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Posts Tagged ‘Roger Bedard’

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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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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MARSHA W. JOHNSTON, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, March 2009

One hundred and forty-one years ago, the relentless sea off Scotland’s coast inspired the following observation from native son and author George MacDonald:

I climbed the heights above the village, and looked abroad over the Atlantic. What a waste of aimless tossing to and fro! Gray mist above, full of falling rain; gray, wrathful waters underneath, foaming and bursting as billow broke upon billow…they burst on the rocks at the end of it, and rushed in shattered spouts and clouds of spray far into the air over their heads. “Will the time ever come,” I thought, when man shall be able to store up even this force for his own ends? Who can tell.”

In the United States, permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting.

Today, we can certainly say, “Yes, the time will come.” The only question remaining is how long it will be before humankind routinely and widely uses electricity generated from the kinetic power of ocean tides, currents and waves.

If one defines “commercial ocean energy” as several tens of megawatts, the world cannot yet boast a commercial ocean energy installation. Indeed, only two installations of either wave, tidal or in-stream current devices are grid-connected and can generate over 1 megawatt (MW) of power. One is Pelamis Wave Power’s 2.25-MW Aguçadoura project off of Portugal’s northern coast and the other is Bristol-based Marine Current Turbines’ (MCT) SeaGen, a US $20-million commercial-scale tidal-energy project under development in Northern Ireland’s turbulent Strangford Narrows. In December, SeaGen boasted the first tidal turbine to hit a capacity of 1.2 MW.

(The biggest exception to commercial ocean energy production is the world’s longest running tidal power plant, the 240-MW La Rance, in France. But the plant’s barrage technology, which traps water behind a dam and releases it at low tide, has fallen out of favor due to its perceived higher environmental impact than underwater turbines. Nova Scotia has also been operating a 20-MW barrage Tidal Generating Station in the tidal-rich Bay of Fundy since 1984.)

The rest of the world’s wave, tidal and current installations, some of which have been in the water as far back as the 1990s, are experimental and prototype units ranging in size from 35 kilowatts (kW) to 400 kW. Because these units operate only intermittently and are not typically connected to any grid, it is not possible to determine their total power generation.

Many of these units are prototype demonstration units for the much bigger installations that are under development and that will begin to realize significant exploitation of the world’s ocean energy resource. For example, Ocean Power Technologies Inc. will use the 150-kW PowerBuoy it has been testing since the mid-90s as the “workhorse” for the 270-MW, four-site wave energy plant off California and Oregon coasts that it has partnered with Lockheed Martin to develop, says CEO George Taylor.

And Inverness, Scotland-based WaveGen expects to use 40 units of the 100-kw turbine it just installed off the Island of Islay for a 4-MW farm off of Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. Meanwhile, Pelamis says if its 750-kw “sea snake” devices, which were installed last year, make it through the winter, it will put 37 more of them in the water, generating 30 MW.

All of the wave, tidal, ocean and river current power around North America that can be practically extracted could together provide 10% of today’s electrical consumption in the U.S., says Roger Bedard, ocean energy leader at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, CA. He adds that the total water resource could, it is sometimes said, possibly power the world twice over, but a lot of it is out of reach. “Hudson’s Bay, off the Arctic Circle, has HUGE tidal power, but it is thousands of miles from where anyone lives. We have HUGE wave resources off Aleutian Islands, but the same problem,” he says.  See EPRI’s U.S. Offshore Wave Energy Resource Map, below.

What will be the “magic” year for large-scale ocean energy deployment? Most developers indicate 2011-2012. Trey Taylor, co-founder and president of Verdant Power, which is moving into the commercial development phase of its 7-year-old Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project, says the firm aims to have “at least 35 MW” in the water by the end of 2011.

Bedard is more circumspect. “I think it will be 2015 in Europe and 2025 in U.S. for big deployment,” he says, adding that the year cited depends entirely on the definition of “big” and “commercial,” which he defines as “many tens of megawatts.”

Verdant’s Taylor expects greater initial success in Canada. “The fundamental difference between Canada and the U.S. is that the underpinning of processes in Canada is collaborative and in the U.S. it is adversarial. It’s just the nature of Canadians, collaborating for community good, whereas in the U.S. people are afraid of being sued,” he said.

Bedard says the U.S. could catch up to Europe earlier, if the Obama Administration walks its big renewable energy infrastructure investment talk. “But if it’s business as usual, it could be later, depending on the economy,” he says.

Since the global economy began to melt down last September, many ocean energy companies have had to refocus their investment plans. With venture capital and institutional monies drying or dried up, firms are turning to public funds, strategic partners such as utilities and big engineering firms, and angel investors.

In November, MCT retained London-based Cavendish Corp Finance to seek new financing. Raymond Fagan, the Cavendish partner charged with MCT, said although tidal energy is not as advanced as wind or solar, he has seen a “strong level of interest so far from large engineering-type firms in MCT’s leading position.” Because MCT holds patents and is delivering power to the grid ahead of its competitors, Fagan thinks Cavendish can bring it together with such strategic partners.

In addition to the economic climate, he notes that the drop in oil and gas prices is further slowing renewable energy investment decisions. “Six to 12 months ago, people were leaping into renewable energy opportunities,” he says, adding that the UK government’s recent call for marine energy proposals for the enormous Pentland Firth zone north of Scotland will improve Cavendish’s chances of getting financing. Though it has yet to make a public announcement, MCT is widely viewed as a prime operator for the zone.

Monies are still available. Witness Pelamis Wave Power’s infusion of 5 million pounds sterling in November, which it says it will use for ongoing investment in core R&D and continuing development of its manufacturing processes and facilities.

In the U.S., permitting may be an even bigger hurdle to marine energy deployment than financing. Between 25 and 35 different U.S. federal, state and local regulatory agencies claim some jurisdiction over marine power deployment. In the UK, two agencies handle permitting. Bedard notes however, that streamlining the process in the U.S. may have begun with the recent opening of a new six-month process for licensing pilot marine energy plants.

Marine energy experts agree that there are more opportunities for wave power than for tidal, as there are simply fewer exploitable tidal sites. In technology terms, however, tidal turbines have benefited from a quarter century of wind turbine development, says Virginia Tech professor George Hagerman. Despite more widely available wave resource, wave energy developers face the challenge of needing many more devices than do tidal energy developers, and have a higher cabling cost to export the power.

As Christopher Barry, co-chair of the Ocean Renewable Energy panel at the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, explains: “The major challenge [to ocean energy] is not pure technology, but the side issues of power export and making the technology affordable and survivable.”

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