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Posts Tagged ‘Hawaii’

GAYATHRI VAIDYANATHAN, New York Times, March 2, 2010

Harnessing the ocean waves for emission-free power seems like a tidy concept, but the ocean is anything but tidy. Waves crash from multiple directions on a seemingly random basis, and converting the kinetic energy into electricity is a frontier of alternative energy research that requires grappling with large unknowns.

But with several utility companies and states, and in one case, the U.S. Navy, investing in wave power, or hydrokinetic energy, may not be too far off in the utility mix. At least two companies hope to reach commercial deployments within the next three to five years.

Off the coast of Orkney, Scotland, is the Oyster, a white- and yellow-flapped cylinder, 40 feet tall and firmly locked into the ocean’s bed. With a total of seven moving parts, two of which are pistons, it captures waves as they near the coast. Oyster funnels them into a pipe and carries the power inland to a hydroelectric power generator. The generator has been supplying the United Kingdom’s grid with 315 kilowatts of energy at peak power since October.

A farm of up to 100 Oysters could yield 100 megawatts, according to Aquamarine Power, the Scottish company that developed the technology.

“From an environmental perspective, in the sea you have a very simple machine that uses no oil, no chemicals, no electromagnetic radiation,” said Martin McAdam, CEO of Aquamarine.

The Oyster provides a tiny fraction of the 250 gigawatts of power that the water is capable of providing, including conventional hydroelectric energy by 2030, according to the United Nations. At least 25 gigawatts of that will come from marine renewables, according to Pike Research, a clean technology market research group. The non-conservative estimate is as much as 200 gigawatts. And 2015 will be the benchmark year to determine which of these estimates will be true.

The field of hydrokinetic power has a number of companies such as Aquamarine, all with unique designs and funded by utility companies, government grants and venture capitalists. If at least 50% of these projects come online by 2015, marine power could supply 2.7 gigawatts to the mix, according to Pike Research. A gigawatt is the electrical output of a large nuclear power plant.

‘PowerBuoy’ joins the Marines

There are six marine renewable technologies currently under development that aim to take advantage of ocean waves, tides, rivers, ocean currents, differences in ocean temperatures with depth, and osmosis.

“The energy landscape is going to be a mix of different energy sources, with an increasing proportion coming from renewables,” said Charles Dunleavy, CEO of Ocean Power Technologies, a New Jersey-based research group also developing wave energy. “We aim to be a very big part of this.”

The company has been testing its wave energy device, called the PowerBuoy, in the ocean since 2005. It recently launched another device a mile offshore from the island of Oahu in Hawaii and connected it to the power grid of the U.S. Marine Corps base. It now supplies 40 kilowatts of energy at peak, enough to power about 25 to 30 homes.

“The Navy wants to reduce its reliance on imported fossil fuel; they have a strong need to establish greater energy independence,” said Dunleavy.

The buoy captures the energy from right-sized waves (between 3 and 22 feet tall), which drive a hydraulic pump. The pump converts the motion into electricity in the ocean using a generator embedded into its base. A subsea cable transfers the power to the electrical grid. A buoy farm of 30 acres could yield 10 megawatts of energy, enough to supply 8,000 homes, said Dunleavy.

The structures rise 30 feet above water, and extend 115 feet down. They would not be a problem for commercial trawlers, which are farther offshore, or for ship navigation lanes, said Dunleavy. Recreational boaters, however, may have to watch out.

‘Oyster’ competes with the ‘top end of wind’

In comparison with a system such as the Oyster that brings water ashore to power turbines, creating electricity in the ocean is more efficient, said Dunleavy. “You lose a lot of energy to friction,” he said.

But Aquamarine’s system of having onshore power generation will cut down on maintenance costs, according to McAdam. Operation costs are expected to consume as much as 40% of the budget of operating a marine power plant, according to Pike Research.

Ocean Power is already selling its device for individual commercial use and building larger units of 150 kilowatts off the West Coast of the United States and for the utility company Iberdrola’s unit in Spain.

It is also developing the first wave power station under the Department of Energy’s stimulus program at Reedsport, Ore., according to Dunleavy. The farm, which currently has a 150-kilowatt unit, could grow by nine additional buoys.

And as for price, which is a major concern, Dunleavy said that cost compares with other renewables.

“It is cheaper than solar thermal and photovoltaics, and in the range of biomass,” he said. “It is at the top end of wind.”

The Oyster is also aiming to position itself as an alternative to wind power for utilities. McAdam said that by 2013, his company hopes to be a competitor to offshore wind installations. And by 2015, he hopes to compete with onshore wind.

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FRANK HARTZELL, Mendocino Beacon, February 25, 2010

The Southern California investment company with a federal permit to develop wave energy in waters off Mendocino has entered into a partnership with one of the world’s top companies in the field.

GreenWave Energy Solutions recently entered into a memo of understanding, or MOU, with Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) of New Jersey, a move which makes wave energy off the village of Mendocino much more likely than ever.

Earlier this month, Ocean Power Technologies earned a federal license to develop wave energy off Reedsport, Ore., a groundbreaking move in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) process.

Ocean Power Technologies had its own FERC wave energy preliminary permit off Cape Mendocino but last year gave up on that site as impractical. OPT, which has since eclipsed many of its hydrokinetics competitors, plans to bring its experience to developing waters off Mendocino, the FERC permit states.

OPT recently deployed one of its Power Buoys off Hawaii, where it is also developing wave energy. OPT has been granted the exclusive right to sell their patented WEC devices to GreenWave for the generation of electrical power off Mendocino.

The existence of GreenWave’s FERC preliminary permit already spells doom for the creation of any new Marine Life Protection Act (MLPAI) Initiative protection of the claimed area.

GreenWave told FERC in its latest progress report that the firm has a target date of April 2012 for filing a license to actually develop electricity off Mendocino.

A preliminary permit gives exclusive study rights to an area to the applicant and also provides automatic preference to a license to actually produce power in the ocean.

“The proposed 100 megawatt GreenWave Mendocino Wave Park is estimated to generate an average of 250 GigaWatt-hours annually. GreenWave has contacted most or all of the stakeholders … and will continue to conduct community outreach and informational efforts to keep all stakeholders apprised of progress and plans related to the environmental studies and development of this proposed wave energy project,” the FERC filing by GreenWave President Wayne Burkamp states.

GreenWave and Ocean Power Technologies plan joint meetings locally beginning in March, the filing states. The two firms plan to file full details of the wave energy project with FERC by March and then discuss those plans in public meetings with locals.

Wave energy has generated substantial local opposition led by local fishermen. The environmental community in Mendocino has also opposed wave energy. Environmentalists in Humboldt County have not been involved in the issue.

PG&E, faced with local opposition, withdrew its Fort Bragg wave energy development application and continued its effort in friendlier Humboldt County, then added a second site in Southern California.

National environmental groups signed off on wave energy in a letter to president Obama. But the Obama administration studied the issue and, like Fort Bragg residents, learned the technology raised serious environmental issues and was too theoretical to help with the nation’s energy needs in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, fishing and civic groups have been seeking to construct a public process that protects the ocean.

A group formed in Fort Bragg, Fishermen Interested in Safe Hydrokinetics (FISH) is the lead plaintiff on a lawsuit against FERC challenging FERC’s issuance of the exclusive development rights to waters off Mendocino to GreenWave. The city of Fort Bragg, County of Mendocino, the Ocean Protection Council, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen and the Recreational Fishing Alliance are also part of the challenge.

The lawsuit, with filings due in federal court this spring and summer, asserts that FERC failed to follow environmental laws or create a comprehensive plan before issuing wave energy permits.

“GreenWave has reviewed the allegations contained in the complaint and believes the allegations are without merit. GreenWave is monitoring this litigation and will provide any support that FERC believes necessary,” GreenWave’s recent filing states.

PG&E said the reason it abandoned its Fort Bragg development site was Noyo Harbor is unsuitable. That hasn’t discouraged GreenWave so far.

Background

The exclusive three-year preliminary permit granted in May 2009 to GreenWave stretches from just north of Albion to off Point Cabrillo, about a half-mile to three miles offshore.

Five men from the Thousand Oaks area of Southern California, including Tony Strickland, a Republican state senator, formed GreenWave Energy Solutions about two years ago.

Strickland, one of the state’s most ardent deregulators and anti-tax advocates, won the state Legislature’s closest race last November by a handful of votes, California’s closest major race. He made his involvement in alternative energy a key part of his campaign.

Green Wave Energy Solutions when formed was composed of Burkamp, Strickland, engineer Bill Bustamante and prominent housing developers Dean Kunicki and Gary Gorian.

Calls to GreenWave’s message phone number revealed Strickland and the others are still involved.

GreenWave does not mention Strickland, or any local members of the California Legislature among its communications with the Legislature in its report to FERC.

“GreenWave has participated in numerous meetings with California state government officials regarding various aspects of the permitting process and the political dynamics of development of a wave farm, in this district. GreenWave has met with various legislative personnel including California State Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (39th District). Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (75th District), and Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Chief Deputy Legislative Assistant, John Moffatt.

“These meetings involved discussions regarding the future of wave energy in California, working to streamline the permitting process in California and questions related to legislation which would assist in wave energy development,” the FERC filing states.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative process has concentrated solely on restricting and banning fishing, despite broader general ocean protection goals in the act. An opinion issued by the California Attorney General’s office states that any prior legal claim (such as a preliminary permit for wave energy) precludes the establishment of any type of new marine protected area. However, that fact has not yet been introduced into the discussions of creation of “arrays” or fishing restricted areas, despite large areas off limits in both Humboldt and Mendocino counties due to permits granted to PG&E and GreenWave.

Editor’s Note: Phenomenal reporting by Frank Hartzell, thank you!

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HELON ALTONN, Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 27, 2009

The ocean is becoming a noisier place due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, California and Hawaii scientists report.

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans not only has increased seawater acidity but has affected its acoustics—making it more transparent to low-frequency sound, the scientists said in a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Scientists said seawater sound absorption will drop by up to 70% this century.

“It was surprising to us,” said Richard Zeebe, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans increases acidity, or hydrogen ion concentration, and as the acidity rises, it lowers the seawater pH (a measure of acidity), researchers said.

“Certain chemical compounds in the ocean absorb sound and affect sound propagation,” Zeebe said. “Frequencies can get louder and more intense, depending on the chemistry.”

Not all frequencies will be affected, he said, explaining pH changes mostly affect sounds in the lower frequency range.

SOEST researcher Tatiana Ilyina said the pH of surface seawater will drop by 0.6 units by the year 2100 at the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, with a one-unit drop of pH representing a tenfold increase of acidity.

“As a result, the absorption of 200 Hz sound would decrease by up to 70%,” she said, noting the middle C of the piano is tuned to 261.6 Hz. Sound around that frequency is produced by natural phenomena such as rain, wind and waves, and marine mammals and manmade activities, she said.

Naval, commercial and scientific activities use low-frequency sound and marine mammals rely on low-frequency sound to find food and mates, the scientists said.

“As a result, ocean acidification may not only affect organisms at the bottom of the food chain by reducing calcification in plankton and corals, but also higher tropic-level species, such as marine mammals, by lowering sound absorption in the ocean,” they said.

Zeebe said: “The consequences of these changes on marine mammals is not well known at the moment. There is a lot of background noise in the ocean generated by humans—ship noise, construction, seismic surveys and sonar—and this noise will essentially increase in volume in the ocean in the future.

“If the noise level increases, it can distract species,” he said. “If they’re trying to identify certain sounds in the ocean important for them for reproduction, feeding or something, and if the background noise is increasing, it could essentially cover certain sounds they depend on. This is a possibility.”

Another possibility is that marine mammals may be able to communicate over larger distances in the lower frequency range if sound absorption is decreased because underwater sounds can travel farther than at the surface, he said.

“Also, there are commercial and scientific applications, seismic surveys, that probably will have to take into account that future sound propagation in the ocean will slowly change,” Zeebe said, adding that more study is needed to determine the effects of the ocean acoustics changes.

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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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MendoCoastCurrent, April 23, 2009

images3In Octoberr 2008 Grays Harbor Ocean Energy applied for seven Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) preliminary permits for projects located in the Atlantic Ocean about 12 to 25 miles offshore off the coasts of New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and in the Pacific Ocean about 5 to 30 miles off the coasts of California and Hawaii.

On April 9, 2009 FERC and MMS signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) clarifying jurisdictional responsibilities for renewable energy projects in offshore waters on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  The stated goals of this MOU are to establish a cohesive, streamlined process, encouraging development of wind, solar, and ocean or wave energy projects.

In this MOU, FERC agrees to not issue preliminary permits for ocean or wave projects that are located on the Outer Continental Shelf. 

And as a result, on April 17, 2009 FERC dismissed all seven Grays Harbor’s pending preliminary permit applications for its proposed wave projects as each and every project is located on the OCS.

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COLIN SULLIVAN, The New York Times, April 14, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoPalo Alto — Technology for tapping ocean waves, tides and rivers for electricity is far from commercial viability and lagging well behind wind, solar and other fledgling power sectors, a panel of experts said last week during a forum here on climate change and marine ecosystems.

While the potential for marine energy is great, ocean wave and tidal energy projects are still winding their way through an early research and development phase, these experts said.

“It’s basically not commercially financeable yet,” said Edwin Feo, a partner at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, during a conference at Stanford University. “They are still a long ways from getting access to the capital and being deployed, because they are simply immature technologies.”

Ocean and tidal energy are renewable sources that can be used to meet California’s renewable portfolio standard of 10 percent of electricity by 2010. But the industry has been hampered by uncertainty about environmental effects, poor economics, jurisdictional tieups and scattered progress for a handful of entrepreneurs.

Finavera Renewables, based in British Columbia, recently canceled all of its wave projects, bringing to a close what was the first permit for wave power from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And last fall, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) denied Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s application for a power purchase agreement with Finavera Renewables, citing the technology’s immaturity.

Roger Bedard, head of the Electric Power Research Institute’s wave power research unit, said the United States is at least five and maybe 10 years away from the first commercial project in marine waters. A buoy at a Marine Corps base in Hawaii is the only wave-powered device that has been connected to the power grid so far in the United States. The first pilot tidal project, in New York’s East River, took five years to get a permit from FERC.

Feo, who handles renewable energy project financing at his law firm, says more than 80 ocean, tidal and river technologies are being tested by start-ups that do not have much access to capital or guarantee of long-term access to their resource. That has translated into little interest from the investment community.

“Most of these companies are start-ups,” Feo said. “From a project perspective, that doesn’t work. People who put money into projects expect long-term returns.”

William Douros of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expressed similar concerns and said agency officials have been trying to sort through early jurisdictional disputes and the development of some technologies that would “take up a lot of space on the sea floor.”

“You would think offshore wave energy projects are a given,” Douros said. “And yet, from our perspective, from within our agency, there are still a lot of questions.”

‘Really exciting times’

But the belief in marine energy is there in some quarters, prompting the Interior Department to clear up jurisdictional disputes with FERC for projects outside 3 miles from state waters. Under an agreement announced last week, Interior will issue leases for offshore wave and current energy development, while FREC will license the projects.

The agreement gives Interior’s Minerals Management Service exclusive jurisdiction over the production, transportation or transmission of energy from offshore wind and solar projects. MMS and FERC will share responsibilities for hydrokinetic projects, such as wave, tidal and ocean current.

Maurice Hill, who works on the leasing program at MMS, said the agency is developing “a comprehensive approach” to offshore energy development. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar himself has been holding regional meetings and will visit San Francisco this week to talk shop as part of that process.

Hill said MMS and the U.S. Geological Survey will issue a report within 45 days on potential development and then go public with its leasing program.

“These next couple of months are really exciting times, especially on the OCS,” he said.

Still, Hill acknowledged that the industry is in an early stage and said federal officials are approaching environmental effects especially with caution.

“We don’t know how they’ll work,” he said. “We’re testing at this stage.”

‘Highly energetic’ West Coast waves

But if projects do lurch forward, the Electric Power Research Institute’s Bedard said, the resource potential is off the charts. He believes it is possible to have 10 gigawatts of ocean wave energy online by 2025, and 3 gigawatts of river and ocean energy up in the same time frame.

The potential is greatest on the West Coast, Bedard said, where “highly energetic” waves pound the long coastline over thousands of miles. Alaska and California have the most to gain, he said, with Oregon, Washington and Hawaii not far behind.

To Feo, a key concern is the length of time MMS chooses to issue leases to developers. He said the typical MMS conditional lease time of two, three or five years won’t work for ocean wave technology because entrepreneurs need longer-term commitments to build projects and show investors the industry is here to say.

“It just won’t work” at two, three or five years, Feo said. “Sooner or later, you have to get beyond pilot projects.”

Hill refused to answer questions about the length of the leases being considered by MMS.

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