When asked how difficult it was to extract energy from the ocean, Brian polaj gave an anecdote.
A few years ago, an associate professor at the University of Washington attended a conference and listened to the chief technology officer of a marine energy startup who had developed technology for outer space for many years. The CTO said that the marine sector is much more difficult than what he deals with outside our atmosphere.
“I said to myself, ‘Wow, that can’t be right,'” polagi said. “Space is really difficult. The more I understand the challenge of working in the ocean, I think he is right. It’s a very challenging problem.”
For many years, the development of marine energy – especially wave power generation – has lagged behind the take-off of solar energy and land-based wind energy.
Globally, wave is in the stage of being truly proved.
But now the tide may be turning.
Two Pacific Northwest companies are conducting breakthrough tests on wave energy systems. This fall, oscilla power in Seattle and c-power, a derivative of Oregon State University, tested their technology for the first time at the U.S. Navy wave energy test site in Hawaii. In July, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a grant of $27 million for wave energy research and development of the new pacwave South test facility off the coast of Newport, Oregon.
“Globally, wave is in a really proven stage,” said polagye, director of the Pacific Ocean Energy Center, a collaboration between UW, OSU and fairbecks University in Alaska.
Oscilla power wants to catch up with the trend
Oscilla power has been working for 13 years and has conducted its first commercial scale test of its technology.
“As soon as we were founded, the clean technology industry fell into a trough. That’s why it took us so long to reach the current level,” said balky Nair, co-founder and CEO of oscilla power.
Nair said the company can rely on about $25 million in investments and grants from state and federal agencies to maintain its operations.
Oscilla power has fine tuned its technology and is deploying triton-c, a 100 kW system designed to power isolated coastal communities or small facilities. Given the low wave power at the Hawaii test site, triton-c will provide about 30 kW of power to about 25 families at the Marine Corps base on Oahu. Oscilla power also has a larger device, Triton ® Sonic wind profiler, which is a 1 MW rated system installed in a large array to provide utility scale power to the grid. The company is raising money for the testing of the equipment.
Nair sees utility scale wave energy as a supplement to other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy. When the sun sets and the wind stops, these renewable energy sources need batteries or other sources of electricity. Neil says the ocean may be a solution.
“Bo Neng is very suitable,” Nair said. “24 hours.”
Can waves be drawn with a pencil?
So what makes wave energy so tricky?
Experts say there are many reasons. With wave energy, you can effectively capture the energy fluctuating in all directions. Oscilla power achieves this through a device floating on the ocean surface, which can use power by moving back and forth, left and right, up and down. Wave energy technology needs to withstand extreme wave events – solar and wind energy are less threatened. Wave energy requires large-scale Innovation: few similar terrestrial solutions can be used to help accelerate the development of technology.
Once researchers solve the technical challenges of wave power generation, there are economic problems. It took decades for solar and wind energy to become commercially viable. Oscilla power expects the installation price of its equipment to be US $2-2.5 million per megawatt, including the transmission lines required to deliver energy to shore. Estimates and circumstances vary, but the cost of installing solar energy is about half of the original.
But many obstacles are decreasing. The innovation improves the energy output of the wave device. The installation of offshore wind power helps pave the way for connecting offshore power and onshore users. Last year, an international team of marine scientists published a report, concluding that, despite some warnings, marine renewable energy installations have little impact on marine life. Perhaps the biggest challenge in the future is the lack of funds.
The biggest challenge will be to raise enough funds for the industry to enable the company to grow and expand.
Supporters of this technology say that in addition to utility scale installation, there are many interesting and potentially viable applications, which are more risky for investors. Wave energy can drive desalination plants to produce fresh water or operate fish farming facilities. For example, c-power, based in cowallis, Oregon, is testing devices that can generate small amounts of energy that can charge offshore ships, underwater vehicles and equipment.
Nair hopes that this potential will begin to translate into venture capital.
“This is a huge opportunity,” he said.