News / USA

Catching a Wave - and its Energy

Marine energy developers explore whether electricity can be generated in the ocean at affordable prices

Rendering of floating offshore wind farm
Rendering of floating offshore wind farm

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

One of the newest sources of alternative energy is also one of the oldest - water power. The 19th century water wheel, though, bears no resemblance to the 21st century contraptions powered by ocean waves.

The wave energy sector has been slow to coalesce around one technology. Quite the opposite. Unconventional ideas are blooming like algae along America's Pacific Coast in a proliferation of creative electric engineering.

Harnessing the power of waves

The steady, powerful pounding of the ocean surf at this time of year is a reminder why marine energy developers love the Pacific Northwest. Huge waves crash against the jetties at the mouth of Tillamook Bay on the Oregon Coast. Columns of spray shoot in the air.

"The wave energy potential is very large here," says Stephanie Thornton, American program director for the Wave Energy AS. The Norwegian company proposes redesigning jetties and breakwaters like these to include electricity generators built inside.

"It's designed in such a way that it has open chambers on the wave facing side," Thornton explains. "When the waves crash or hit against this device, water fills these chambers and runs into the back where the turbine is. Basically it's very similar to a hydroelectric dam where water just flows through and drives a turbine."

Wave Energy AS program director Stephanie Thornton hopes to harness the power of the crashing waves near Barview, Oregon.
Wave Energy AS program director Stephanie Thornton hopes to harness the power of the crashing waves near Barview, Oregon.

The industry is in its infancy. It's a period of great experimentation, overflowing with creative technologies.

"Once they figure out if it can work from a technical standpoint, then it's the business side of it," Thornton says. "The economics may be the key issue."

Innovation

The Scottish firm, Aquamarine Power, is one of several other foreign companies scouting here.

Aquamarine outreach coordinator Theresa Wisner recently described her firm's near-shore device to the Tillamook County Commission. Called the Oyster, it's a very large mechanical flap resting on the sea bottom.

"What happens is a wave comes in from the ocean. It forces the top of the Oyster down onto some pistons," says Wisner. "Those pistons force that water into high pressure water line that goes ashore to a Pelton wheel, which is one of the oldest ways of generating electricity."

Wisner was followed to the podium in Tillamook by a representative for Seattle, Washington-based Principle Power. Kevin Bannister described his company's plans for floating wind farms offshore of Oregon and Portugal.

"The design came from the oil and gas industry. So, semi-submersible platforms like this one are not terribly new," says Bannister. "The integration with a wind turbine however is a new idea."

Yet another company diving into the competition is a Salem, Oregon based startup, M3 Wave Energy Systems. Its idea relies on wave pressure passing over air-filled pillows on the sea floor. The pulses compress air, which can then be used to spin an electric turbine.

Tillamook Public Utility District manager Pat Ashby has seen even more far out ideas cross his desk.

"We've become kind of a bulls-eye for world developers," says Ashby.

Rendering of wave energy park
Rendering of wave energy park

Prototype ocean energy devices are generating electricity in Scottish, Hawaiian and Australian waters, but not here yet.

Coming first to the U.S. West Coast will likely be a bobbing buoy generator next year. Eventually, a field of 10 floating buoys, anchored to the ocean floor, would bob up and down with the swells. The movement creates electricity. Ashby says a floating wind farm also seems plausible near term because wind power is well understood.

"The others have got new technology that needs to be tested. It's not really existing anywhere in the world right now. And the devices that produce the energy and their ability to withstand saltwater - corrosive elements - need a lot of work yet."

Winning people over

Ashby says community acceptance also needs some work yet.

At the Port of Garibaldi, Oregon, Darren Mobley prepares his boat for winter crabbing. He's among the many fishermen and crabbers who worry about how harnessing ocean energy will impact them.

"They're talking about a big area around them that would be closed to fishing," says Mobley. "We can't afford to have any more fishing ground taken from us."

Wave Energy's plans to put electric generators inside the breakwaters is the only idea that wins favor from Mobley.

U.S. and foreign governments are keen on the sector and are pumping in lots of funds to float more prototypes. But whether electricity can be generated in the ocean at affordable prices remains an open question

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More