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Accessing Ocean Waves to Power Homes

3p Contributor | Wednesday October 24th, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Michelle Weigand Miller

Marine Hydro Kinetics (MHK) is a nascent group of technical strategies chomping at the bit to become an industry.  MHK, aimed at harvesting energy from various bodies of water, includes Current, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), Ocean Wave and Tidal.  Within each of these applications are numerous technologies and intelligence properties that are coming into their own.

As with most other renewable energy resources, there are a number of temporal and financial barriers to market milestones that need to be met before getting to the low hanging fruit this technology has to offer. Once there, the low hanging fruit is abundant and diverse with such qualities as distributive nature, scalability, base, intermitent and peak generation, permanent or portable structures, and technology specifically suited to local marine attributes.

However, most agree that the milestones are not for the faint of heart, or wallet. Even the vanguard of renewable energy, Sonoma County, specifically Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), concluded in their March 2010 Feasibility Studies for Hydrokinetic Energy in California, that while it held great promise and hope, the technology of ocean wave energy is just not there. SCWA specifically cited the regulatory environment as being overly dense with agencies and entities, the funding of marine research as comparably expensive, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) three-year permit as not enough time.

In such a restrictive environment, how is it that Oregon finds itself leading the way for Ocean Wave Energy?

It began with a group of diligent people, most on a volunteer basis, each with their own particular technique for looking with their mind’s eye to create a new economic reality for Oregon, applying rigorous analysis and conscientious decision-making standards within a supportive and proactive environment.

One would be hard pressed to think of a possible strategic alliance that was not leveraged, present and vocal during the Ocean Renewable Energy Conference VII: Accelerating Development. It was held last month at the Doubletree Conference and Expo Center in Portland, Oregon and hosted by Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET).  That said, the conference displayed a remarkable and resonant consensus for a constituency containing all the directional points of a compass. In addition to showcasing “up and coming” technologies, the process adopted by Oregon to do so is just as noteworthy.

Theoretically, there are few things as inspiring as watching the representative organizational process in action. In large, populous organizations and states, it sometimes loses a bit of its luster. In this case, understanding the evolving status of ocean wave energy technology and opportunity in Oregon, this particular process has proven to be ideal. Even opponents are trying to find ways to be supportive. The conference served as a snapshot of stakeholder engagement done well and how it has enabled the SMART positioning being made by Oregon’s ocean wave energy initiatives.

General consensus holds that last year’s conference had a funereal air about it; not containing enough good news to go the distance of the conference. This year was a very different story. Alliances, cooperation, incentives, respect, staging, technology and timing all played palpable parts in the conference and of the progress being made.

As attendees began arriving in Portland, during Oregon’s Ocean Renewable Energy Week, so did the sunshine. For technophiles and start-up junkies alike, there is nothing like an early morning Fast Pitch Competition to start the day, reminding us that creativity, science, and innovation create numerous ways to push the envelope and “get ‘er done.”  Summer Rife, on behalf of Ocean Energy, LLC, was awarded the $10,000 Fast Pitch prize in cash and services.

The conference opened with gratitude, awards to volunteers who had pioneered development efforts. Most notably, Captain Rick Williams received OWET’s inaugural Ocean Energy Leader award. Plenary speaker Julie Kiel, OWET Board President and Portland General Electric (PGE) Director of Hydro Licensing & Water Rights built momentum with her discussion of commitment to marine renewables and market creation.

Keith Tymchuk, Mayor of Reedsport (one of the finalists of coastal areas vying for the new research/test facility, Newport being the other) spoke of the Oregonian legacy of hearty constitutions, perseverance and pioneering spirit as being essential to the development of this industry. With each speaker, the logic and momentum behind Oregon’s commitment to Ocean Wave Energy became more immutable.

Further supporting their momentum to accelerated development is the record of investment being made in the various technologies and support systems. Recently, representatives of each of the technologies present had the benefit of various grants and or venture capital. It was early afternoon when Dr. Belinda Batten, Director of Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) shared the news – the announcement of the $4 million Wave Energy Grant from the Department of Energy by Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley and Congressman Schrader. This grant represents the seed money for the creation of a world class, grid-connected ocean energy test facility off the coast of Oregon. This piggybacked on the news of the Newport launch of The Sentinel, a portable and non-grid tied testing buoy just a week prior.

Regulatory agencies showcased “acceleration” friendly changes to their processes, alliances, partnerships and “understandings” with each other. While the engineers and developers are still looking for greater latitude with regulation and permitting, the changes have definitely begun and it’s to everyone’s benefit.

Along Oregon’s journey to develop ocean wave technology, strategic and genuine alliances grew between its ocean wave contingency and the European Marine Energy Centre, Ltd. (EMEC) and also with Aquatera, Ltd. EMEC, located in Orkney, an archipelago off of northern Scotland, is the world’s first and only accredited, grid tied testing facility specifically designed and built for ocean wave and tidal technologies. Aquatera, Ltd., is a global environmental consultancy focusing on environmental assessment and survey, public and stakeholder communications, strategic planning and integrated support of renewable energy system lifecycles. Gareth Davies, PhD., Aquatera’s Managing Director, discussed the balance of going slow to go fast when accelerating development.

Had there been a password for the conference, it would have been LCOE (Levelized Cost of Energy). This group of engineers, developers, academicians, regulators, advocates, lawyers, fishermen, and environmental stewards understand very clearly that all is for naught if ocean wave technologies are not able to meet LCOE. Given the stakes of the upcoming election, there will be much more discussion of the factors of LCOE.

The team from NNMREC topped the conference experience by hosting a field trip to Corvalis and Newport to experience the front line of ocean wave energy advancement and the broad alignment supporting it.

The next 2 installments of this article will look at how Oregon’s process is 1) advancing technology & development and 2) driving regulatory reform & utilizing advocacy in the realm of ocean wave energy conversion.

image: native01 via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)


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