Wave Power Gets A Test On The Other Coast

The big news in wave energy has been coming out of Oregon this year, with the launch of a federally backed test site and system, and the licensing of a grid-connected commercial project, now scheduled to deploy next spring.

Meanwhile, way over on the other side of the continent, Neptune Wave Power has been quietly testing its own device – and yesterday the company reported those tests have gone well.

Neptune Wave Power New Hampshire test

image via Neptune Wave Power

Neptune, based in waveless Dallas, actually has Oregon connections. It received backing from the Oregon Wave Energy Trust – a state-supported organization promoting the wave power industry in Oregon – and in 2011 put an early iteration of its device through its paces at the wave lab at Oregon State University.

But when it came time to test a 3-meter version of its wave energy converter, Neptune chose the Atlantic, where tidal power has mostly been the focus, rather than the Pacific. The reason? The University of New Hampshire’s Center for Ocean Renewable Energy (CORE) offered a no-fuss, no-muss opportunity to plunk the buoy into the water without delay.

The New Hampshire site, in 170-foot deep waters about six miles off the coast near Portsmouth, was developed some 15 years ago to test aquaculture projects. In 2008, CORE was founded to take advantage of renewable energy opportunities. Fully licensed and with dedicated dock and launch facilities, research vessels and mooring gear and expertise, “It had everything we needed to move forward with our next step,” Neptune President Eddie Mayfield said in an interview with EarthTechling.

If you’ve followed our coverage of marine power – wave and tidal – you know the sector is very young in the United States – “embryonic” was the term Mayfield used (in Europe, it’s a bit more advanced; in its infancy, perhaps). That makes it incredibly difficult for companies to find funding, so things tend to move frustratingly slowly. But being new and unproven also makes the sector fun: Dozens of interesting different design are in play.

Neptune’s wave energy converter is in that category known as a point-absorber — moored to the sea floor by a cable, it floats at the surface, absorbing the energy of the waves that buffet it. But it does so in a unique and elegant way: A horizontally set pendulum inside the sealed buoy – “the can,” Mayfield informally called it – swings around as the buoy rocks and moves from side to side. Sometimes the pendulum goes around and around in one direction; sometimes it goes forward a bit, then back the other way. “It doesn’t really matter, because as long as it’s driving the shaft, it’s driving the generator,” Mayfield said.

On page 2: Keeping the device in tune with the waves…

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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