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JAMES RICKMAN, Seeking Alpha, June 8, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoOceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface. As the world’s largest solar collectors, oceans generate thermal energy from the sun. They also produce mechanical energy from the tides and waves. Even though the sun affects all ocean activity, the gravitational pull of the moon primarily drives the tides, and the wind powers the ocean waves.

Wave energy is the capture of the power from waves on the surface of the ocean. It is one of the newer forms of renewable or ‘green’ energy under development, not as advanced as solar energy, fuel cells, wind energy, ethanol, geothermal companies, and flywheels. However, interest in wave energy is increasing and may be the wave of the future in coastal areas according to many sources including the International Energy Agency Implementing Agreement on Ocean Energy Systems (Report 2009).

Although fewer than 12 MW of ocean power capacity has been installed to date worldwide, we find a significant increase of investments reaching over $2 billion for R&D worldwide within the ocean power market including the development of commercial ocean wave power combination wind farms within the next three years.

Tidal turbines are a new technology that can be used in many tidal areas. They are basically wind turbines that can be located anywhere there is strong tidal flow. Because water is about 800 times denser than air, tidal turbines will have to be much sturdier than wind turbines. They will be heavier and more expensive to build but will be able to capture more energy. For example, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest region alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity.

Companies to Watch in the Developing Wave Power Industry:

Siemens AG (SI) is a joint venture partner of Voith Siemens Hydro Power Generation, a leader in advanced hydro power technology and services, which owns Wavegen, Scotland’s first wave power company. Wavegen’s device is known as an oscillating water column, which is normally sited at the shoreline rather than in open water. A small facility is already connected to the Scottish power grid, and the company is working on another project in Northern Spain.

Ocean Power Technologies, Inc (OPTT) develops proprietary systems that generate electricity through ocean waves. Its PowerBuoy system is used to supply electricity to local and regional electric power grids. Iberdrola hired the company to build and operate a small wave power station off Santona, Spain, and is talking with French oil major Total (TOT) about another wave energy project off the French coast. It is also working on projects in England, Scotland, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Pelamis Wave Power, formerly known as Ocean Power Delivery, is a privately held company which has several owners including various venture capital funds, General Electric Energy (GE) and Norsk Hydro ADR (NHYDY.PK). Pelamis Wave Power is an excellent example of Scottish success in developing groundbreaking technology which may put Scotland at the forefront of Europe’s renewable revolution and create over 18,000 green high wage jobs in Scotland over the next decade. The Pelamis project is also being studied by Chevron (CVX).

Endesa SA ADS (ELEYY.PK) is a Spanish electric utility which is developing, in partnership with Pelamis, the world’s first full scale commercial wave power farm off Aguçadoura, Portugal which powers over 15,000 homes. A second phase of the project is now planned to increase the installed capacity from 2.25MW to 21MW using a further 25 Pelamis machines.

RWE AG ADR (RWEOY.PK) is a German management holding company with six divisions involved in power and energy. It is developing wave power stations in Siadar Bay on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland.

Australia’s Oceanlinx offers an oscillating wave column design and counts Germany’s largest power generator RWE as an investor. It has multiple projects in Australia and the U.S., as well as South Africa, Mexico, and Britain.

Alstom (AOMFF.PK) has also announced development in the promising but challenging field of capturing energy from waves and tides adding to the further interest from major renewable power developers in this emerging industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced several wave energy developments including a cost-shared value of over $18 million, under the DOE’s competitive solicitation for Advanced Water Power Projects. The projects will advance commercial viability, cost-competitiveness, and market acceptance of new technologies that can harness renewable energy from oceans and rivers. The DOE has selected the following organizations and projects for grant awards:

First Topic Area: Technology Development (Up to $600,000 for up to two years)

Electric Power Research Institute, Inc (EPRI) (Palo Alto, Calif.) Fish-friendly hydropower turbine development & deployment. EPRI will address the additional developmental engineering required to prepare a more efficient and environmentally friendly hydropower turbine for the commercial market and allow it to compete with traditional designs.

Verdant Power Inc. (New York, N.Y.) Improved structure and fabrication of large, high-power kinetic hydropower systems rotors. Verdant will design, analyze, develop for manufacture, fabricate and thoroughly test an improved turbine blade design structure to allow for larger, higher-power and more cost-effective tidal power turbines.

Public Utility District #1 of Snohomish County (SnoPUD) (Everett, Wash.) Puget Sound Tidal Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. SnoPUD will conduct in-water testing and demonstration of tidal flow technology as a first step toward potential construction of a commercial-scale power plant. The specific goal of this proposal is to complete engineering design and obtain construction approvals for a Puget Sound tidal pilot demonstration plant in the Admiralty Inlet region of the Sound.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company – San Francisco, Calif. WaveConnect Wave Energy In-Water Testing and Development Project. PG&E will complete engineering design, conduct baseline environmental studies, and submit all license construction and operation applications required for a wave energy demonstration plant for the Humboldt WaveConnect site in Northern California.

Concepts ETI, Inc (White River Junction, Vt.) Development and Demonstration of an Ocean Wave Converter (OWC) Power System. Concepts ETI will prepare detailed design, manufacturing and installation drawings of an OWC. They will then manufacture and install the system in Maui, Hawaii.

Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMT) – Manassas, Va., Advanced Composite Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion – “OTEC”, cold water pipe project. Lockheed Martin will validate manufacturing techniques for coldwater pipes critical to OTEC in order to help create a more cost-effective OTEC system.

Second Topic Area, Market Acceleration (Award size: up to $500,000)

Electric Power Research Institute (Palo Alto, Calif.) Wave Energy Resource Assessment and GIS Database for the U.S. EPRI will determine the naturally available resource base and the maximum practicable extractable wave energy resource in the U.S., as well as the annual electrical energy which could be produced by typical wave energy conversion devices from that resource.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation (Atlanta, Ga.) Assessment of Energy Production Potential from Tidal Streams in the U.S. Georgia Tech will utilize an advanced ocean circulation numerical model to predict tidal currents and compute both available and effective power densities for distribution to potential project developers and the general public.

Re Vision Consulting, LLC (Sacramento, Calif.) Best Siting Practices for Marine and Hydrokinetic Technologies With Respect to Environmental and Navigational Impacts. Re Vision will establish baseline, technology-based scenarios to identify potential concerns in the siting of marine and hydrokinetic energy devices, and to provide information and data to industry and regulators.

Pacific Energy Ventures, LLC (Portland, Ore.) Siting Protocol for Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy Projects. Pacific Energy Ventures will bring together a multi-disciplinary team in an iterative and collaborative process to develop, review, and recommend how emerging hydrokinetic technologies can be sited to minimize environmental impacts.

PCCI, Inc. (Alexandria, Va.) Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Technologies: Identification of Potential Navigational Impacts and Mitigation Measures. PCCI will provide improved guidance to help developers understand how marine and hydrokinetic devices can be sited to minimize navigational impact and to expedite the U.S. Coast Guard review process.

Science Applications International Corporation (SAI) – San Diego, Calif., International Standards Development for Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy. SAIC will assist in the development of relevant marine and hydrokinetic energy industry standards, provide consistency and predictability to their development, and increase U.S. industry’s collaboration and representation in the development process.

Third Topic Area, National Marine Energy Centers (Award size: up to $1.25 million for up to five years)

Oregon State University, and University of Washington – Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center. OSU and UW will partner to develop the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center with a full range of capabilities to support wave and tidal energy development for the U.S. Center activities are structured to: facilitate device commercialization, inform regulatory and policy decisions, and close key gaps in understanding.

University of Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii) National Renewable Marine Energy Center in Hawaii will facilitate the development and implementation of commercial wave energy systems and to assist the private sector in moving ocean thermal energy conversion systems beyond proof-of-concept to pre-commercialization, long-term testing.

Types of Hydro Turbines

There are two main types of hydro turbines: impulse and reaction. The type of hydropower turbine selected for a project is based on the height of standing water— the flow, or volume of water, at the site. Other deciding factors include how deep the turbine must be set, efficiency, and cost.

Impulse Turbines

The impulse turbine generally uses the velocity of the water to move the runner and discharges to atmospheric pressure. The water stream hits each bucket on the runner. There is no suction on the down side of the turbine, and the water flows out the bottom of the turbine housing after hitting the runner. An impulse turbine, for example Pelton or Cross-Flow is generally suitable for high head, low flow applications.

Reaction Turbines

A reaction turbine develops power from the combined action of pressure and moving water. The runner is placed directly in the water stream flowing over the blades rather than striking each individually. Reaction turbines include the Propeller, Bulb, Straflo, Tube, Kaplan, Francis or Kenetic are generally used for sites with lower head and higher flows than compared with the impulse turbines.

Types of Hydropower Plants

There are three types of hydropower facilities: impoundment, diversion, and pumped storage. Some hydropower plants use dams and some do not.

Many dams were built for other purposes and hydropower was added later. In the United States, there are about 80,000 dams of which only 2,400 produce power. The other dams are for recreation, stock/farm ponds, flood control, water supply, and irrigation. Hydropower plants range in size from small systems for a home or village to large projects producing electricity for utilities.

Impoundment

The most common type of hydroelectric power plant (above image) is an impoundment facility. An impoundment facility, typically a large hydropower system, uses a dam to store river water in a reservoir. Water released from the reservoir flows through a turbine, spinning it, which in turn activates a generator to produce electricity. The water may be released either to meet changing electricity needs or to maintain a constant reservoir level.

The Future of Ocean and Wave Energy

Wave energy devices extract energy directly from surface waves or from pressure fluctuations below the surface. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in the ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity. (A terawatt is equal to a trillion watts.)

Wave energy rich areas of the world include the western coasts of Scotland, northern Canada, southern Africa, Japan, Australia, and the northeastern and northwestern coasts of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline. The West Coast of the United States is more than a 1,000 miles long.
In general, careful site selection is the key to keeping the environmental impacts of wave energy systems to a minimum. Wave energy system planners can choose sites that preserve scenic shorefronts. They also can avoid areas where wave energy systems can significantly alter flow patterns of sediment on the ocean floor.

Economically, wave energy systems are just beginning to compete with traditional power sources. However, the costs to produce wave energy are quickly coming down. Some European experts predict that wave power devices will soon find lucrative niche markets. Once built, they have low operation and maintenance costs because the fuel they use — seawater — is FREE.

The current cost of wave energy vs. traditional electric power sources?

It has been estimated that improving technology and economies of scale will allow wave generators to produce electricity at a cost comparable to wind-driven turbines, which produce energy at about 4.5 cents kWh.

For now, the best wave generator technology in place in the United Kingdom is producing energy at an average projected/assessed cost of 6.7 cents kWh.

In comparison, electricity generated by large scale coal burning power plants costs about 2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Combined-cycle natural gas turbine technology, the primary source of new electric power capacity is about 3 cents per kilowatt hour or higher. It is not unusual to average costs of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and up for municipal utilities districts.

Currently, the United States, Brazil, Europe, Scotland, Germany, Portugal, Canada and France all lead the developing wave energy industry that will return 30% growth or more for the next five years.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThree miles off the craggy, wave-crashing coastline near Humboldt Bay, California, deep ocean swells roll through a swath of ocean that is soon to be the site of the nation’s first major wave energy project.

Like other renewable energy technology, ocean energy generated by waves, tidal currents or steady offshore winds has been considered full of promise yet perennially years from reaching full-blown commercial development.

That’s still true – commercial-scale deployment is at least five years away. Yet there are fresh signs that ocean power is surging. And if all goes well, WaveConnect, the wave energy pilot project at Humboldt that’s being developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), could by next year deploy five commercial-scale wave systems, each putting 1 megawatt of ocean-generated power onto the electric grid.

At less than 1% of the capacity of a big coal-fired power plant, that might seem a pittance. Yet studies show that wave energy could one day produce enough power to supply 17% of California’s electric needs – and make a sizable dent in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nationwide, ocean power’s potential is far larger. Waves alone could produce 10,000 megawatts of power, about 6.5% of US electricity demand – or as much as produced by conventional hydropower dam generators, estimated the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the public utility industry based in Palo Alto, California, in 2007. All together, offshore wind, tidal power, and waves could meet 10% of US electricity needs.

That potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Obama administration. After years of jurisdictional bickering, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Department of Interior — MMS last month moved to clarify permitting requirements that have long slowed ocean energy development.

While the Bush administration requested zero for its Department of Energy ocean power R&D budget a few years ago, the agency has reversed course and now plans to quadruple funding to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

If the WaveConnect pilot project succeeds, experts say that the Humboldt site, along with another off Mendocino County to the south, could expand to 80 megawatts. Success there could fling open the door to commercial-scale projects not only along California’s surf-pounding coast but prompt a bicoastal US wave power development surge.

“Even without much support, ocean power has proliferated in the last two to three years, with many more companies trying new and different technology,” says George Hagerman, an ocean energy researcher at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, Va.

Wave and tidal current energy are today at about the same stage as land-based wind power was in the early 1980s, he says, but with “a lot more development just waiting to see that first commercial success.”

More than 50 companies worldwide and 17 US-based companies are now developing ocean power prototypes, an EPRI survey shows. As of last fall, FERC tallied 34 tidal power and nine wave power permits with another 20 tidal current, four wave energy, and three ocean current applications pending.

Some of those permits are held by Christopher Sauer’s company, Ocean Renewable Power of Portland, Maine, which expects to deploy an underwater tidal current generator in a channel near Eastport, Maine, later this year.

After testing a prototype since December 2007, Mr. Sauer is now ready to deploy a far more powerful series of turbines using “foils” – not unlike an airplane propeller – to efficiently convert water current that’s around six knots into as much as 100,000 watts of power. To do that requires a series of “stacked” turbines totaling 52 feet wide by 14 feet high.

“This is definitely not a tinkertoy,” Sauer says.

Tidal energy, as demonstrated by Verdant Power’s efforts in New York City’s East River, could one day provide the US with 3,000 megawatts of power, EPRI says. Yet a limited number of appropriate sites with fast current means that wave and offshore wind energy have the largest potential.

“Wave energy technology is still very much in emerging pre-commercial stage,” says Roger Bedard, ocean technology leader for EPRI. “But what we’re seeing with the PG&E WaveConnect is an important project that could have a significant impact.”

Funding is a problem. As with most renewable power, financing for ocean power has been becalmed by the nation’s financial crisis. Some 17 Wall Street finance companies that had funded renewables, including ocean power, are now down to about seven, says John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Even so, entrepreneurs like Sauer aren’t close to giving up – and even believe that the funding tide may have turned. Private equity and the state of Maine provided funding at a critical time, he says.

“It’s really been a struggle, particularly since mid-September when Bear Sterns went down,” Sauers says. “We worked without pay for a while, but we made it through.”

Venture capitalists are not involved in ocean energy right now, he admits. Yet he does get his phone calls returned. “They’re not writing checks yet, but they’re talking more,” he says.

When they do start writing checks, it may be to propel devices such as the Pelamis and the PowerBuoy. Makers of those devices, and more than a dozen wave energy companies worldwide, will soon vie to be among five businesses selected to send their machines to the ocean off Humboldt.

One of the major challenges they will face is “survivability” in the face of towering winter waves. By that measure, one of the more successful generators – success defined by time at sea without breaking or sinking – is the Pelamis, a series of red metal cylinders connected by hinges and hydraulic pistons.

Looking a bit like a red bullet train, several of the units were until recently floating on the undulating sea surface off the coast of Portugal. The Pelamis coverts waves to electric power as hydraulic cylinders connecting its floating cylinders expand and contract thereby squeezing fluid through a power unit that extracts energy.

An evaluation of a Pelamis unit installed off the coast of Massachusetts a few years ago found that for $273 million, a wave farm with 206 of the devices could produce energy at a cost of about 13.4 cents a kilowatt hours. Such costs would drop sharply and be competitive with onshore wind energy if the industry settled on a technology and mass-produced it.

“Even with worst-case assumptions, the economics of wave energy compares favorably to wind energy,” the 2004 study conducted for EPRI found.

One US-based contestant for a WaveConnect slot is likely to be the PowerBuoy, a 135-five-foot-long steel cylinder made by Ocean Power Technology (OPT) of Pennington, N.J. Inside the cylinder that is suspended by a float, a pistonlike structure moves up and down with the bobbing of the waves. That drives a generator, sending up to 150 kilowatts of power to a cable on the ocean bottom. A dozen or more buoys tethered to the ocean floor make a power plant.

“Survivability” is a critical concern for all ocean power systems. Constant battering by waves has sunk more than one wave generator. But one of PowerBuoy’s main claims is that its 56-foot-long prototype unit operated continuously for two years before being pulled for inspection.

“The ability to ride out passing huge waves is a very important part of our system,” says Charles Dunleavy, OPT’s chief financial officer. “Right now, the industry is basically just trying to assimilate and deal with many different technologies as well as the cost of putting structures out there in the ocean.”

Beside survivability and economics, though, the critical question of impact on the environment remains.

“We think they’re benign,” EPRI’s Mr. Bedard says. “But we’ve never put large arrays of energy devices in the ocean before. If you make these things big enough, they would have a negative impact.”

Mr. Dunleavy is optimistic that OPT’s technology is “not efficient enough to rob coastlines and their ecosystems of needed waves. A formal evaluation found the company’s PowerBuoy installed near a Navy base in Hawaii as having “no significant impact,” he says.

Gauging the environmental impacts of various systems will be studied closely in the WaveConnect program, along with observations gathered from fishermen, surfers, and coastal-impact groups, says David Eisenhauer, a PG&E spokesman, says.

“There’s definitely good potential for this project,” says Mr. Eisenhauer. “It’s our responsibility to explore any renewable energy we can bring to our customers – but only if it can be done in an economically and environmentally feasible way.”

Offshore wind is getting a boost, too. On April 22, the Obama administration laid out new rules on offshore leases, royalty payments, and easement that are designed to pave the way for investors.

Offshore wind energy is a commercially ready technology, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy already deployed off European shores. Studies have shown that the US has about 500,000 megawatts of potential offshore energy. Across 10 to 11 East Coast states, offshore wind could supply as much as 20% of the states’ electricity demand without the need for long transmission lines, Hagerman notes.

But development has lagged, thanks to political opposition and regulatory hurdles. So the US remains about five years behind Europe on wave and tidal and farther than that on offshore wind, Bedard says. “They have 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind and we have zero.”

While more costly than land-based wind power, new offshore wind projects have been shown in some studies to have a lower cost of energy than coal projects of the same size and closer to the cost of energy of a new natural-gas fired power plant, Hagerman says.

Offshore wind is the only ocean energy technology ready to be deployed in gigawatt quantities in the next decade, Bedard says. Beyond that, wave and tidal will play important roles.

For offshore wind developers, that means federal efforts to clarify the rules on developing ocean wind energy can’t come soon enough. Burt Hamner plans a hybrid approach to ocean energy – using platforms that produce 10% wave energy and 90% wind energy.

But Mr. Hamner’s dual-power system has run into a bureaucratic tangle – with the Minerals Management Service and FERC both wanting his company to meet widely divergent permit requirements, he says.

“What the public has to understand is that we are faced with a flat-out energy crisis,” Hamner says. “We have to change the regulatory system to develop a structure that’s realistic for what we’re doing.”

To be feasible, costs for offshore wind systems must come down. But even so, a big offshore wind farm with hundreds of turbines might cost $4 billion – while a larger coal-fired power plant is just as much and a nuclear power even more, he contends.

“There is no cheap solution,” Hamner says. “But if we’re successful, the prize could be a big one.”

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Guardian.co.uk, December 3, 2008

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoWay back in Napoleonic Paris, a Monsieur Girard had a novel idea about energy: power from the sea. In 1799, Girard obtained a patent for a machine he and his son had designed to mechanically capture the energy in ocean waves. Wave power could be used, they figured, to run pumps and sawmills and the like.

These inventors would disappear into the mists of history, and fossil fuel would instead provide an industrializing world with almost all its energy for the next two centuries. But Girard et fils were onto something, say a growing number of modern-day inventors, engineers, and researchers. The heave of waves and the tug of tides, they say, are about to begin playing a significant role in the world’s energy future.

In the first commercial scale signal of that, last October a trio of articulated, cylinder-shaped electricity generators began undulating in the waves off the coast of Portugal. The devices look like mechanical sea snakes. (In fact, their manufacturer, Scotland’s Pelamis Wave Power Ltd., takes its name from a mythical ancient Greek sea serpent.) Each Pelamis device consists of four independently hinged segments. The segments capture wave energy like the handle of an old fashioned water pump captures the energy of a human arm: as waves rock the segments to and fro, they pump a hydraulic fluid (biodegradable, in case of spills) powerfully through a turbine, spinning it to generate up to 750,000 watts of electricity per unit. Assuming the devices continue to perform well, Portuguese utility Energis expects to soon purchase another 28 more of the generators.

The completed “wave farm” would feed its collective power onto a single high voltage sea-floor cable, adding to the Portuguese grid about 21 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power about 15,000 homes.

In a world where a single major coal or nuclear plant can produce more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity, it’s a modest start. But from New York’s East River to the offshore waters of South Korea, a host of other projects are in earlier stages of testing. Some, like Pelamis, rely on the motion of waves. Others operate like underwater windmills, tapping the power of the tides.

Ocean-powered technologies are in their infancy, still technologically well behind such energy alternatives as wind and solar. Necessarily designed to operate in an inherently harsh environment, the technologies remain largely unproven and — unless subsidized by governments — expensive. (Portugal is heavily subsidizing the Pelamis project, with an eye to becoming a major European exporter of clean green power in the future.) Little is known about the effects that large wave or tide farms might have on marine ecosystems in general.

Despite the uncertainties, however, proponents say the potential advantages are too striking to ignore. Eight hundred times denser than air, moving water packs a huge energy wallop. Like solar and wind, power from moving seas is free and clean. But sea power is more predictable than either wind or solar. Waves begin forming thousands of miles from coastlines and days in advance; tides rise and fall as dependably as the cycles of the moon. That predictability makes it easier to match supply with demand.

Roger Bedard, who leads ocean energy research at the U.S. utility-funded Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, says there’s plenty of reason for optimism about the future of what he calls “hydrodynamic” power. Within a decade, he says, the U.S. could realistically meet as much as 10% of its electricity needs from hydrodynamic power. As a point of reference, that’s about half of the electricity the U.S. produces with nuclear power today. Although he acknowledges that initial sea-powered generation projects are going to be expensive, Bedard believes that as experience grows and economies of manufacturing scale kick in, hydrodynamic power will follow the same path toward falling costs and improving technologies as other alternatives.

“Look at wind,” he says. “A kilowatt hour from wind cost fifty cents in the 1980s. Now it’s about seven cents.” (That’s about the same as producing electricity with natural gas, and only about three cents more than coal, the cheapest — and dirtiest — U.S. energy choice. Any future tax on carbon emissions could narrow that gap even more, as would additional clean-power subsidies.)

For some nations, wave and tide power could pack an even bigger punch. Estimates suggest, for instance, that the choppy seas surrounding the United Kingdom could deliver as much as 25% of its electricity. British alternative energy analyst Thomas W. Thorpe believes that on a worldwide basis, waves alone could produce as much as 2,000 terawatt hours of electricity, as much as all the planet’s major hydroelectric plants generate today.

Although none are as far along as Pelamis, most competing wave-power technologies rely not on the undulations of mechanical serpents, but instead on the power captured by the vertical bobbing of large buoys in sea swells. Ocean Power Technologies (OPT), based in New Jersey, drives the generators in its PowerBuoy with a straightforward mechanical piston. A stationary section of the mostly submerged, 90-foot buoy is anchored to the ocean floor; a second section simply moves up and down with the movement of sea swells, driving pistons that in turn drive an electrical generator. The Archimedes Wave Swing, a buoy-based system developed by Scotland’s AWS Ocean Energy, harnesses the up-and-down energy of waves by pumping air to spin its turbines. Vancouver-based Finavera Renewables uses seawater as its turbine-driving hydraulic fluid.

Although Pelamis beat all of these companies out of the commercialization gate, OPT appears to be right behind, with plans to install North America’s first commercial-scale wave power array of buoys off the coast of Oregon as early as next year. That array — occupying one square-mile of ocean and, like other wave power installations, located far from shipping lanes — would initially produce 2 megawatts of power. OPT also announced last September an agreement to install a 1.4-megawatt array off the coast of Spain. An Australian subsidiary is in a joint venture to develop a 10-megawatt wave farm off the coast of Australia.

Meanwhile, Pelamis Wave Power plans to install more of its mechanical serpents — three megawatts of generating capacity off the coast of northwest Scotland, and another five-megawatt array off Britain’s Cornwall coast.

The Cornwall installation will be one of four wave power facilities plugged into a single, 20-megawatt underwater transformer at a site called “Wave Hub.” Essentially a giant, underwater version of a socket that each developer can plug into, Wave Hub — which will be connected by undersea cable to the land-based grid — was designed as a tryout site for competing technologies. OPT has won another of the four Wave Hub berths for its buoy-based system.

Other innovators are trying to harness the power of ocean or estuarine tides. Notably, in 2007, Virginia’s Verdant Power installed on the floor of New York’s East River six turbines that look, and function, much like stubby, submerged windmills, their blades — which are 16 feet in diameter — turning at a peak rate of 32 revolutions per minute. The East River is actually a salty and powerful tidal straight that connects Long Island Sound with the Atlantic Ocean. Although the “underwater windmills” began pumping out electricity immediately, the trial has been a halting one. The strong tides quickly broke apart the turbines’ first- (fiberglass and steel) and second- (aluminum and magnesium) generation blades, dislodging mounting bolts for good measure.

Undeterred, in September Verdant Power began testing new blades made of a stronger aluminum alloy. If it can overcome the equipment-durability problems, the company hopes to install as many as 300 of its turbines in the East River, enough to power 10,000 New York homes.

A scattering of similar prototype “underwater windmill” projects have been installed at tidal sites in Norway, Northern Ireland, and South Korea. (In addition, interest in moving into freshwater sites is growing. Verdant itself hopes to install its turbines on the St. Lawrence River. At least one other company, Free Flow Power of Massachusetts, has obtained Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permits to conduct preliminary studies on an array of sites on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis.)

The environmental benefits of hydrodynamic power seem obvious: no carbon dioxide or any other emissions associated with fossil-fuel-based generation. No oil spills or nuclear waste. And for those who object to wind farms for aesthetic reasons, low-profile wave farms are invisible from distant land; tidal windmill-style turbines operate submerged until raised for maintenance.

There are, however, environmental risks associated with these technologies.

New York state regulators required Verdant Power to monitor effects of their its turbines on fish and wildlife. So far, sensors show that fish and water birds are having no trouble avoiding the blades, which rotate at a relatively leisurely 32 maximum revolutions per minute. In fact the company’s sensors have shown that fish tend to seek shelter behind rocks around the channel’s banks and stay out of the central channel entirely when tides are strongest.

But a host of other questions about environment effects remain unanswered. Will high-voltage cables stretching across the sea from wave farms somehow harm marine ecosystems? Will arrays of hundreds of buoys or mechanical serpents interfere with ocean fish movement or whale migrations? What effect will soaking up large amounts of wave energy have on shoreline organisms and ecosystems?

“Environmental effects are the greatest questions right now,” EPRI’s Bedard says, “because there just aren’t any big hydrodynamic projects in the world.”

Projects will probably have to be limited in size and number to protect the environment, he says – that’s a big part of the reason he limits his “realistic” U.S. estimate to 10% of current generation capacity. But the only way to get definitive answers on environmental impact might be to run the actual experiment — that is, to begin building the water-powered facilities, and then monitor the environment for effects.

Bedard suggests that the way to get definitive answers will be to build carefully on a model like Verdant’s: “Start very small. Monitor carefully. Build it a little bigger and monitor some more. I’d like to see it developed in an adaptive way.”

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KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, September 23, 2008

For years, technological visionaries have painted a seductive vision of using ocean tides and waves to produce power. They foresee large installations off the coast and in tidal estuaries that could provide as much as 10% of the nation’s electricity.

But the technical difficulties of making such systems work are proving formidable. Last year, a wave-power machine sank off the Oregon coast. Blades have broken off experimental tidal turbines in New York’s turbulent East River. Problems with offshore moorings have slowed the deployment of snakelike generating machines in the ocean off Portugal.

Years of such problems have discouraged ocean-power visionaries, but have not stopped them. Lately, spurred by rising costs for electricity and for the coal and other fossil fuels used to produce it, they are making a new push to overcome the barriers blocking this type of renewable energy.

The Scottish company Pelamis Wave Power plans to turn on a small wave-energy farm — the world’s first — off the coast of Portugal by year’s end, after fixing the broken moorings. Finavera Renewables, a Canadian company that recently salvaged its sunken, $2.5 million Oregon wave-power machine, has signed an agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric to produce power off the California coast by 2012. And in the East River, just off Manhattan, two newly placed turbines with tougher blades and rotors are feeding electricity into a grocery store and parking garage on Roosevelt Island.

“It’s frustrating sometimes as an ocean energy company to say, yeah, your device sank,” said Jason Bak, chief executive of Finavera. “But that is technology development.”

Roughly 100 small companies around the world are working on converting the sea’s power to electricity. Many operate in Europe, where governments have pumped money into the industry. Companies and governments alike are betting that over time, costs will come down. Right now, however, little electricity is being generated from the ocean except at scattered test sites around the world.

The East River — despite its name, it is really a tidal strait with powerful currents — is the site of the most advanced test project in the United States.

Verdant Power, the company that operates it, was forced to spend several years and millions of dollars mired in a slow permit process, even before its turbine blades broke off in the currents. The company believes it is getting a handle on the problems. Verdant is trying to perfect its turbines and then install 30 of them in the East River, starting no later than spring 2010, and to develop other sites in Canada and on the West Coast.

Plenty of other start-ups also plan commercial ocean-power plants, at offshore sites such as Portugal, Oregon and Wales, but none have been built.

Ocean-power technology splits into two broad categories, tidal and wave power. Wave power, of the sort Finavera is pursuing, entails using the up and down motions of the waves to generate electricity. Tidal power — Verdant’s province — involves harnessing the action of the tides with underwater turbines, which twirl like wind machines.

(Decades-old tidal technologies in France and Canada use barrage systems that trap water at high tide; they are far larger and more obtrusive than the new, below-waterline technologies.)

A third type of power, called ocean thermal, aims to exploit temperature differences between the surface and deep ocean, mainly applicable in the tropics.

Ocean power has more potential than wind power because water is about 850 times denser than air, and therefore packs far more energy. The ocean’s waves, tides and currents are also more predictable than the wind.

The drawback is that seawater can batter and corrode machinery, and costly undersea cables may be needed to bring the power to shore. And the machines are expensive to build: Pelamis has had to raise the equivalent of $77 million.

Many solar start-ups, by contrast, need as little as $5 million to build a prototype, said Martin Lagod, co-founder of Firelake Capital Management, a Silicon Valley investment firm. Mr. Lagod looked at investing in ocean power a few years ago and decided against it because of the long time horizons and large capital requirements.

General Electric, which builds wind turbines, solar panels and other equipment for virtually every other type of energy, has stayed clear of ocean energy. “At this time, these sources do not appear to be competitive with more scalable alternatives like wind and solar,” said Daniel Nelson, a G.E. spokesman, in an e-mail message. (An arm of G.E. has made a small investment in Pelamis.)

Worldwide, venture capital going to ocean-power companies has risen from $8 million in 2005 to $82 million last year, according to the Cleantech Group, a research firm. However, that is a tiny fraction of the money pouring into solar energy and biofuels.

This month the Energy Department doled out its first major Congressionally-funded grants since 1992 to ocean-power companies, including Verdant and Lockheed Martin, which is studying ocean thermal approaches.

Assuming that commercial ocean-power farms are eventually built, the power is likely to be costly, especially in the near term. A recent study commissioned by the San Francisco Public Utility Commission put the cost of harnessing the Golden Gate’s tides at 85 cents to $1.40 a kilowatt-hour, or roughly 10 times the cost of wind power. San Francisco plans to forge ahead regardless.

Other hurdles abound, including sticky environmental and aesthetic questions. In Oregon, crabbers worry that the wave farm proposed by Ocean Power Technologies, a New Jersey company, would interfere with their prime crabbing grounds.

“It’s right where every year we deploy 115,000 to 120,000 crab pots off the coast for an eight-month period to harvest crab,” said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. The commission wants to support renewable energy, but “we’re kind of struggling with that,” Mr. Furman said

George Taylor, chief executive of Ocean Power Technologies, said he did not expect “there will be a problem with the crabs.”

In Washington State, where a utility is studying the possibility of installing tidal power at the Admiralty Inlet entrance to Puget Sound, scuba divers are worried, even as they recognize the need for clean power.

Said Mike Racine, president of the Washington Scuba Alliance: “We don’t want to be dodging turbine blades, right?”

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LARRY GREENEMEIER, Scientific American, March 10, 2008

Thirty feet (nine meters) below Manhattan’s East River, next to Roosevelt Island, six turbines—each 16 feet (five meters) in diameter, churning at a peak rate of 32 revolutions per minute—stand at attention on the riverbed. The turbines—which belong to New York City-based Verdant Power, Inc., —are built on a swiveling platform that keeps their nose cones facing the tide, whether it’s coming in or going out. Resembling an underwater wind farm, these kinetic hydropower systems use gearboxes and speed increasers—which convert the slower rotating rotor into a faster rotating generator—to transform each turbine’s mechanical power into electricity.

Verdant’s turbines require tides that move at least six feet per second in order to generate enough energy for them to be cost-effective, and the East River is more than obliging. “The East River is a good tidal channel that links the Long Island Sound to the ocean,” says Trey Taylor, the company’s president and head of market development. “Plus, New York is an expensive place to buy power, so it would be easier here to prove that this could help.”

A few dozen feet away from the closest turbine, an onshore control room gets a feed of the energy created by the entire cluster. To prove that this energy could be usable for local businesses, Verdant last year sent a test transmission of electricity to a supermarket and parking garage on Roosevelt Island that were willing to participate in the Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project.

The Earth’s oceans, pushed by wind and tugged by the moon and sun, ebb and flow over more than 70 percent of the planet, but only recently has technology emerged to finally harness some of that kinetic energy as usable power for us landlubbers. Underwater turbines, submerged “wind” farms and wave-riding electrical generators are being tested around the world, with new advances in technology promising relief for overworked energy utilities. “We consider wave energy to be more predictable than wind,” says Phil Metcalf, CEO of Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Power, Ltd., a company taking a different approach than Verdant in developing ocean power–utilizing devices. “You look at the ocean 1,000 miles out, you’ll get a good idea of what to expect over the next 24 to 48 hours. We think it’s actually going to be easier to dispatch to the grid.”

Pelamis’s devices are big red tubes, each 426.5 feet (130 meters) long, 13 feet (about four meters) in diameter, weighing around 750 tons (635 metric tons), and with a life expectancy of up to 20 years. They flex as the ocean swells around them. The wave-induced motion of the tubes’ joints is resisted by hydraulic rams, which pump high-pressure fluid through hydraulic motors that drive electrical generators to produce electricity. Power from all the joints is fed down a single umbilical cable to a junction on the seabed. Three of the tubes, which work best at a depth of 165 to 230 feet (50 to 70 meters) and roughly 3.7 miles (six kilometers) from the shore, can produce up to 2.25 megawatts.

Pelamis—which until September had been called Ocean Power Delivery—has taken its prototype through about 2,000 hours of testing at the European Marine Energy Center’s wave test site near Scotland’s Orkney Islands. Three additional machines will form the initial phase of Agucadoura, the world’s first commercial wave farm, in April off the coast of Portugal, a project developed by Portuguese utility Enersis, a subsidiary of Babcock and Brown. Pelamis is negotiating with other utilities and governments as well, with future deployments depending on how well the Portuguese project is able to turn waves of water into currents of electricity.

The waters around Scotland are also host to tidal turbine testing by several organizations, including Lunar Energy, Ltd., in East Yorkshire, England, which in March 2007 announced a deal with Germany-based power utility E.On UK, to develop a tidal stream power project of up to eight megawatts off Scotland’s west coast.

Meanwhile, Florida researchers may soon be testing both wave- and tide-powered energy technologies that could take advantage of the Gulf Stream, which flows north-northeastward about 15 miles (25 kilometers) off Florida’s southern and eastern shores at more than eight billion gallons (30 billion liters) per second. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Center of Excellence in Ocean Energy Technology in Dania Beach, Fla., are using a $5-million state research grant awarded in late 2006 to develop air-conditioning technologies that tap into the powerful Gulf Stream and large water temperature differences off Florida’s shores. The researchers envision thousands of underwater turbines producing as much energy as 10 nuclear power plants and supplying one third of the state’s electricity. The university is working with academic, government and industry partners on the project, including the University of Central Florida in Orlando, the U.S. departments of Navy and Energy, Lockheed Martin, Oceaneering International, Inc., in Hanover, Md., and Verdant Power, which has provided them with a 10-foot (three-meter) diameter rotor system that they used during 2002 East River tests.

Verdant first began testing its three-blade, horizontal-axis turbines from the surface of the East River in 2002. There have been some hitches: Some of the turbines’ fiberglass blades broke under the tidal force. (The fiberglass blades will be replaced by the end of April with ones made of a magnesium alloy.)

Still, the site has produced nearly 50,000 kilowatt-hours of energy from December 2006 to May 2007. Verdant’s East River testing spot has the potential to support as many as 300 turbines and nearly 10 megawatts of installed capacity. Verdant has been working for the past several years to tweak its tidal turbines so that by the end of 2010 they can deliver up to 1.5 megawatts to the city’s electrical grid (800 households use about one megawatt).

The East River is not Verdant’s only site. The company is also testing its technology in Canada’s St. Lawrence River near Cornwall, Ontario, with the hope of creating a turbine infrastructure capable of producing an output of 15 megawatts. The company is also looking at sites in China and India.

It is unclear just how much it will cost to tap into energy from large bodies of water, since there is no tidal or wave power industry. Verdant’s Taylor says his company is at least two years away from being able to quote costs to potential customers. That said, a rough cost estimate for Verdant’s marine renewable energy technology is up to $3,600 per kilowatt hour—a higher price tag than wind power, fossil fuels or hydroelectric dams today, he says. However, he also points out that Verdant will be able to lower its costs over time through the mass production of its technology and the reduction of inefficiencies in the licensing and implementation processes.

The next step for Verdant in the U.S. is to apply for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license that would allow the company to continue its pilot project attempting to prove tidal turbines can be a reliable source of energy for the city’s grid. It took four years to secure the necessary permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That bureaucratic delay speaks to the difficulty of navigating the regulatory processes required to get such turbines into the water. Verdant’s Taylor says his company has spent about $9 million getting its East River project to its current state, with one third of that cost going toward studies gauging how the turbines might affect vessel navigation, aquatic life and fish migration. Although the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) chipped in $3 million toward the East River project, Taylor says the time and money spent to secure changing, and sometimes redundant, regulatory approval wastes precious time that could be used testing new technologies. “That’s got to change,” he adds. “The world is burning up, and we’re fiddling.”

For its part, FERC doesn’t see itself as fiddling as much as trying to find the right tune when it comes new hydroelectric technologies. Chairman Joseph Kelliher last year noted, “these technologies present some challenges relating to reliability, environmental and safety implications, and commercial viability.”

More projects:

In August 2007 nonprofit research and development firm SRI International and Japanese wave-powered generator maker Hyper Drive Corporation, Ltd., tested a prototype ocean wave–powered generator mounted on a buoy in Florida’s Tampa Bay. As the unit bobbed up and down, absorbing energy from the waves, an accordionlike device made of artificial muscle expanded and contracted, creating mechanical energy that was converted into electricity. In the fall SRI will test its more powerful and durable next-generation prototype wave-powered generator.

Finavera Renewables, a Vancouver, British Columbia, renewable-energy technology company, recently signed a contract to deliver power for San Francisco–based Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) by 2012. The deal is North America’s first commercial power purchase agreement for a two-megawatt wave-energy project. The PG&E project will be built about 2.5 miles (four kilometers) off the coast of Humboldt County, Calif., for electricity delivery to PG&E’s customers throughout the company’s northern and central California service territory. Finavera’s technology is the AquaBuOY, a floating structure that converts the up-and-down motion of waves into electricity.

The company was also granted a five-year operating license for its one-megawatt Makah Bay Offshore Wave Pilot Project in Washington State by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commissionthe first-ever FERC license issued for a wave, tidal or current energy project in the U.S. Finavera is also looking to develop wave-power projects off the coast of Oregon and South Africa, and is determining the feasibility of a five-megawatt wave energy project off the coast of Ucluelet, British Columbia.

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BRIAN VANITY, insurgent49, September 1, 2006

As any mariner knows, the oceans are packed full of energy. The energy contained in the seas can destroy ships but, if harnessed correctly, can also be used to generate electricity.

There are several types of energy, which can be extracted from the Alaska’s ocean waters, the two most promising being tidal, and wave energy. Tidal energy is derived from the cyclic rise and fall of the ocean’s tides, while wave energy is harnessed from rapid rise and fall motion of the ocean waves, which are mostly created by the wind. Ocean current energy is extracted from deep-level currents, which are caused by the thermal circulation of the earth’s weather system.

Tidal, wave, and ocean current energy are directly related to conventional hydroelectric power, in that they are all variations of the mechanical energy of moving water. Offshore wind energy is also considered ocean energy, and several offshore wind farms have been built in Europe’s North Sea. In Alaska today, the only wind energy proposals in the state involve on-shore projects.

Tidal Energy

Tidal power uses the energy of the moving ocean tides, which are driven by the gravitational pull of the moon and, to a lesser extent, the sun. The power output is variable, but predictable years in advance.

The natural ebb and flow of the tides potentially offers a huge future energy source for Alaska. In contrast to other variable renewable energy sources such as wind power, the tides are predictable.

Although tidal energy was first used in European grain mills hundreds of years ago, only a handful of tidal power plants exist in the world today, so operational experience is limited. These existing tidal plants are barrage-style, which involve the capital-intensive construction of large tidal dams across an estuary or inlet. Such large structures that block tidal flows usually have significant environmental impacts, similar to those of large dams on rivers.

The largest existing tidal power plant, a 240-megawatt MW facility on the La Rance estuary in northern France, has caused negative environmental effects since being completed in 1966. The only other large-scale tidal power plant in operation today is the 20 MW Annapolis Royal facility, located along the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Tidal current energy, also called ‘in-stream’ or ‘hydrokinetic’ tidal energy, is a different form of tidal power generation that does not require barrages or dams. In constricted ocean channels or inlets, the changing tidal water level can create strong tidal currents. Low-impact tidal current turbines, which and resemble underwater versions of wind turbines, are still under development. Research, development, and capital costs are high since the technology is mostly in the experimental stage, and have borrowed from many advanced in wind energy technology.

Several tidal energy sites are under investigation across the USA. In Washington, the city of Tacoma is investigating the tidal energy potential of the Tacoma Narrows of Puget Sound. The company Verdant Power (www.verdantpower.com) is installing six 36-kW tidal turbines in the East River of New York City, with the installation of the first two turbines to be completed by the end of this year. The six tidal turbines will power a shopping center and parking garage on Roosevelt Island, which is located between the boroughs of Queens and Manhattan.

In Europe, an array of tidal turbines is also being built in northern Norway (www.e-tidevannsenergi.com), with 540 kW of generation capacity to be installed by the end of 2006. Lunar Energy (www.lunarenergy.co.uk), HydroVenturi (www.hydroventuri.com) and Marine Current Turbines (www.marineturbines.com) are three promising tidal current turbine upstart firms from the UK, where the government is very supportive of ocean energy research.

Both wave and tidal energy devices will soon begin tests at the new European Marine Energy Centre (www.emec.org.uk), which is located in the Orkneys Islands north of Scotland. The Scottish government has pledged that the country generate 18% of its power from renewable resources by 2010, and this new marine energy testing center will be the largest such facility in the world.

Alaska has many sites with strong tides along its lengthy coast, including both large tidal ranges between high and low tides, and strong tidal currents. Parts of the Alaska coastline have some of the strongest tides in the world, including the upper Cook Inlet around Anchorage. Bristol Bay, Cordova, Seldovia, Angoon and other locations in Southeast Alaska also have strong tidal currents.

The tidal power potential of Alaska has been studied since the 1950s, although no tidal energy systems yet exist in Alaska. Over the past several decades, a number of tidal energy studies have been conducted on Cook Inlet. All of these proposed the construction of large concrete barrages (seawater dams) and the use of conventional bulb-type, “low-head” hydropower turbines. Various ‘barrage schemes’ for upper Cook Inlet were studied up until the early 1980s.

Tidal Electric of Alaska’s tidal energy feasibility study for Cordova proposed a large, concrete-enclosed ‘tidal tank’, a modification on the traditional tidal barrage, and would have still used conventional bulb-type turbines. A 1998 feasibility study conducted in Cordova estimated a $14 million initial cost for a 5000-kW system, or $2800 per kW of installed capacity. Electricity generated from the nearby 6000-kW Power Creek hydroelectric project, which was completed in 2001, was found be more economical. The Cordova tidal energy studies between 1998 and 2000 were the most recent investigations conducted, though did not lead to any development.

Hydrokinetic or in-stream current energy has only recently been under investigation for use in Alaska. The Underwater Electric Kite Corporation (www.uekus.com) has proposed an in-stream turbine installation for the town of Eagle on the Yukon River, with 270 kW to be installed. This project was first proposed in 2003, though still has not received funding. Next door in British Columbia, the provincial electric utility BC Hydro commissioned a 2002 study on tidal current energy, which concluded that the theoretical tidal current power potential of the BC coast is just over 2200 MW.

Knik Arm has the potential of being a good site for a tidal current power plant, with strong currents four times each day. Also, Elmendorf Air Force Base, on the east side of the arm, has significant electrical infrastructure and demand for power. The site also has a close proximity to the Port of Anchorage, which would serve as a base of operations for both construction and maintenance.

The currents and depth are good for the site, but there is are several other concerns that could derail a project, most importantly concern over marine mammals in Knik Arm. Upper Cook Inlet’s Beluga whale count was low this year, worrying marine biologists. A recent report by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) recommended that ‘Alaskan stakeholders’ commission a studies on sub-surface ice behavior, future trends in seabed movement, conduct a site-specific regulatory and environmental assessment, and more detailed tidal current velocity measurements. Deploying an array of tidal current turbines at the Cairn Point site in Knik Arm could produce an average of 17 MW or power from the tidal currents, enough to power over 10,000 average Anchorage homes.

The Alaska tidal energy rush has already started. One upstart tidal energy developer, the Miami-based Ocean Renewable Power Company (www.oceanrenewablepower.com), has recently applied for preliminary permits with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) at seven Alaska locations. However, they already have a bad reputation within the close-knit tidal energy industry.

If approved, a preliminary FERC permit gives a developer three years exclusive access to a site. In the case of these two firms, it is likely that they only intend to “bank” the sites and auction them off for its own private gain when tidal technology matures a few years down the line. Many in the industry are accusing the Oceana and Ocean Power Renewable companies of blocking access to prime sites by applying for permits with no intention of developing them.

Sean O’Neill, president of a new trade group called the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition recently told Bloomberg News that “Speculation, and the fact it could hold up a site for anywhere from three to six years, that certainly is not good for the industry… Any company that is banking sites should be tarred and feathered.” So in all likelihood, lawsuits over Alaskan tidal energy sites are quite possible for the near future. For more information, read the Bloomberg News article on the web: (www.renewableenergyaccess.com/rea/news/story?id=45668&src=rss).

Wave Energy

Though often co-mingled, wave power is a diffierent technology than tidal power generation. However, like tidal energy technology, wave power generation is not yet a widely employed technology, with only a few experimental sites in existence. Worldwide, wave power could yield much more energy than tidal power.

The Earth’s total tidal dissipation (friction, measured by the slowing of the planet’s rotation) is 2.5 terawatts, or about the same amount of power that would be gennerated by 2,500 typical nuclear power plants. The energy potential of waves is certainly greater, and wave power can be exploited in many more locations than tidal energy.

Large wave energy potential is estimated for Alaska’s, thousands of miles of coastline, which is more than the length of coast for the other 49 states combined. Some of the most powerful waves in the world are found in Alaska, and the southern Pacific coastal arc of Alaska (stretching from Ketchikan to Attu) has a theoretical wave energy potential estimated to be 1,250 TWh per year, or 300 times more electricity consumed by Alaskans today.

There are a wide variety of wave energy conversion technologies being tested, ranging from “bobbing corks” to giant metal “sea snakes”. The Pelamis Wave Energy Converter is being developed by an upstart wave energy technology company from Edinburgh, Scotland (www.oceanpd.com/default.html ).

Ocean Power Delivery (OPD), developer of the Pelamis device, has secured over $23.6 million of new investment from a consortium of new and existing investors. In May 2005, OPD signed an order with a Portuguese consortium to deliver the initial phase of the world’s first commercial wave-farm. OPD recently delivered the first three production machines to Portugal, where they will be installed following final assembly and commissioning by the end of 2006. The three units are planned to have a total generating capacity of 2.25 MW, or about enough to power a town of 1000 people.

Another upstart wave energy company, the AquaEnergy Group (www.aquaenergygroup.com ), is working on a four-“bouy” installation with one MW of capacity, to be located three miles offshore of Makah Bay, Washington. The wave energy upstart Ocean Power Technologies (www.oceanpowertechnologies.com ) has already deployed its PowerBouy in Hawaii and New Jersey, and is planning an installation in northern Spain. Other wave power generation projects are under development off the coasts of Italy, Spain, South Africa and Oregon.

The Future for Ocean Energy in Alaska

Knik Arm is the most promising commerical tidal energy site in the state, due to its close proximity to Anchorage. Also, offshore wind or tidal turbines mounted on abandoned oil and gas platforms in Cook Inlet, though new underwater electric transmission cables would be needed. To find more promising sites, a statewide study of Alaska’s tidal and wave energy potential is needed. In the future, utility-scale tidal power could also help the urban Alaska energy situation, which is faced with looming increases in natural gas prices. Tidal energy research and development in Alaska could establish the state as a world leader in ocean power technology.

Given the length of its coastline and the strength of the seas, both wave and tidal energy are well worth exploring for Alaska’s future energy needs

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