Intelligent Energy

Oregon tests the waters for wave energy

Oregon tests the waters for wave energy

Posting in Energy

Which wave power apparatuses could emerge as the developing industry's darlings? With new testing grounds, two universities in the Pacific Northwest aim to find out how some of them perform.

Many ideas for harnessing the ocean's kinetic energy are floating around. Devices exist that mimic wind turbines, that rise and fall with wave crests, that rest on the surface like snakes, and that cut through the water like flying kites.

Which apparatuses might emerge as this developing industry's darlings?

Two universities in the Pacific Northwest aim to find out how well at least some of them perform. The Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of Washington) have asked to turn a one-square-mile patch of sea into a testing ground for wave and tidal power projects.

With waves and tides being fairly predictable sources of renewable energy, it's little wonder engineers are trying to improve contraptions for catching the sea's energy and sending power to shore. A couple miles off Newport, Oregon, where waters run between 150 and 180 feet deep, the center will also study how the devices influence marine life and seafloor sediments. There has been no word yet on other OSU research testing acoustical methods of steering migrating whales away from wave energy projects, specifically Ocean Power Technologies' (OPT) upcoming farm off Reedsport to the south.

To date, OPT's PowerBuoy (right) has gained the most momentum off American coastlines. Just last week, the company awarded a total of $6 million in contracts to Oregon companies. By year's end, they plan to haul out the first of ten 150-kilowatt buoys that will comprise the first commercial wave power station this side of the Atlantic. Last September at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii, OPT gave a U.S. grid the first taste of wave power with one of its buoys.

Back at Oregon's proposed testing site, the wave energy prototypes won't connect to the grid. Instead they'll show industry developers whether they sink or swim.

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Images: OPT and OSU

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure