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Ocean Wave Energy Technology and Oregon's Process

Words by 3p Contributor
Data & Technology

By Michelle Weigand Miller

If I were to look at the earth from a fair distance while contemplating how to harvest energy from this jewel, oceans and running water would strike me as part of nature’s grand plan. Indeed, when I need to recharge, I head for the coast to soak up as much vitality from the waves, currents and the tides as I can manage.

Oregon and Washington are doing the same, probably less romantically, but far more pragmatically. Perhaps it is because the manner in which Oregon has embarked on this endeavor is so transparent, or that watching the birth of any entity is interesting, or because OWET (Ocean Wave Energy Trust) has taken special cares to include all stakeholders. For these reasons and more, I find Oregon’s commitment to and process for supporting the commercialization of wave energy to be scalable, fascinating and productive.

Oregon is leveraging its natural, economic and human capital through strategic alliances. In 2005, Oregon’s Governor, Ted Kulongoski, and the legislature brought together more than 50 leaders from the private sector, the state's four research universities and government to create a new way to do business.

From this voluntary collaboration sprang Oregon, InC. (Oregon Innova-tion Council)*, another voluntary council with a mission to help innovators create high-paying jobs, entrepreneurs create companies and university researchers bring federal and private research dollars to the state in a partnership between Oregon’s private sector leaders and its research universities.

Oregon InC. developed a rigorous evaluation process that runs biennially. This process yields three technical initiatives, which are then incubated and eventually accelerated to commercialization. Recognizing Oregon’s abundance of the three key ingredients of ocean wave energy: coastal access, the ability to supply energy to an existing grid (thanks to the timber industry) and technological expertise, it became an early contender in Oregon’s new economic development strategy.

In order to position Oregon as the North American leader in this nascent industry and deliver its full economic and environmental potential for the state, Oregon needed a bridge between federal, state, local and private needs, regulations and opportunities. In 2007, both Oregon, InC. ($28.2 M) and OWET were funded with Oregon State Lottery Funds, administered by the Oregon Business Development Department (Oregon, InC.) to serve as a connector for all stakeholders, from research and development to early stage community engagement, final deployment and energy generation and job creation. As a nonprofit public-private partnership, OWET’s mission is to promote the responsible development of ocean energy in Oregon and members from environmental groups, government, industry and fishing, OWET’s goal is to power two Oregon communities with ocean energy (25MW) by 2025.

In 2008, with OWET’s help, NNMREC (Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center) was established as a partnership between OSU (Oregon State University), UW (University of Washington), NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) and PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) and numerous funding partners.

OSU and UW have split technical research responsibilities; OSU studies ocean wave energy and UW studies tidal and some current energy. Both universities collaborate on education, information dissemination and outreach activities. The other two National Marine Renewable Energy Labs are SNMREC at FAU (Florida Atlantic University) developing technology around open-ocean wave energy and OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) and HINMREC at University of Hawaii working on OTEC and wave energy conversion.

NNMREC (rhyme it with ‘limerick’) is embarking on the creation of PMEC (Pacific Marine Energy Center). PMEC will be an open ocean, grid connected, 4 berth, prototype and commercial test facility for ocean wave energy converters. The decision to locate this facility off of either Newport or Reedsport, Oregon is to be made by the end of the 2012.  The balance of the funding is expected to come from the DOE, the State of Oregon, BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management), and private funding. Once the location is decided, licensing is expected to take 1-3 years.

OPT (Ocean Power Technologies) began testing off of New Jersey coast in the late 1990s and applied for its first FERC permit for testing off of Oregon in 2006. OPT has completed 1 of 3 phases of its Reedsport project proving the seaworthiness of an autonomous PB150 (Power Buoy150) in the waters off of Reedsport. Phase 2, launching in spring 2013, is to establish10 grid tied PB150s for a total 1.5MW sustained maximum output. Phase 3 scales the existing project to 50MW. True to its legacy as a groundbreaker, OPT will be responsible for the first commercial wave park on the US West Coast.

Energy is being harvested from ocean waves by numerous means YouTube has over 2,000 videos on ocean wave energy conversion technologies. Each of these early players has their own take on the best way to do this. Oregon has attracted Ocean Wave Energy start-ups and veterans alike from around the world. Atargis Energy, a cycloidal turbine based technology out of Colorado Springs, CO, expects their LCOE to be in the range of 8-14 cents per kWh, relative to the DOE's estimated 18-34 cents per kWh (depending on several variables and a margin of error of ± 30% for ocean wave technology and .22 cents per kWh for off-shore wind. 2010 CleanTech Open Semi-Finalist, CPT (Columbia Power Technologies) of Corvalis, OR is currently preparing a full-scale device after successfully testing at fractionally-scaled levels at OSU’s Hinsdale’s Wave Research Lab and in the Puget Sound, M3 Wave, LLC from Salem, OR has an early technology-TRL2-3 based on an ‘energy reef’ concept. Salt Lake City’s Oscilla Power utilizes its proven and patented iMEC system to contribute to its elegant solution. WET-NZ (Wave Energy Technology-New Zealand) currently has a TRL8 test running off of Newport, being monitored by NNMREC’s SentinelNeptune Wave Power of Dallas, TX has benefitted from a relationship with OWET and has recently installed an energy buoy test with CORE (Center for Ocean Renewable Energy) at the University of New Hampshire, a significant research resource in the MHK (Marine Hydrokinetic) environment.

If I were a betting person, I would guess “Reedsport” for the site of PMEC, for no other reason than the strategic support that NNMREC and OPT will be able to afford each other during the installation of sub-marine grid tied energy facilities. On the other hand, if PMEC’s installation is delayed, perhaps spreading the ‘grid-tied wealth’ will be the smarter move. There are many factors that will figure into this decision, not the least of which is the dent these wave parks will create in commercial crabbing and fishing areas. Most of the questions from various stakeholders regarding economic inconvenience of varying degrees to other sea-based industries boil down to whether spread or concentrate the locations of wave parks.

*OWET is one of six Oregon Innovation Council initiatives supporting innovation and long-term economic growth. The others are 3 signature research centers: Oregon Nano-science and Micro-technologies Institute (ONAMI), Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center (BEST), Oregon Translational Research and Drug Development Institute (OTRADI), as well as the Drive Oregon (ultra efficient vehicles, technology and charging systems) and Northwest Food Processing Innovation Productivity Center (IPC) initiatives. 

3p Contributor

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