Department of Energy To Test Wave Power Tech In Hawaii

A modest funding of $500,000 is being made available by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to test a wave power project for a year.

It recently announced, in a Funding Opportunity Announcement, that this money will be used in funding to deploy and test one wave energy device for one year to assess the technical readiness of at least one of the wave technologies that can harness energy from waves.  The test is to be held at the Department of Navy’s newly created Wave Energy Test Site off of Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, on the island of Oahu.

DOE-to-test-wave-energy-Hawaii

image via AW Energy

But it can take over $5 million dollars to test of some wave energy devices, AW-Energy’s CEO told me a few years ago, although that testing cost alone could be substantially less for a device fairly far along in its development.

What makes a wave device expensive? Well, it’s a huge, heavy-industrial machine that needs to be able to withstand the rigors of the marine environment, and yet because the wave energy industry is still very much at the pilot stage, it is also all new technology, requiring work from the ground up. This is part of what holds back the development of the wave energy industry, despite its huge promise.

That makes this funding level sad for those who haven’t moved beyond conceptualizing their device. This would be a tenth (or less!) of what is needed to develop and test a device, if that comment was correct.

There have been some great moves recently to reduce these costs. We covered deployment this year of the Ocean Sentinel, a testing platform off the coast of Oregon that makes it possible to test wave devices without having to hook them up to the national grid to make testing more economical. It will be a game changer in providing the first test station on the U.S. mainland.

U.S.-based companies would probably be considered first for the funding, but companies like AW-Energy, which makes the WaveRoller, and their fellow Finnish company Wello might want to apply for the Hawaiian test anyway, since the DOE is looking for companies that have already got a track record of sorts in pre-pilot tests of their devices.

The huge potential of wave power is unrealized as yet. While the U.S. total electricity consumption is 4,000 terawatt hours of electricity annually, the DOE estimates that nearly half could in theory be supplied by wave energy alone, with over 1,170 terawatt hours a year available off our coasts. If even half that could realistically deployed, it would be capable of supplying 25 percent of our electricity.

Susan Kraemer enjoys writing to publicize the many great solutions for climate change that we can find if we just put our minds to it. She covers renewable policy and clean energy for CleanTechnica and GreenProphet and green building at HomeDesignFind. She recently moved home to Waiheke Island where her writing is now powered by the 80% renewable electricity that powers New Zealand.

  • Phil Kithil

    I agree this is stupidity raised to a higher level! Anybody involved in the wave energy industry knows the difficult challenge lies in deploying, and servicing, arrays of perhaps hundreds of WEC’s. For the Navy and DOE to think they can gain meaningful data from a sample of one just shows how misinformed they are about wave energy. It is nothing but a public relations ploy to make outsiders think something is happening, when in fact the gov’t is brain dead on ocean wave energy. We would all be better off without the hype!

    • StateofReason

      Well, actually we’d all be better off with a much larger investment but you have to start somewhere.  As you say, maintenance is a big concern and how do you tell how often something is going to need to be maintained if you don’t put a couple in the water to test them?

      For now, put 1 or 2 or 10 in the water and see how much power you get, how often you have to replace parts and how difficult it is to replace.  Once you get some data you can scale up.  

      One thing we know for sure is that nobody’s making more non-renewable resources because they are, by definition, non-renewable.  We have no choice but to look to renewable sources.  No one renewable source will replace all of our power needs.  This is just one part of the overall strategy.  

    • Pete Danko

      Totally agree more funding for marine and kinetic would be a good thing. But this is one funding announcement; it’s not the entirety of what is budgeted for MKE. Funding has expanded greatly (still too small, but it’s more) under President Obama, and it reached a record $36 million in FY10.

  • Guest

    Agree – this is ridiculous for a country the size of the U.S. Other countries will certainly beat us in ocean-energy as well, since per-capita they are spending 10-50 times this much! The U.S. should have a fully funded program that will allow free testing of any device created in America. It should make available at least $20-30M/year for R&D of ocean energy devices (and $100M/year wouldn’t be too much). At least 10-20 devices/year should be “simultaneously tested”, so we can make rapid progress and find the right technology in 3 years or less. There have been at least 50 devices proposed over the last decade. We need to find 2-3 technologies that have real promise, then put about $10-20M/year behind developing these. If we don’t do all of this the U.S. won’t ever be able to develop its own technology.