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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid