Feds Fund Energy Generation from Ocean Waves, Tides

WASHINGTON, DC, May 5, 2008 (ENS) – Ocean waves, tides, and currents are a vast, untapped source of energy that the U.S. Department of Energy wants to harness to meet Americans’ growing energy demand while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, the Energy Department announced up to $7.5 million in federal funding for research and development to help advance the viability and cost-competitiveness of advanced water power systems.

“Water covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. Using environmentally responsible technologies, we have a tremendous opportunity to harness energy produced from ocean waves, tides or ocean currents, free flowing water in rivers, and other water resources,” said Andy Karsner, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“The U.S. Department of Energy is aggressively pursuing the development of next-generation technologies that are capable of increasing the use of clean, renewable energy to further our energy security and help meet the president’s goal to stop greenhouse gas emissions growth by 2025,” he said.

President George W. Bush announced the 2025 goal on April 16 at the White House.

Now the Energy Department plans to award industry-led partnerships to research, develop and/or field test advanced water power technologies. Successful applicants will be required to develop collaborative project teams involving at least one other industry, university or national laboratory partner and a minimum 50 percent non-federal cost share is required.

Ocean waves have enormous power.
(Photo by Andrew Castellano)

The agency also plans to award grants to university-led groups to conduct advanced research on marine renewable energy. These groups will serve as an information clearinghouse for the marine renewable energy industry, collecting and disseminating information on best practices research.

Research will include technology testing, experimental and numerical modeling, wave forecasting, environmental impacts, and corrosion-resistant materials research.

Completed applications are due June 16, 2008. All grant applications will be merit reviewed and competitively awarded. DOE anticipates selecting up to 17 awards, and projects are expected to begin in Fiscal Year 2008. The continuation of projects beyond FY 2008 is subject to Congressional appropriation.

Wave power 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 two trillion watts of electricity.

Wave power cannot be harnessed everywhere, according to the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, EERE, but the northeastern and northwestern coasts of the United States are rich in potential wave power.

“In the Pacific Northwest alone, it’s feasible that wave energy could produce 40-70 kilowatts per meter (3.3 feet) of western coastline,” says EERE. The west coast of the United States is more than a 1,000 miles long.

On December 18, 2007, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced its support for plans to build America’s first commercial wave power plant off the coast of Northern California.

Located off the Northern California coast, the Humboldt County Offshore Wave Energy Power Plant will be developed by Finavera Renewables.

The plant will consist of eight buoys, 2.5 miles offshore, each buoy generating electricity as it rises and falls with the waves.

“Harnessing the ocean’s energy on a utility scale is a critical achievement in renewable energy technology and this project represents our first step in that direction,” said Fong Wan, vice president of Energy Procurement with PG&E.

The plant is scheduled to begin operating in 2012, generating a maximum of two megawatts of electricity. Each megawatt can power about 750 homes.

Potential environmental considerations for the development of wave energy include impacts on marine habitat, depending on the nature of submerged surfaces, above-water platforms, and changes in the seafloor.

There could be toxic releases from leaks or accidental spills of liquids used in systems with working hydraulic fluids.

Visual and noise impacts are possible both above and below the sea surface, and conflicts with other sea space users, such as commercial shipping and recreational boating could develop.

Careful site selection is the key to keeping the environmental impacts of wave power systems to a minimum, says EERE on its website. “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 power systems have a hard time competing with traditional power sources but the costs to produce wave energy are coming down. Once built, wave power systems have low operation and maintenance costs because the fuel they use – seawater – is free.

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