these disturbances confuse whales, sharks, dolphins, salmon, rays, crabs and other marine animals that use electromagnetism and sound for feeding, mating or navigation?

Would birds collide with the buoys or turtles become entangled in the cables?

Would anchors create artificial reefs that attract fish not normally found in that habitat?

Would deploying, maintaining and removing buoys disturb the seafloor or otherwise change the ocean environment?

“I want to know the answers to these questions, too,” von Jouanne says. “The last thing I want to do is harm the ocean and its beautiful creatures.” To study the environmental risks and allow wave energy engineers to test their inventions, she and colleagues at Oregon State, including Boehlert, are building a floating test berth nearby. It is scheduled to open next year and at its center will be a buoy full of instruments to collect data on how well wave energy converters are performing.

The test berth is part of a massive effort to move wave energy out of the lab and onto the electrical power grid. Through a new Energy Department-funded national marine renewable energy center, researchers from all over the country will have the chance to refine their inventions in the WESRF energy lab, test them in the Hinsdale wave flume and perfect them in the ocean. “This is what we need to do to fully explore wave energy as part of a renewable energy portfolio, for the state, the nation and the world,” von Jouanne says.

Boehlert and others say that even if wave energy has some local environmental impacts, it would likely be far less harmful than coal- and oil-fired power plants. “The effects of continuing to pump carbon into the atmosphere could be much worse for marine life than buoys bobbing in the waves,” he says. “We want ocean energy to work.”

Von Jouanne recently towed her best-performing buoy—her 11th prototype—out through Yaquina Bay and one and a half miles offshore. The buoy, which resembles a giant yellow flying saucer with a black tube sticking through the middle, was anchored in 140 feet of water. For five days it rose and fell with swells and generated around 10 kilowatts of power. In the next two to three years, Columbia Power Technologies, a renewable energy company that has supported von Jouanne’s research, plans to install a buoy generating between 100 and 500 kilowatts of electricity in the test berth off the coast of Oregon. See video of the device here.

“A few years ago,” Cox says of von Jouanne, “she was working on a shoestring. Now she has government getting behind her work and companies knocking at her door. That’s incredibly fast advancement that bodes well for the future of wave energy.”

Another of Von Jouanne’s inventions, the first of its kind, is a machine that tests wave energy converters without having to get them wet. A prototype buoy is secured inside a metal carriage that mimics the up-and-down motion of ocean waves. Electrical equipment monitors the power the buoy generates. The test bed looks like an elevator car in the middle of her lab.

Wave energy researchers from other institutions will be welcome to use von Jouanne’s test bed, but at the moment, it holds one of her own energy-converter buoys. A student sitting at a nearby computer commands the device to simulate waves 1 meter high traveling 0.6 meters per second with 6-second intervals between wave peaks.

“That’s a small summer wave,” von Jouanne says.

The machine hums, lurches and heaves like an amusement park ride.

As the buoy moves up and down, a gauge registers the juice it produces. The needle moves. One kilowatt, two, then three.

“That’s enough to power two houses,” says von Jouanne.

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EMMA WOOLLACOTT, TG Daily, July 15, 2009

rda-wave-hub-graphicThe world’s largest wave farm is to be built off the coast of south-west England under plans announced today. Pledging an investment of £9.5 million ($15.6 million), Business Secretary Lord Mandelson dubbed the region the first “Low Carbon Economic Area”.

The Wave Hub project – a giant, grid-connected socket on the seabed off the coast of Cornwall for wave energy devices to be tested on a huge scale – will be commissioned next summer.

Renewable energy company Ocean Power Technologies will take the first “berth” at Wave Hub, and has placed its first equipment order – for 16.5 miles of subsea cable – this week.

The project is being led by the South West Regional Development Agency (RDA), and also includes plans to evaluate schemes for generating tidal power from the river Severn estuary. “Bristol already boats world-leading expertise, especially around tidal stream technology,” said Stephen Peacock, Enterprise and Innovation Executive Director at the South West RDA.

This is a rather more controversial project, however, as locals and environmentalist groups fear its effect on wildlife habitats. The South West RDA is pledging to look at three embryonic Severn proposals that have “potentially less impact on the estuary environment than conventional technologies”.

What with government, RDA, European and private sector funding, total investment in the South West’s marine energy programme in the next two years is expected to top £100 million.

Regional Minister for the South West, Jim Knight, said: “We are a region that is rich in natural renewable energy resources such as wind, wave, tidal and solar and this makes us well positioned to capitalise on this great opportunity.”

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Hydro Review with edits, Pennwell, July 9, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThe U.S. Treasury and the Department of Energy are now offering $3 billion in government funds to organizations developing renewable energy projects including hydropower and ocean energy projects.

The funds, from the economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February, support the White House goal of doubling U.S. renewable energy production over the next three years.

The money provides direct payments to companies, rather than investment or production tax credits, to support about 5,000 renewable energy production facilities that qualify for production tax credits under recent energy legislation. Treasury and DOE issued funding guidelines for individual projects qualifying for an average of $600,000 each.

Previously energy companies could file for a tax credit to cover a portion of the costs of a renewable energy project. In 2006, about $550 million in tax credits were provided to 450 businesses.

“The rate of new renewable energy installations has fallen since the economic and financial downturns began, as projects had a harder time obtaining financing,” a statement by the agencies said. “The Departments of Treasury and Energy expect a fast acceleration of businesses applying for the energy funds in lieu of the tax credit.”

Under the new program, companies forgo tax credits in favor of an immediate reimbursement of a portion of the property expense, making funds available almost immediately.

“These payments will help spur major private sector investments in clean energy and create new jobs for America’s workers,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

“This partnership between Treasury and Energy will enable both large companies and small businesses to invest in our long-term energy needs, protect our environment and revitalize our nation’s economy,” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said.

Eligible projects have the same requirements as those qualifying for investment and production tax credits under the Internal Revenue Code. As with production tax credits, eligible renewables include incremental hydropower from additions to existing hydro plants, hydropower development at existing non-powered dams, ocean and tidal energy technologies.

Projects either must be placed in service between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010, regardless of when construction begins, or they must be placed in service after 2010 and before the credit termination date if construction begins between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010. Credit termination dates vary by technology, ranging from Jan. 1, 2013, to Jan. 1, 2017. The termination date for hydropower and marine and hydrokinetic projects is Jan. 1, 2014.

The U.S. Departments of the Treasury and Energy are launching an Internet site in the coming weeks, but are not taking applications at this time. However, to expedite the process, they made a guidance document, terms and conditions, and a sample application form immediately available on the Internet at here.

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GRANT WELKER, Herald News, June 25, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoA renewable energy consortium based at the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center has received a $950,000 federal grant to study the potential for a tidal-energy project between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, among other projects.

The New England Marine Renewable Energy Center, which includes professors and students from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is developing a test site between the two islands that will determine the potential for a project that could power much of Martha’s Vineyard. Partners from other universities, including the University of Rhode Island, are researching other potential sites in New England for clean energy. The federal Department of Energy grant will mostly go toward the Nantucket Sound project but will also benefit other MREC efforts.

The ATMC founded the Marine Renewable Energy Center in spring 2008 through funding from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative based on the ATMC’s proposal with officials from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The partnership was hailed by UMass Dartmouth officials as an extension of the university’s outreach to Cape Cod and the islands. Creation of the tidal-energy project itself is still years off, said Maggie L. Merrill, MREC’s consortium coordinator. But the site, Muskeget Channel, has “a lot of potential,” she said.

UMass Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology scientists are conducting the oceanographic surveys to locate what MREC calls “sweet spots,” where the currents run the fastest for the longest period of time. The test site will also be available to other clean energy developers to test their systems without needing to create costly test systems themselves, MREC said in announcing the grant.

Besides the federal grant, the MREC consortium is funded by UMass and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. “While New England suffers from energy shortages and high prices, there is tremendous energy available in the ocean at our doorstep,” MREC Director John Miller said in the announcement. “MREC is here to open that door bringing electricity and jobs to our region.” Miller was given a Pioneer Award last week in Maine at the Energy Ocean Conference for MREC’s work. The conference, which bills itself as the world’s leading renewable ocean energy event, recognized MREC for developing technology, coordinating funding, publicizing development efforts and planning an open-ocean test facility.

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MendoCoastCurrent, June 19, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThe United States Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today adopted legislation to include key provisions of the Marine Renewable Energy Promotion Act (Senate Act 923).

In response, the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition (OREC) commended Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) for including the marine energy provisions to the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 now being crafted. The legislation is regarded as integral for continued development of ocean, tidal and hydrokinetic energy sources.

“OREC strongly endorses the legislation adopted in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today,” said Sean O’Neill, OREC’s President. “Marine-based renewable resources offer vast energy, economic and environmental benefits. However, the success of this industry requires additional federal support for research, development and demonstration.”

The Marine Renewable Energy Promotion Act will authorize $250 million per year through 2021 for marine renewable research, development, demonstration and deployment (RDD&D), a Department of Energy sponsored Device Verification Program and an Adaptive Management Program to fund environmental studies associated with installed ocean renewable energy projects.

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The mineral is a key part of a Santa Monica firm’s proposed alternative energy project in the desert. The technology was proven workable in a pilot project near Barstow in the 1990s.
PETER PAE, The Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2009

47183323Just past Barstow on Interstate 15, Las Vegas-bound travelers can eye a tower resembling a lighthouse rising out of the desert encircled by more than 1,800 mirrors the size of billboards.

The complex is often mistaken for a science fiction movie set, but it is actually a power plant that once used molten salt, water and the sun’s heat to produce electricity.

Now a storied rocket maker in Canoga Park and a renewable energy company in Santa Monica are hoping to take what they learned at the long-closed desert facility to build a much larger plant that could power 100,000 homes — all from a mix of sun, salt and rocket science once believed too futuristic to succeed.

The Santa Monica-based energy firm SolarReserve has licensed the technology, developed by engineers at Rocketdyne.

“Molten salt is the secret sauce,” said SolarReserve President Terry Murphy.

It is one of at least 80 large solar projects on the drawing board in California, but the molten salt technology is considered one of the more unusual and — to some energy analysts — one of the more promising in the latest rush to build clean electricity generation.

“It’s actually something we’ll likely see in a few years,” said Nathaniel Bullard, a solar energy analyst with New Energy Finance in Alexandria, Va. “It’s moving along in a nice way, and they have good capital behind it.”

SolarReserve, which is financing and marketing the project, said it is working on agreements with several utilities to buy electricity generated from the plant. It hopes to have several announcements in a few months that could help jump-start construction of the first plant, which would probably be on private land in the Southwest, Murphy said.

The company last fall secured $140 million in venture capital.

The plant could begin operating by early 2013. It would use an array of 15,000 heliostats, or large tilting mirrors about 25 feet wide, to direct sunlight to a solar collector atop a 600-foot-tall tower — somewhat like a lighthouse in reverse.

The mirrors would heat up molten salt flowing through the receiver to more than 1,000 degrees, hot enough to turn water into powerful steam in a device called a heat exchanger. The steam, like that coming out of a nozzle of a boiling tea kettle, would drive a turbine to create electricity.

The molten salt, once cooled, would then be pumped back through the solar collector to start the process all over again. “The plant has no emissions, and if you have a leak or something, you can just shovel it up and take it home with you to use for your barbecue,” Murphy said.

The molten salt can be stored for days if not weeks and then used to generate electricity at any time. Many other solar technologies work only when the sun is shining. Storing electricity in a battery works for cars and homes but not on a massive scale that would be needed to power thousands of homes.

“You can put that into a storage tank that would look much like a tank at an oil refinery,” Murphy said. “We can store that energy almost indefinitely.”

While there are high hopes for the technology, some environmentalists have criticized solar-thermal plants for requiring vast tracts of land as well as precious water for generating steam and for cooling the turbines.

The array of the mirrored heliostats for the SolarReserve plant would take up about two square miles. Transmission lines would also be needed to transport the power where it’s needed. With dozens of solar, wind and geothermal projects planned for California’s deserts, some fear that this unique habitat will be destroyed.

But SolarReserve officials said that the plant would use one-tenth the amount of water required by a conventional plant and that mirrors will be “benign” to the environment.

The technology, with the exception of using salt, is similar to those that Rocketdyne engineers developed for the nation’s more notable space programs.

At the sprawling Canoga Park facility, the engineers who came up with the SolarReserve technology also developed the power system for the International Space Station, the rocket engine for the space shuttle, and the propulsion system for the Apollo lunar module.

Rocketdyne’s aerospace heritage stretches back to the earliest years of rocket development, when it was founded shortly after World War II to study German V-2 rocket technology. After becoming part of Rockwell International in the late 1960s, the company was sold to Boeing Co. in 1996.

United Technologies bought the Rocketdyne unit from Boeing for $700 million in 2005 primarily for its expertise in rocket engines. It didn’t know about the solar project until after the acquisition.

Now Rocketdyne believes it can generate $1 billion in revenue from making the components for the plant, including the tower that would collect the sun’s concentrated heat from thousands of mirrors.

The solar collector in many ways is similar to the inside of a rocket nozzle that has to withstand thousands of degrees of heat, said Rick Howerton, Rocketdyne’s program manager for concentrated solar power who previously worked on the space station program.

The solar-thermal technology was proved workable more than a decade ago at the Barstow pilot plant. But the complex was shuttered in 1999 when the cost of natural gas fell to one-tenth of what it is today.

Also there wasn’t as much concern for the environment then, Murphy said. “It was ahead of its time. The market hadn’t caught up to it.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, May 20, 2009

Mendocino-Energy-Mill-SiteAt this core energy technology incubator, energy policy is created as renewable energy technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing, refinement and implementation.

The Vision

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley. On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, utilizing a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site to innovate in best practices, cost-efficient, safe renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag/algae, smart grid and grid technologies, et al.

The process is collaborative in creating, identifying and engineering optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions…with acumen.

Start-ups, utilities companies, universities (e.g. Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford), EPRI, the federal government (FERC, DOE, DOI) and the world’s greatest minds gathering at this fast-tracked, unique coming-together of a green work force and the U.S. government, creating responsible, safe renewable energy technologies to quickly identify best commercialization candidates and build-outs.

The campus is quickly constructed on healthy areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre industry created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is underway.

Determining best sitings for projects in solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, algae farming, bioremediation; taking the important first steps towards establishing U.S. leadership in renewable energy and the global green economy.

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Editors Note:  On June 9, 2009, PG&E filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) a petition to release the Mendocino WaveConnect preliminary permit.

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoMendoCoastCurrent, May 11, 2009

In early May 2009, PG&E’s WaveConnect team decided to cancel the Mendocino WaveConnect project because the Noyo Harbor didn’t pass muster and was deemed insufficient in several engineering aspects, therefore unable to support PG&E’s Mendocino WaveConnect pilot wave energy program offshore.

PG&E summarily rejected re-situating the launch site to the Fort Bragg Mill Site, only a short distance from the Noyo Harbor, where PG&E could construct a state-of-the-art launch for Mendocino WaveConnect.

PG&E plans to report their decision to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and anticipates surrendering the Mendocino WaveConnect FERC pilot wave energy permit. The City of Fort Bragg, County of Mendocino and the FISH Committee were brought up to speed by PG&E on May 11th.

PG&E had raised $6mm in funding from CPUC and DOE for WaveConnect, allocated to both Mendocino and Humboldt projects. This remaining funds will now be directed to only Humboldt WaveConnect.

And PG&E notes that Humboldt WaveConnect, at Humboldt Bay and its harbor, offers WaveConnect the required spaciousness and the industrial infrastructure as well as a welcoming, interested community.

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SustainableBusiness.com News, April 30, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoA bill introduced in the Senate aims to encourage development of renewable ocean energy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today introduced the legislation as a companion to a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Wash.), that would authorize as much as $250 million a year to promote ocean research.

The Marine Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2009 and a companion tax provision would expand federal research of marine energy, take over the cost verification of new wave, current, tidal and thermal ocean energy devices, create an adaptive management fund to help pay for the demonstration and deployment of such electric projects and provide a key additional tax incentive.

“Coming from Alaska, where there are nearly 150 communities located along the state’s 34,000 miles of coastline plus dozens more on major river systems, it’s clear that perfecting marine energy could be of immense benefit to the nation,” said Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It simply makes sense to harness the power of the sun, wind, waves and river and ocean currents to make electricity.”

The legislation would:

  • Authorize the U.S. Department of Energy to increase its research and development effort. The bill also encourages efforts to allow marine energy to work in conjunction with other forms of energy, such as offshore wind, and authorizes more federal aid to assess and deal with any environmental impacts. 
  • Allow for the creation of a federal Marine-Based Energy Device Verification program in which the government would test and certify the performance of new marine technologies to reduce market risks for utilities purchasing power from such projects.
  • Authorize the federal government to set up an adaptive management program, and a fund to help pay for the regulatory permitting and development of new marine technologies.
  • And a separate bill, likely to be referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration, would ensure marine projects benefit from being able to accelerate the depreciation of their project costs over five years–like some other renewable energy technologies currently can do. The provision should enhance project economic returns for private developers

 The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that ocean resources in the United States could generate 252 million megawatt hours of electricity–6.5% of America’s entire electricity generation–if ocean energy gained the same financial and research incentives currently enjoyed by other forms of renewable energy.

“This bill, if approved, will bring us closer to a level playing field so that ocean energy can compete with wind, solar, geothermal and biomass technologies to generate clean energy,” Murkowski said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, April 17, 2009

space-solar-energy-jj-001San Francisco — PG&E has begun exploring renewable energy from space as it seeks approval from California state regulators, the CPUC, to purchase power from Solaren Corporation offering 200 megawatts over 15 years.

Solaren’s technology uses solar panels in Earth orbit, converting the energy to radio frequency for transmission to an Earth-based receiving station. The received radio frequency is converted into electricity and fed into the power grid. 

Solaren envisions deploying a solar array into space to beam an average of 850 gigawatt hours the first year of the term and 1,700 gigawatts per year over the remaining term according to their filing to the CPUC.

A clear advantage of solar in space is efficiency. From space, solar energy is converted into radio frequency waves, which are then beamed to Earth. The conversion rate of the RF waves to electricity is in the area of 90%, said Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak, citing U.S. government research. The conversion rate for a typical Earth-bound nuclear or coal-fired plant, meanwhile, is in the area of 33%. And space solar arrays are also 8-10 times more efficient than terrestrial solar arrays as there’s no atmospheric or cloud interference, no loss of sun at night and no seasons.

So space solar energy is a baseload resource, as opposed to Earth-based intermittent sources of solar power. Spirnak claims that space real estate is still free although hard to reach. Solaren seeks only land only for an Earth-based energy receiving station and may locate the station near existing transmission lines, greatly reducing costs.

While the concept of space solar power makes sense on white boards, making it all work affordably is a major challenge. Solar energy from space have a long history of research to draw upon. The U.S. Department of Energy and NASA began seriously studying the concept of solar power satellites in the 1970s, followed by a major “fresh look” in the Clinton administration.

The closest comparison to the proposed Fresno, California deployment is DirecTV, the satellite TV provider, Spirnak explained. DirecTV sends TV signals down to earth on solar-powered RF waves. However, when they reach the Earth, the solar energy is wasted, he said, as all the receivers pick up is the TV programming. 

Solaren claims they’ll be working with citizen groups and government agencies to support the project’s development. Solaren is required to get  all necessary permits and approvals from federal, state and local agencies.

At onset, in exploring space solar energy as in exploring all nascent technologies, explorers shall have to show and prove their renewable technology safe.

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EMMA JACKSON, UniversityWorldNews, March 15, 2009

aquamarine-power_fb8xa_69A research team at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland has renewed a relationship with Aquamarine Power, a leading marine technology energy company. Together they may create the next generation of wave power converters that could some day be an alternative source of power for European maritime states. 

This five-year deal will focus on perfecting a so-called ‘Oyster’ wave power device which the university’s Wave Power Research Team and Aquamarine Power created between 2005 and 2008. 

Professor Trevor Whittaker, who leads the research team at Queen’s, says the next generation of Oyster would be the precursor to a commercially -viable model that could produce alternative power for much of the UK with its long coastline. 

The Oyster device is designed to capture the energy found in near-shore waves, which is then sent to a seaside converter to be made into hydroelectric power. 

Whittaker said the deal would be indispensable for both partners. While Aquamarine Power would have the benefit of using some of the field”s leading experts and their research, the university would benefit from financial support and hands-on experience for its PhD students.

Whittaker said the team from Aquamarine would rent the university’s state-of-the-art wave tanks to test several models, creating income for the university. Aquamarine also agreed to provide funding for two full-time staff members at the research facility: a senior research fellow, and a technician. 

He said the programme’s PhD students would be able to see their research, their academic work, being used for something. “When they write their theses, they don’t just sit on a shelf. We’re doing applied research that is benefiting humanity directly.”

The team will monitor survivability and watch how the devices interact with each other to guarantee continuous power output in all sea states. Whittaker said commercial wave power was still “in its infancy,” but Oyster Two, which would form the basis of any commercial model, would be ready by 2011.

Its predecessor, Oyster One, will be launched at sea for testing this summer at the European Marine Energy Centre off the coast of north-east Scotland’s Orkney Isles. 

Dr Ronan Doherty, Aquamarine’s Chief Technical Officer, said the UK Carbon Trust had estimated that up to 20% of current UK electricity demand could be met by wave and tidal stream energy, with the majority being in coastal communities.

“World leading facilities and researchers at Queen’s enable Aquamarine Power to not only peruse the industrial design of our products in a detailed way, but it is also the source of constant innovation and challenge resulting from their blue sky thinking and fundamental research,” Doherty said.

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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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wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoMendoCoastCurrent, February 14, 2009

Acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff recently published Facilitating Hydrokinetic Energy Development Through Regulatory Innovation

Consider it required reading as a backgrounder on US wave energy policy development, FERC’s position on the MMS in renewables and FERC’s perceived role as a government agency in renewable energy, specifically marine energy, development.

Missing from this key document are the environmental and socio-economic-geographic elements and the related approval process and regulations for:

  • environmental exposure, noting pre/during/post impact studies and mitigation elements at each and every marine energy location;
  • socio-economic factors at each and every marine location (including a community plan with local/state/federal levels of participation).

Approaching the marine renewable energy frontier with a gestalt view toward technology, policy and environmental concerns is a recommended path for safe exploration and development of new renewable energy solutions.  

It has been FERC’s position that energy regulatory measures and policies must precede before serious launch of US projects and other documents by Wellinghoff have noted a six month lead time for policy development alone.

MendoCoastCurrent sees all elements fast-tracked in tandem.  Environmental studies/impact statements are gathered as communities gear up to support the project(s) while technology and funding partners consider siting with best practices and cost-efficient deployment of safe marine energy generation.  All of these elements happen concurrently while FERC, DOI/MMS, DOE local and state governments explore, structure and build our required, new paradigm for safe and harmonious ocean energy policies.

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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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TYLER HAMILTON, CleanBreak.ca, February 17, 2009

humpback_finToronto-based WhalePower, maker of the tubercle-lined turbine blades inspired by humpback whale flippers, got the results back from its first independent study in the field. 

The blade design was tested on a 25-kilowatt Wenvor Technologies turbine at the Wind Energy Institute of Canada. The institude found that annualized energy production from the retrofitted blade increased by an estimated 20%.

You can find the data here and analysis here. “Rated power was attained at 12.5 metres per second versus the 15 meters per second previously published performance for the unmodified Wenvor turbine. (Caveat: it’s an estimate because the test of the retrofitted blade followed International Electro-Technical Commission standards, while the benchmark data did not).

“An improvement of just 1% or 2% in AEP is significant,” said Stephen Dewar, WhalePower’s director of R&D. “Here we have about 20% with low noise. We’re thrilled by this result.”

The next step is to perform a more comprehensive apples-to-apples test on a larger turbine. These results may help the company raise the capital it needs to take its testing to the next level. Perhaps at some point it will begin catching the attention of some of the bigger wind-energy players.

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Washington Post Editorial, February 12, 2009

Interior Secretary Salazar Keeps his Options Open on Offshore Drilling 

17transition2-6001Here’s the ultimate midnight regulation: On the very last day of the Bush administration, the Interior Department proposed a new five-year plan for oil and gas leasing on the outer continental shelf. All hearings and other meetings on the scope of the plan, which would have opened as much as 300 million acres of seafloor to drilling, were to be completed by March 23, 2009. On Tuesday, Ken Salazar, President Obama’s interior secretary, pushed back the clock 180 days, imposing order on a messy process.

Mr. Bush’s midnight maneuver would have auctioned oil and gas leases without regard to how they fit into a larger strategy for energy independence. More can be done on the shelf than punching for pools of oil to satisfy the inane “drill, baby, drill” mantra that masqueraded as Republican energy policy last summer.

Mr. Salazar’s 180-day extension of the comment period is the first of four actions that he says will give him “sound information” on which to base a new offshore plan for the five years starting in 2012. He has directed the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to round up all the information they have about offshore resources within 45 days. This will help the department determine where seismic tests should be conducted. Some of the data on the Atlantic are more than 30 years old.

The secretary will then conduct four regional meetings within 30 days of receiving that report to hear testimony on how best to proceed. Mr. Salazar has committed to issuing a final rule on offshore renewable energy resources “in the next few months.” Developing plans to harness wind, wave and tidal energy offshore would make for a more balanced approach to energy independence. It would also have the advantage of complying with the law. Mr. Salazar helped to write a 2005 statute mandating that Interior issue regulations within nine months to guide the development of those offshore renewable energy sources [the Energy Policy Act of 2005], a requirement that the Bush administration ignored.

Mr. Salazar’s announcement was also notable for what it didn’t do. Much to the chagrin of some environmental advocates, it didn’t take offshore drilling off the table. Nor did it cut oil and gas interests out of the discussion.

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JENNY HAWORTH, Scotman.com, February 12, 2009

na910MORE than three dozen energy companies from across the world are hoping to install wave energy devices in a stretch of sea off the north of Scotland. The renewable energy firms all have their sights on the Pentland Firth, which is considered one of the best locations in the world for generating electricity from the power of the tides.

Yesterday, the Crown Estate, which owns the seabed and will authorize any offshore  wave energy project, announced it had invited 38 companies to submit detailed plans for schemes in the Pentland Firth.

This is the first stretch of water off the UK to be opened up for development of marine renewables, meaning successful companies will be building among the first marine wave energy projects in the world.

Each company hopes to install dozens, or even hundreds of wave energy devices, such as tidal turbines, in the ocean.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, hopes it will help Scotland become a world leader in renewable energy, saying “the fact that so many companies have already registered their interest in developing wave and tidal energy projects in the Pentland Firth and surrounding waters is extremely encouraging.”

“The Scottish Government has recently launched the world’s greatest-ever single prize for innovation in marine energy, the £10 million Saltire Prize, and the opening of the Pentland Firth for development is a timely and crucial move.”

The Crown Estate invited initial expressions of interest in the Pentland Firth from renewables firms in November 2008. A spokeswoman said she could not reveal how many companies had shown an interest because of competition rules, but she confirmed 38 firms would be invited to the next stage – to tender for sites in the Pentland Firth.

They must now submit detailed applications, spelling out how many devices they want to install in the water, by the end of May.

The Crown Estate will decide which are suitable, and the companies will then have to apply for planning permission from the Scottish Government.

Calum Duncan, Scottish conservation manager for the Marine Conservation Society, welcomed renewable technologies, but said the possible impact of the devices on sensitive seabed habitats must be considered, including the likely affect on mussel beds and feeding areas for fish, basking sharks and seabirds.

Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson and MSP for Orkney, also welcomed the strong interest but had reservations. “This energetic stretch of water will be a challenging resource to tame,” he said.

“We still know relatively little about the Pentland Firth and what will happen when we start putting devices in the water there.

“While the Pentland Firth is often described as the Saudi Arabia of tidal power, the challenges it presents also make it the Mount Everest.”

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GREEN BIZ, January 14, 2009

palmdriveStanford University is establishing a $100 million research institute to focus on energy issues and work toward development of more affordable and efficient ways to capture the power of the sun and store, deliver and use energy in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

University President John Hennessy announced the launch of the Precourt Institute of Energy.

The three lead donors whose contributions are financing the creation of the institute are Stanford alums. Energy executive Jay Precourt, the namesake of the new institute, donated $50 million, and university trustee and managing partner of Farallon Capital Management Thomas Steyer and spouse Kat Taylor gave $40 million.

The balance was contributed by Douglas Kimmelman, senior partner of Energy Capital Partners, Michael Ruffatto, president of North American Power Group Ltd., and the Schmidt Family Foundation.

The institute will embrace the university’s Global Climate and Energy Project, The Precourt Energy Efficiency Institute, which was founded in 2006, and the new TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, which is to be established with the couple’s gift.

Lynn Orr has been named the director of the new institute. A professor in energy resources engineering, he previously was director of Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project.

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