Wave Energy Tech Tests the Waters
This buoy is designed to harvest energy from the movement of ocean waves. It's one of two designs that will be tested off the coast of Oregon this year.
CREDIT: Wave Energy Technology-New Zealand
One red-and-yellow buoy bobbing in the ocean off the coast of northern Oregon is like an iceberg: Its small top belies a long hull underneath. The buoy, made by Wave Energy Technology-New Zealand, is designed to capture energy from the movement of ocean waves. It's one of two wave energy structures that will be tested off the coast of Oregon this year, in a step toward maturity for a relatively young clean energy field.
Wave energy structures transform the movement of waves into electricity, without burning fossil fuels. Advocates say the benefit of waves is that that unlike sun and wind, they roll and crash 24 hours a day. It's still uncertain how well the cutting-edge technology will work, however, the Oregonian Editorial Board wrote in a recent opinion piece. It's also unclear how the buoys will affect fishermen, shipping companies and marine life, the board added.
Oregon has invested heavily in wave energy technology. State officials formed the Oregon Wave Energy Trust to fund research, giving out $10 million since 2007, the New York Times reported. Officials also spent two years hammering out an agreement with fishermen, state agencies, wave energy companies and scientists about where the tech can be tested, the Oregonian reported.
How tests fare in Oregon will affect investment around the world, the New York Times reported.
Ocean Power Technologies' 400-foot-wide, 200-ton buoy is one design that will go to sea this year, in October. It's made to bob up and down on the surface of the ocean, creating a pumping motion that powers an electrical generator. The electricity is then supposed to go to shore in underwater cables.
This first buoy will dissipate the energy it produces, but Ocean Power Technologies earned a federal license last month that allows it to plug its buoy into the national electricity grid after a year of testing, the Oregonian reported.
Another design already in the water is Wave Energy Technology-New Zealand's WET-NZ buoy. The structure has portions that capture energy not only from up-and-down motion, but also side-to-side and rotational movements. It sends the electricity it makes through an underwater cable into a floating battery pack.
Oregon State University is monitoring the WET-NZ buoy to see if it affects surrounding sea creatures, the Oregonian reported.
Wave-harnessing technology is still in its earliest stages and making electricity from current designs would be prohibitively expensive. Researchers estimate that when the field matures, wave-made electricity could cost 15 cents per kilowatt hour, about twice what utility customers pay today, according to the Oregonian.