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Scientific Computing, Advantage Business Media, November 2009

The ocean is a potentially vast source of electric power, yet as engineers test new technologies for capturing it, the devices are plagued by battering storms, limited efficiency and the need to be tethered to the seafloor. Now, a team of aerospace engineers is applying the principles that keep airplanes aloft to create a new wave energy system that is durable, extremely efficient and can be placed anywhere in the ocean, regardless of depth.

While still in early design stages, computer and scale model tests of the system suggest higher efficiencies than wind turbines. The system is designed to effectively cancel incoming waves, capturing their energy while flattening them out, providing an added application as a storm wave breaker.

The researchers, from the U.S. Air Force Academy, presented their design at the 62nd annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics on November 24, 2009.

“Our group was working on very basic research on feedback flow control for years,” says lead researcher Stefan Siegel, referring to efforts to use sensors and adjustable parts to control how fluids flow around airfoils like wings. “For an airplane, when you control that flow, you better control flight — for example, enabling you to land a plane on a shorter runway.”

A colleague had read an article on wave energy in a magazine and mentioned it to Siegel and the other team members, and they realized they could operate a wave energy device using the same feedback control concepts they had been developing.

Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the researchers developed a system that uses lift instead of drag to cause the propeller blades to move.

“Every airplane flies with lift, not with drag,” says Siegel. “Compare an old style windmill with a modern one. The new style uses lift and is what made wind energy viable — and it doesn’t get shredded in a storm like an old windmill. Fluid dynamics fixed the issue for windmills, and can do the same for wave energy.”

Windmills have active controls that turn the blades to compensate for storm winds, eliminating lift when it is a risk, and preventing damage. The Air Force Academy researchers used the same approach with a hydrofoil (equivalent to an airfoil, but for water) and built it into a cycloidal propeller, a design that emerged in the 1930s and currently propels tugboats, ferries and other highly maneuverable ships.

The researchers changed the propeller orientation from horizontal to vertical, allowing direct interaction with the cyclic, up and down motion of wave energy. The researchers also developed individual control systems for each propeller blade, allowing sophisticated manipulations that maximize (or minimize, in the case of storms) interaction with wave energy.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep the flow direction and blade direction constant, cancelling the incoming wave and using standard gear-driven or direct-drive generators to convert the wave energy into electric energy. A propeller that is exactly out of phase with a wave will cancel that wave and maximize energy output. The cancellation also will allow the float-mounted devices to function without the need of mooring, important for deep sea locations that hold tremendous wave energy potential and are currently out of reach for many existing wave energy designs.

While the final device may be as large as 40 meters across, laboratory models are currently less than a meter in diameter. A larger version of the system will be tested next year at NSF’s Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) tsunami wave basin at Oregon State University, an important experiment for proving the efficacy of the design.

Compelling images of the cycloidal turbine:

The view from the far downstream end into the test section of the U.S. Air Force Academy water tunnel. Three blades of the cycloidal turbine are visible at the far end. Engineer Stefan Siegel and his colleagues test the turbine using the tunnel, with both steady and oscillating flow conditions simulating a shallow-water wave-flow field. Courtesy of SSgt Danny Washburn, U.S. Air Force Academy, Department of Aeronautics

 

A cycloidal turbine is installed on top of the test section of the U.S. Air Force Academy water tunnel. In the background, Manfred Meid (left) and Stefan Siegel (right) operate the turbine. Courtesy of SSgt Danny Washburn, US Air Force Academy, Department of Aeronautics

 

 

 

A cycloidal turbine prototype with three blades (translucent, at bottom of image), is shown lifted out of the tunnel. One of the blade pitch control servo amplifiers is visible in the foreground, and the servo motors can be seen in the top portion of the image. Courtesy of SSgt Danny Washburn, US Air Force Academy, Department of Aeronautics

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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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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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MICHELLE MA, Seattle Times, November 17, 2008

What started out as a mad dash to extract energy from the ocean’s waves and tides has slowed to a marathoner’s pace — complete with a few water breaks and sprained ankles along the way.

In the past three years, more than 100 preliminary permits have been issued nationally for wave and tidal energy projects, and nearly 100 more are pending approval. But only one has won a license to operate — a small wave energy development off Washington’s northwest coast.

That project is still awaiting state and federal permits, and its British Columbia-based developer, Finavera Renewables, doesn’t know when the first devices will go in the water. It doesn’t help that a wave power buoy the company was testing off the Oregon coast unexpectedly sank last year.

Tapping the power of waves and tidal currents to generate electricity is promoted as one of many promising alternatives to the fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

But no one knows exactly how the technologies will behave in the water, whether animals will get hurt, or if costs will pencil out. The permitting process is expensive and cumbersome, and no set method exists for getting projects up and running.

“The industry is really young, and everything is hodgepodged right now,” said Jim Thomson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab who is involved in tidal research.

A new report that collected findings from dozens of scientists raises concerns about the impact wave energy developments could have on the ocean and its critters. Wave energy buoys could alter the food chain or disrupt migrations, the report says.

Still, developers, regulators and researchers are moving forward. A 2.25-megawatt project off the coast of Portugal went on line this fall, becoming the world’s first commercial wave energy development in operation. It can supply 1,500 households with electricity.

The first commercial wave energy park in the U.S. could go in off Reedsport, Ore., within the next two years.

Tidal energy has yet to go commercial, but devices have been tested in Ireland and Canada. Turbines have been placed in New York’s East River, and a demonstration project is planned for the Bay of Fundy off Northeastern U.S.

In the Northwest, the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) has narrowed its search for tidal power sites in Puget Sound, although the PUD doesn’t expect to have a test project in the water for another two years.

Race to develop

Dozens of developers have staked claim to plots in the ocean and in waterways that could provide wave and tidal energy. But despite the jostle for space, getting projects off dry land has proved difficult.

Wave power generators use the up-and-down motion of the ocean’s swells to produce electricity. Tidal generators act like underwater windmills, spinning as the tides move in and out.

To get small projects in the water quicker federal regulators recently created a five-year pilot license for tidal and wave developments. That’s meant to help developers gather data they need to launch future projects, said Federal Energy Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Celeste Miller.

Yet even with a more streamlined process, no one has applied for the pilot license, Miller said. Finavera received its license for the 1-megawatt Makah Bay wave project before this option became available.

Given the unknowns in a young industry, it’s not surprising projects are taking longer than some developers would like, said Myke Clark, senior vice president of business development for Finavera.

His company encountered another hurdle when Pacific Gas and Electric’s agreement to buy power from a planned Finavera wave energy project off California was rejected last month by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

Regulators said the rates were too high and the buoy technology not yet ready.

Clark said the decision wouldn’t affect Finavera’s Makah Bay project.

Research under way

Researchers from the University of Washington and Oregon State University hope that a new national marine renewable energy research center in the Northwest will help answer questions about tidal and wave energy.

A federal grant provides $1.25 million annually for up to five years. The UW will continue research on tidal energy in Puget Sound, while OSU will focus on wave energy.

“The feeling is that a lot of questions being asked now are only questions that can be answered with a responsible pilot [project],” said Brian Polagye, who is pursuing his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the UW.

Locally, researchers want to see where marine life in Puget Sound congregates and to create a standard way to evaluate sites around the country to determine which would be good candidates for tidal energy projects.

Admiralty Inlet, between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend, is the likely spot for the Snohomish County PUD’s small test project set to launch at least two years from now, said Craig Collar, the PUD’s senior manager of energy resource development.

The inlet’s tides are strong, and the area is large enough to accommodate a tidal project without interfering with other activities such as diving and ferry traffic.

Finavera wants to install four wave energy buoys in Makah Bay in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary to test its technology. Developers also plan to monitor the project for effects on wildlife and shoreline habitat, keeping an eye on federally listed species such as the marbled murrelet, a small bird that dives for food.

Finavera doesn’t intend to continue the project after its five-year license expires. Still, if the company can negotiate a purchasing agreement with the Clallam County Public Utility District, homes in the area could use the wave generated power while the project is in the water, Clark said.

The Makah Nation wants to see what effect the project might have on the environment before deciding whether wave energy is a viable long-term option, said Ryland Bowechop, tourism and economic-development planner for the tribe.

The buoys would sit just offshore from the tribal headquarters in Neah Bay.

“We are always concerned because our livelihood is the ocean,” Bowechop said.

Concerns linger

The environmental effects of wave and tidal energy are largely unknown and require more studies, dozens of scientists concluded after meeting a year ago at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore.

The group was concerned that electromagnetic cables on the ocean floor could affect sea life, and that buoys could interfere with whale and fish migration.

Large buoys might actually attract more fish, but the marine ecosystem could be altered if more predators move in. Buoys also could disrupt natural currents and change how sediment is moved. Shorelines might be affected as energy is taken from the waves.

Even if environmental concerns are checked, costs to extract the power remain high. Wave energy costs at least 20 cents per kilowatt hour to generate, compared with 4 cents per kilowatt hour for wind power, said Annette von Jouanne, leader of OSU’s wave energy program. Wind energy used to be much more expensive 20 years ago.

In comparison, coal-generated power costs about 5 cents per kilowatt hour, and power from dams can be as low as 3 cents, said Roger Bedard, ocean energy leader with the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute.

Tidal energy costs are harder to determine because there aren’t any projects trying to sell electricity, Bedard said.

Fishermen have their own worries. They fear that wave and tidal projects could further reduce access to fishing grounds, said Dale Beasley, a commercial fisherman in Ilwaco, Pacific County, and president of the Columbia River Crab Fisherman’s Association.

“There’s so many things coming at the ocean right now,” he said.

Beasley says the industry wants a say in how wave and tidal energy projects are developed.

“Coastal communities are going to have to figure out a way to deal with this, and if they don’t, the character of the coast will change dramatically,” he said.

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TERRY DILLMAN, South Lincoln County News, September 23, 2008

Oregon’s emergence as a national leader in developing wave energy technology crested Thursday, when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced grant support to establish the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) in Newport.

The agency selected 14 research teams to receive as much as $7.3 million -representing a cost-shared value of more than $18 million – for projects to “advance commercial viability, cost-competitiveness, and market acceptance of new technologies that can harness renewable energy from oceans and rivers.” It’s part of the federal Advanced Energy Initiative designed to dramatically boost clean-energy research funding to develop cleaner, reliable alternative energy sources that cost less. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) signed into law in December 2007 authorizes DOE to establish a program of research, development, demonstration, and commercial application to expand marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy production.

“Wave, tidal, and current-driven hydro power is an important clean, natural, and domestic energy source that will promote energy security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” John Mizroch, acting assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy, noted in announcing the selections.

A merit review committee of national and international water power experts made the selections. Two awards of up to $1.25 million in annual funding, renewable for up to five years, went to establishing marine energy centers.

One went to the University of Hawaii in Honolulu for the National Renewable Marine Energy Center.

The other went to OSU and the University of Washington to establish the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center at HMSC, with “a full range of capabilities to support wave and tidal energy development” for the nation. DOE officials want the center to “facilitate commercialization, inform regulatory and policy decisions, and close key gaps in understanding.”

The federal grant will add to funding from the Oregon legislature, OSU, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET), the University of Washington and other sources to bring in $13.5 million in five years to – according to Robert Paasch, the interim program director for the new center – “help move the generation of energy from waves, ocean currents and tides from the laboratory to part of the nation’s alternative energy future.”

The main effort is to build a floating “berth” to test wave energy technology off the Oregon coast near Newport, as well as fund extensive environmental impact studies, community outreach, and other initiatives.

“This is just the beginning,” Paasch added. “There’s still a lot of work to do on the technology, testing, and environmental studies. But we have no doubt that this technology will work, that wave energy can become an important contributor to energy independence for the United States.”

Oregon can now lead those efforts, thanks to involvement by numerous partners.

The state legislature committed $3 million in capital funding to help create the new wave energy test center.

OWET – a private, not-for-profit organization founded in 2007 and funded by Oregon Inc. to be an integral part of the state’s effort to become the leader in renewable wave energy development – has provided $250,000 in funding, and is working to coordinate support from government agencies, private industry, fishing, environmental, and community groups.

OWET’s goal is to have ocean wave energy producing at least 500 megawatts of energy by 2025 for Oregon consumption.

The University of Washington has committed funding support and will take the lead role in innovative research on tidal and ocean current energy. The National Renewable Energy Center in Golden, Colo., will support studies on how to integrate wave energy into the larger power grid, and help it take its place next to other alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar.

Lincoln County officials immersed themselves in the effort from the outset. OSU’s wave energy test site is off county shores, and groups such as the Newport-based FINE – Fisherman Involved in Natural Energy – are active in providing input and advice from coastal constituencies.

“Oregon is now the unquestioned national leader in marine renewable energy,” Paasch said. “But as this technology is still in its infancy, we want to get things right the first time. We need extensive research on environmental impacts, we need to work with community groups and fishermen, and we need our decisions to be based on sound science as we move forward.”

OSU’s College of Engineering, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and Hatfield Marine Science Center will lead technology development, as well as diverse research programs on possible environmental impacts on the wave resource, shores, marine mammals and other marine life.

Construction of the new floating test berth should begin in 2010, Paasch said, after design, engineering work and permits have been completed. The facility will open on a fee basis to private industry groups that want to test their technology, and will provide detailed power analysis, as well as a method to dissipate the power.

“When complete, we’ll be able to test devices, see exactly how much power they generate and be able to assess their environmental impact, using technologies such as the OSU Marine Radar Wave Imaging System and on-site wave sensors,” Paasch

OSU will also continue its own research on wave energy technology led by Annette von Jouanne, professor of electrical engineering.

The university is working closely with private industry partners, recently finished a linear test bed to do preliminary testing of new technology on the OSU campus, and will test prototypes that OSU researchers consider as having the best combination of power production, efficiency and durability. In 2007, the university hosted a workshop to begin looking at the potential ecological implications of establishing wave energy parks along the West Coast. On-going research will continue to ponder that and many other questions.  Much of that research will take place at HMSC.

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MendoCoastCurrent, October 13, 2008

osuA new prototype of a wave energy device being developed by Oregon State University and Columbia Power Technologies was successfully tested last month in the ocean off Newport, Oregon, providing valuable data and moving the research program closer to commercialization.

In a $1 million research effort during the past year, 18 different “direct drive” wave energy technologies have been evaluated, five of the most promising selected from that group, and one approach has now been tested in the ocean. The work has been a collaboration of OSU, Columbia Power Technologies and the Facilities Engineering Command of the U.S. Navy.

“Our latest test went exceedingly well,” said Ted Brekken, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at OSU. “The buoy produced significant power, the hydrodynamic behavior fit our expectations and design, the placement and deployment went smoothly and we got a large amount of data to further evaluate. The Columbia Power Technologies and OSU team did a tremendous job in this collaborative effort.”

There are different approaches towards tapping the power of heaving ocean swells, scientists say, but OSU is focused on a direct drive technology that eliminates the need for hydraulic systems and may be more efficient and durable in a rugged ocean environment.

According to Annette von Jouanne, an OSU professor of electrical engineering, one approach may ultimately become the most dominant in this emerging alternative energy industry, as has been the case with wind power. However, different systems may work better depending on the application, she said.

“We may find that the best system is different depending on the need for low, mid-range or high power production,” von Jouanne said. “One might work best for commercial wave parks, while others could be better suited to local use by coastal communities or even small power devices that run sensors or self-powered buoys.”

In use, wave buoys might range widely in size, from a couple of feet to large commercial devices that are as much as 50 feet wide and 100 feet long, probably in a cylindrical shape, Brekken said. The above water portion of the buoy would be similar in size and visibility to a small boat. Researchers envision that energy production devices might have a lifespan of about 20 years with regular maintenance, similar to existing wind energy systems.

OSU is working in several areas of wave energy development, including new technologies, assessments of the potential biological or environmental impacts, site evaluations and outreach to coastal communities and interest groups.

In September, officials also announced funding support for a new Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, to be based at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center, with a total of $13.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, Oregon legislature, OSU, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, the University of Washington and other sources. A key part of this initiative will be creation of a wave energy test facility near Newport that would be available to academic researchers as well as private industry.

Experts have estimated that the electrical power available in the U.S. from wave energy might be similar to that of hydroelectric energy, and as such could become a significant part of a sustainable energy future. In Oregon, based on the amount of ocean space that is being considered for use in wave energy “parks,” it could be possible to supply as much as 10% of Oregon’s energy needs, Brekken said.

Further research is needed to address issues such as buoy spacing and placement, but a wave park that could produce 50-100 megawatts of electrical power might be about three miles long and one mile deep, Brekken said, or three square miles. It’s been suggested that Oregon might develop about seven wave parks. If buoys were placed in the areas between the offshore area from one to three miles off the state’s 300-mile-long coast, the space needed for seven energy production parks would be about one-third of 1% of this 600-square-mile area.

Continued research will further refine the optimal energy production and buoy technology, experts say, as well as methods to scale it up in size for commercial use, monitor its maintenance needs and reliability, and other issues.

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MendoCoastCurrent, September 19, 2008

The University of Hawaii (UH) has won an intensely sought-after award, being selected as one of two National Marine Renewable Test Centers, with Oregon State University as the other.

As a test center, UH will receive federal funding to study and encourage the implementation of wave energy systems in Hawaiian waters. The strong wave climate, combined with the highest use of fossil fuel and electricity rates in the nation, make Hawaii an ideal location for the development of lower-cost wave power.

It has been a banner year for renewable energy in Hawaii. After Congress passed the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007,” the U.S. Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Hawaii in January, seeking to produce 70% of Hawaii’s electricity needs from renewable resources by 2030.

In February, Oceanlinx, one of the world’s leading wave energy developers, announced plans for a wave energy facility off Maui’s northern coast.

The extent to which wave energy companies are drawn to Hawaii will ultimately determine how many jobs are created by their presence. However, given the large market and available resources, the potential is tremendous. Wave energy converters require engineers, consultants, commercial divers, maintenance crews, marine transport services, technicians and shipyard services. In other words, a vibrant wave energy industry will create well-paying jobs while keeping billions of dollars in our state economy instead of shipping them primarily to foreign countries to pay for oil.

With the recent surge in oil prices, renewable energy systems have been experiencing a renaissance. Investors who wanted nothing to do with renewable energy companies a few years ago are now scrambling to get their money invested in leading technologies. Those investors now can compete to catch the wave.

While the UH’s designation as a National Marine Renewable Test Center will certainly make Hawaii a more attractive destination, it’s important to note that Hawaii lacks a mechanism to connect wave energy systems to its power grid. Enter the Wave Hub, an undersea “outlet” that enables multiple wave energy systems to hook into the grid.

Construction of a Wave Hub about 10 miles off the southwest coast of England is creating a real-world testing ground. That Wave Hub should prove a commercial success, as there is already intense competition between rival wave energy companies seeking berths allowing their systems to plug into the Wave Hub.

In conjunction with the UH Marine Test Center, we must develop a Wave Hub here in Hawaii, so wave energy systems can compete to prove their commercial viability. Once an optimal location is selected, then the state can prepare the necessary environment and permit documents and install the seabed device and cable. Wave energy companies will be able to “plug in” their devices, without each spending years in the application phase.

In addition to the vibrant wave energy climate, federal, state and academic support can make Hawaii the premier destination for wave energy development in the United States, not to mention the Pacific theater. This is an innovation economy by definition – one that will make Hawaii more secure and environmentally protected.

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