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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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PennWell Publishing, February 22, 2010

Construction has begun off Oregon’s coast on a commercial U.S. wave energy farm, which is being developed by Ocean Power Technologies and is planned to supply power to about 400 homes, according to national media reports.

The system will be installed off the Oregon coast near Reedsport, and it will represent the first phase of an expected 10-PowerBuoy Reedsport wave power station with a generating capacity of about 1.5 MW. The development would be the first commercial-scale wave power farm in the United States.

The first buoy will measure 150 feet tall by 40 feet wide, weigh 200 tons and cost $4 million, according to Phil Pellegrino, spokesman for New Jersey-based developer Ocean Power Technologies, Inc. OPT has chosen Oregon Iron Works to construct its first commercial wave energy PowerBuoy system in North America.

Nine additional PowerBuoys will be constructed and installed under the second phase of the project. The additional buoys are scheduled to be deployed by 2012 at a total cost of about $60 million.

Ocean Power Technologies recently received an A$66.5 million (US$61 million) grant from the Australian government to build a 19-MW wave power project off the coast of Victoria, Australia.

Ocean Power Technologies plans to complete its first PB150 wave energy device in the UK for deployment in Scotland in mid 2010.

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MendoCoastCurrent, October 8, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoOcean Power Technologies Inc. has signed an exclusive agreement with three Japanese companies to develop a demonstration wave energy station in Japan. Idemitsu Kosan Co., Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co. and Japan Wind Development Co. comprise this consortium and have invited OPT to become a member of this Tokyo Wave Power Initiative.

This is OPT’s first venue in Japan and complements OPT’s global strategy to form alliances with strategic partners in key markets. OPT now has a range of power generation projects globally, including those in Oregon and Hawaii in the U.S., Scotland and Southwest England in the U.K., Spain, Australia and now Japan.

Under the anticipated agreement to build the demonstration plant, OPT said it will sell the equipment for the power station to the The companies in Initiative. And they will provide manufacturing and maintenance of the power stations and on-going plant operations, while OPT will provide its PowerBuoy technology and appropriate subsystems.

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TOM HESTER SR., New Jersey Newsroom, August 25, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoState and local officials joined with Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) Tuesday to recognize the success of one of the Pennington-based company’s PowerBuoys off the coast of Atlantic City.

OPT is a pioneer in wave energy technology that harnesses ocean wave resources to generate clean electricity.

“This is a celebration of our work in the renewable energy sector and an opportunity to thank the state and federal government for supporting OPT since the very beginning,” said Charles Dunleavy, the company’s senior vice president and chief financial officer. “As we continue to achieve success in both the national and international markets, OPT is proud to have invented, developed, and grow our operations right here in New Jersey.”

The federal and state support, including assistance from the Navy, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU), the state Economic Development Authority (EDA), and the state Commission on Science and Technology.

The PowerBuoy has successfully operated for three years off the coasts of Hawaii, Spain, Scotland and Oregon.

“Governor Jon Corzine’s comprehensive energy master plan calls for 30-percent of New Jersey’s energy to be generated from renewable sources by the year 2020,” said BPU President Jeanne Fox. “Ocean Power’s PowerBuoy can help us achieve that goal while also building New Jersey’s green economy and putting our people back to work. It’s exactly the kind of business success that the Governor envisions for New Jersey.”

OPT was founded 1994. It is a public company and operates out of a 23,000- square-foot facility. Since its inception, the company has focused on its proprietary PowerBuoy® technology, capturing wave energy using large floating buoys anchored to the sea bed and converting the energy into electricity using innovative power take-off systems.

Commencing in 1997, OPT has conducted ocean trials off the coast of New Jersey to demonstrate the concept of converting wave energy and convert it into electricity. Ocean Power currently has 42 employees in New Jersey and plans to continue its growth.

“Governor Corzine’s commitment to investing in clean energy has ensured New Jersey is able to attract and develop companies like Ocean Power Technologies,” said EDA Chief Executive Officer Caren S. Franzini. “Ocean Power’s innovative technology and talented staff will only help to drive the company’s growth and the creation of more green jobs in the state.”

Franzini noted that EDA, in conjunction with BPU and the state Department of Environment Protection, recently launched Clean Energy Solutions, a suite of financing and incentive programs to further support the state’s effort to promote green job creation and a more environmentally responsible energy future.

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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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PETER ASMUS, Pike Research, June 17, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThe earth is the water planet, so it should come as no great surprise that forms of water power have been one of the world’s most popular “renewable” energy sources. Yet the largest water power source of all – the ocean that covers three-quarters of earth – has yet to be tapped in any major way for power generation. There are three primary reasons for this:

  • The first is the nature of the ocean itself, a powerful resource that cannot be privately owned like land that typically serves as the foundation for site control for terrestrial power plants of all kinds;
  • The second is funding. Hydropower was heavily subsidized during the Great Depression, but little public investment has since been steered toward marine renewables with the exception of ocean thermal technologies, which were perceived to be a failure.
  • The third reason why the ocean has not yet been industrialized on behalf of energy production is that the technologies, materials and construction techniques did not exist until now to harness this renewable energy resource in any meaningful and cost effective way.

Literally hundreds of technology designs from more than 100 firms are competing for attention as they push a variety emerging ocean renewable options. Most are smaller upstart firms, but a few larger players – Scottish Power, Lockheed Martin and Pacific Gas & Electric — are engaged and seeking new business opportunities in the marine renewables space. Oil companies Chevron, BP and Shell are also investing in the sector.

In the U.S., the clear frontrunner among device developers is Ocean Power Technologies (OPT). It was the first wave power company to issue successful IPOs through the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market for approximately $40 million and then another on the U.S. Stock Exchange in 2007 for $100 million. OPT has a long list of projects in the pipeline, including the first “commercial” installation in the U.S. in Reedsport, Oregon in 2010, which could lead to the first 50 MW wave farm in the U.S. A nearby site in Coos Bay, Oregon represents another potential 100 MW deployment.

While the total installed capacity of emerging “second generation” marine hydrokinetic resources – a category that includes wave, tidal stream, ocean current, ocean thermal and river hydrokinetic resources – was less than 10 MW at the end of 2008, a recent surge in interest in these new renewable options has generated a buzz, particularly in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Portugal, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, among other countries. It is expected that within the next five to eight years, these emerging technologies will become commercialized to the point that they can begin competing for a share of the burgeoning market for carbon-free and non-polluting renewable resources.

The five technologies covered in a new report by Pike Research are the following:

  • Tidal stream turbines often look suspiciously like wind turbines placed underwater. Tidal projects comprise over 90 percent of today’s marine kinetic capacity totals, but the vast majority of this installed capacity relies upon first generation “barrage” systems still relying upon storage dams.
  • Wave energy technologies more often look more like metal snakes that can span nearly 500 feet, floating on the ocean’s surface horizontally, or generators that stand erect vertically akin to a buoy. Any western coastline in the world has wave energy potential.
  • River hydrokinetic technologies are also quite similar to tidal technologies, relying on the kinetic energy of moving water, which can be enhanced by tidal flows, particularly at the mouth of a river way interacting with a sea and/or ocean.
  • Ocean current technologies are similar to tidal energy technologies, only they can tap into deeper ocean currents that are located offshore. Less developed than either tidal or wave energy, ocean current technologies, nevertheless, are attracting more attention since the resource is 24/7.
  • Ocean thermal energy technologies take a very different approach to generating electricity, capturing energy from the differences in temperature between the ocean surface and lower depths, and can also deliver power 24/7.

While there is a common perception that the U.S. and much of the industrialized world has tapped out its hydropower resources, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) disputes this claim. According to its assessment, the U.S. has the water resources to generate from 85,000 to 95,000 more megawatts (MW) from this non-carbon energy source, with 23,000 MW available by 2025. Included in this water power assessment are new emerging marine kinetic technologies. In fact, according to EPRI, ocean energy and hydrokinetic sources (which includes river hydrokinetic technologies) will nearly match conventional new hydropower at existing sites in new capacity additions in the U.S. between 2010 and 2025.

The UN projects that the total “technically exploitable” potential for waterpower (including marine renewables) is 15 trillion kilowatt-hours, equal to half of the projected global electricity use in the year 2030. Of this vast resource potential, roughly 15% has been developed so far. The UN and World Energy Council projects 250 GW of hydropower will be developed by 2030. If marine renewables capture just 10% of this forecasted hydropower capacity, that figure represents 25 GW, a figure Pike Research believes is a valid possibility and the likely floor on market scope.

The demand for energy worldwide will continue to grow at a dramatic clip between 2009 and 2025, with renewable energy sources overtaking natural gas as the second largest source behind coal by 2015 (IEA, 2008). By 2015, the marine renewable market share of this renewable energy growth will still be all but invisible as far as the IEA statistics are concerned, but development up to that point in time will determine whether these sources will contribute any substantial capacity by 2025. By 2015, Pike Research shows a potential of over 22 GW of all five technologies profiled in this report could come on-line. Two of the largest projects – a 14 GW tidal barrage in the U.K. and a 2.2 GW tidal fence in the Philippines — may never materialize, and/or will not likely be on-line by that date, leaving a net potential of more than 14 GW.

By 2025, at least 25 GW of total marine renewables will be developed globally. If effective carbon regulations in the U.S. are in place by 2010, and marine renewable targets established by various European governments are met, marine renewables and river hydrokinetic technologies could provide as much as 200 GW by 2025: 115 GW wave; 57 GW tidal stream; 20 GW tidal barrage; 4 GW ocean current; 3 GW river hydrokinetic; 1 GW OTEC.

About the author: Peter Asmus is an industry analyst with Pike Research and has been covering the energy sector for 20 years. His recent report on the ocean energy sector for Pike Research is now available, and more information can be found at http://www.pikeresearch.com. His new book, Introduction to Energy in California, is now available from the University of California Press (www.peterasmus.com).

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