Remote Alaska Town Looks To Wave Energy

One vision for wave energy is to use a vast array of deep-water devices to feed large amounts of energy onto big grids; Carbon Trust believes such a scheme 100 kilometers offshore on the edge of the United Kingdom’s continental shelf could meet more than 10 percent of the U.K.’s electricity needs.

That’s not the idea that Resolute Marine Energy, a Boston company, has in mind, at least not in the foreseeable future. What it’s focused on is putting smaller wave energy developments to use for remote coastal communities that often rely on expensive, dirty diesel fuel to generate electricity – and the company is inching ahead with just such a plan in Alaska.

resolute marine energy

image via FERC

Federal regulators recently issued a preliminary permit [PDF] that will allow RME to study and plan placing seven to 15 of its SurgeWEC wave energy converters in the waters off Yakutat, providing a total of 750 kilowatts of generating capacity to the town. That’s not a huge amount of power, but then again, Yakutat, on the northern coast of the Gulf of Alaska, surrounded by the Tongass National Forest and with no rail or road access, has only around 700 residents.

As we’ve noted before, wave energy is a nascent technology, with a wide range of device concepts striving to prove their worth. RME’s is in the category of oscillating wave surge converter. It consists of a big, flat paddle that moves back and forth as the waves come through. Hydraulic force is used to generate power, which is sent ashore via a cable. Aquamarine Power, in the U.K., has a similar device in development, called the Oyster.

These devices are ideal for the enhanced water movement that takes place in fairly shallow, near-shore coastal waters. In its application to move ahead with the project, RME explained that given the modest electricity needs of Yakutat, “it is unlikely that a deepwater wave power conversion plant would make economic sense …. It was therefore decided to apply focus on near-shore technology,” where energy transmission costs would be minimized.

RME, which received a $1 million U.S. Department of Energy grant in 2010, said in a statement that it successfully tested the SurgeWEC for six weeks, ending last December, off the Outer Banks in Duck, N.C., and is eager to map out the Yakutat wave resource in detail and design the project.

And Yakutat is eager for the power.

“Today we’re totally at the mercy of the price of diesel fuel,” Scott Newlun, general manager of Yakutat Power, said in a statement. “We see a huge energy resource going to waste over on Cannon Beach and hope this project brings sustainable power to Yakutat and eases the cost of energy on our rate payers, which is currently 55 cents per kWh for most residential customers.”

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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